New York (73-48) at Boston (69-53)

Cloudy Currently: Boston, MA, US
Temp: 41° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Sun Aug 20, 2006
  • TV: ESPN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Boston Red Sox saw their AL East lead disappear this month as their starting staff struggled. The deficit continues to grow as the New York Yankees take advantage of that weakness.

Desperately needing a strong outing from ace Curt Schilling on Sunday, the Red Sox hope to prevent the Yankees from padding their division lead and posting double figures in runs for the fourth straight game at Fenway Park.

Following 12-4 and 14-11 victories in Friday’s doubleheader, the Yankees did not cool off at the plate Saturday. Johnny Damon again burned his former team with three doubles, Robinson Cano had five RBIs and Jorge Posada added four in New York’s 13-5 win.

“We’ll find a way to regroup,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We dug ourselves a pretty big hole and we’ll find a way to dig out of it.”

The Yankees (73-58) have built a season-high 4 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Red Sox (69-53). Boston led the division as recently as July 31, but has gone 6-12 in August while its pitching staff has compiled a 6.30 ERA and a .319 opponent batting average.

New York entered this series having not scored more than eight runs in a game since July 15, when it beat the Chicago White Sox 14-3.

Damon is 9-for-18 in the series and has recorded four consecutive three-hit games, totaling three homers and nine RBIs in that span.

“This feels pretty good,” Damon said. “We’re pretty focused; by no means are we celebrating. We’re already focused on what we have to do against Curt Schilling, and hopefully we can get the same kind of results.”

The Yankees have beaten up Boston’s beleaguered starters in the first three games. Jason Johnson, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have been ripped for 20 runs and 24 hits in just 13 2-3 innings. Beckett allowed nine walks on Saturday, the most by a Red Sox pitcher in 31 years.

Boston can only hope its ace performs better.

Schilling, though, has been a bit shaky lately, as has much of the Red Sox’s staff since catcher and team captain Jason Varitek went on the disabled list with a knee injury on Aug. 1.

Johnson is 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in six starts since being acquired from Cleveland. Beckett is 0-3 with a 7.89 ERA in his last five outings and Lester, a rookie, is 1-2 with an 8.13 ERA in his last six.

Only four times all month have the Red Sox given up fewer than five runs, and two of those came with Schilling (14-5, 3.83 ERA) on the mound. On Tuesday, though, he did not get a decision as he pitched seven solid innings in a 3-2 defeat to Detroit.

“We’ll have our nights when we’re gonna score and, like any other team, we’re going to have to pitch more consistently and better and if we don’t, we’re gonna play golf in October instead of baseball,” Schilling said.

Five days earlier, Schilling tied an AL record by allowing 10 extra-base hits in a loss at Kansas City.

The 39-year-old right-hander has allowed 55 hits in his last 39 1-3 innings, posting a 5.26 ERA in his last six starts.

Schilling lost his first outing this season against the Yankees but has won the last two, allowing four runs and nine hits in 16 innings. He’s 7-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 18 career appearances against them.

New York’s starters haven’t been particularly impressive this month either, a major reason it could not build the division lead, and hasn’t been much better in this series. Chien-Ming Wang, Sidney Ponson and Randy Johnson have combined to pitch 16 innings, allowing 20 hits and 15 runs while walking 11.

A day after Johnson won despite walking six, Mike Mussina (13-5, 3.54) looks to join him and Wang for the team lead in victories.

Mussina is 0-2 in his last three starts, though he’s given up only three earned runs in each. He’s surrendered more than three earned runs only once in 10 starts since June 20.

The right-hander has faced Boston twice this season—both at Yankee Stadium — and allowed seven runs with 12 strikeouts in 13 2-3 innings en route to two victories. He had been 0-2 in his previous five starts against the Red Sox.

Mussina is 0-2 with a 5.76 ERA in his last five appearances at Fenway. He’s 19-14 with a 3.44 ERA and five complete games in 48 career starts versus the Red Sox.

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are both career .227 hitters against Mussina, though they’ve combined for eight homers against him.

While Ortiz is only 2-for-11 in the series, Ramirez has gone 6-for-9 with two homers and six RBIs. Ramirez is batting .535 (23-for-43) against the Yankees this season with seven homers and 20 RBIs.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Mussina NYY vs. C. Schilling BOS
15-7 Record 15-7
3.51 ERA 3.97
172 K 183
35 BB 28
1.11 WHIP 1.22