Two right-handers that have lived up to their teams’ expectations of helping to anchor their respective rotations take the mound Monday night when the Red Sox and Yankees begin their latest AL East showdown, opening a four-game series in the Bronx.
Mussina (7-1, 2.42 ERA) and Beckett (7-2, 4.46) have met once before, on an even bigger stage than the Boston-New York rivalry. Mussina got the better of Beckett in Game 3 of the 2003 World Series when Beckett pitched for Florida, allowing one run with nine strikeouts in seven innings of a 6-1 win.
Beckett gave up two runs and had 10 strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings in that game, but went on to shut out the Yankees in a series-clinching Game 6 victory.
Injuries and some ineffectiveness hindered Mussina in the two seasons following that World Series, but the veteran has rediscovered his dominant ways this season. The right-hander will be looking to extend his winning streak to seven straight decisions Monday.
He’s coming off a complete-game 6-1 victory over Detroit on Thursday night, allowing an unearned run and striking out five to end a streak of three straight outings without a decision.
Like Mussina, Beckett experienced some injury problems in the two years after earning World Series MVP honors, but he’s been healthy this season in getting off to a fast start after being acquired from the Marlins during the offseason. Beckett will be trying to join Curt Schilling as the second eight-game winner in Boston’s rotation.
On May 9, the right-hander beat New York in his first game at Yankee Stadium since the Game 6 win, throwing seven innings and giving up three runs in a 14-3 victory. Beckett, though, will be looking to bounce back from one of his worst starts of the season after giving up seven runs and 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings of an 8-5 loss to Toronto on Tuesday. The defeat ended his four-start winning streak.
Not surprisingly, the Red Sox (33-21) and Yankees (33-22) will again be battling it out for the AL East lead in this series. After falling a half-game behind New York on Saturday, Boston jumped back in front with an 8-3 victory over Detroit on Sunday.
David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit two of the Red Sox’s four homers and drew two of its three bases-loaded walks as Boston took two of three from the Tigers, the team with the best record in the majors.
“This was an important series, and the next one is an important series,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
While Francona’s club is mostly healthy, it will be facing a Yankees team that has been ravaged by injuries of late. Beckett won’t have to pitch to injured regulars Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, and closer Mariano Rivera hasn’t pitched since Tuesday because of back spasms, although he threw off a mound Sunday and is expected to be available Monday after missing three games.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez returned to the New York lineup in Sunday’s 11-4 loss to Baltimore after sitting out two games with the stomach flu, but first baseman Jason Giambi is struggling with the same illness and his status for Monday is uncertain.
Shortstop Derek Jeter also couldn’t avoid the injury bug Sunday, getting hit in the right hand by a Rodrigo Lopez pitch that left him with a bruised thumb. Jeter, who missed two games last week with a sprained right wrist, is listed as day-to-day.
“Thank goodness the results of the X-rays were fine,” manager Joe Torre said Sunday. “Hopefully he’ll be all right tomorrow.”
Although New York failed to complete a sweep of Baltimore on Sunday, it has won seven of its last 10 relying on a lineup that has gotten contributions from young players such as Melky Cabrera, Andy Phillips and Robinson Cano.
On Sunday, Phillips extended his hitting streak to five games, going 10-for-21 in that span, while Cano was 1-for-3 and is batting 8-for-17 (.470) in his last four games. Cabrera is batting .301 this season.
The key to the game Monday, though, may be whether Mussina and the New York pitching staff can find a way to shut down Ortiz and Ramirez. The duo is hitting .411 (23-for-56) with eight homers and 23 RBIs in seven meetings with the Yankees this season.
Mussina beat Boston 7-3 on May 10, lasting 6 2-3 innings and giving up three runs. He’s 9-8 with a 3.46 ERA in 23 starts as a Yankee against the Red Sox.
Boston has taken four of those seven matchups, although the Yankees won two of three at Fenway Park in the last meeting May 22-24. The Red Sox have also won seven of their last 10 overall.