Less than 24 hours after squandering a four-run, eighth-inning lead to their biggest rivals, the Yankees take the field again Saturday at Fenway Park trying to even their weekend series with the Boston Red Sox.
Rodriguez continued his sizzling start in Friday night’s series opener, going 3-for-5 with two homers, a double and four RBIs. He has five home runs in his last four games, and matched Mike Schmidt, who also hit 12 homers in the first 15 games in 1976, as the fastest players to a dozen homers in major league history.
The Yankees third baseman now has several chances to become the fastest player to 13, as Schmidt had a seven-game drought after hitting his 12th in 1976.
Rodriguez, who has already ended two games with homers this season, has also hit safely in all 15 games of 2007, and is riding a 20-game hitting streak dating to the final regular-season games of 2006.
“You run out of words and superlatives of what he’s into right now,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
However, Rodriguez’s heroics weren’t enough to lift the Yankees (8-7) on Friday. The Red Sox (10-5) scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth off New York relievers, the final two off closer Mariano Rivera.
Boston center fielder Coco Crisp, who flipped over the bullpen wall in an effort to catch Rodriguez’s three-run homer in the fifth, tripled home the tying runs in the eighth before scoring the eventual winning run on Alex Cora’s bloop single. The win was the third straight and the sixth in seven games for the Red Sox.
“It’s pretty much status quo for him. It was a tremendous effort,” Boston reliever and winning pitcher Kyle Snyder said of Crisp. “It’s nice to see him come up with some clutch hits at the end. He deserves them.”
Meanwhile, Rivera fell to 0-for-2 in save opportunities after blowing just three in 37 chances last season.
“I’m always going to be shocked, only because of what he is and his track record,” said New York manager Joe Torre, whose team has outscored the opposition 97-70 this season but is 1-4 in games decided by one run. “It hurts.”
Rodriguez, who entered Friday’s game with a .194 lifetime batting average against Boston’s Curt Schilling, will also need to overcome his own history to succeed against the Saturday Red Sox starter, Josh Beckett (3-0, 1.50 ERA). The two-time AL MVP is 1-for-9 in his career versus the right-hander, with the lone hit a double.
Beckett had a terrible time against New York last season, though, going 2-2 in four starts but compiling a 9.45 ERA versus the Yankees in his first season pitching in the AL. In his only outing against the Yankees at Fenway on Aug. 19, he surrendered nine runs, seven hits and nine walks in 5 2-3 innings of a 13-5 defeat.
The right-hander will try to recapture the success he had against New York in the 2003 World Series with the Florida Marlins, when he gave up only two runs and eight hits over 16 1-3 innings to claim series MVP honors.
Beckett has allowed one run in each of his three starts this season, while limiting opponents to a .159 (10-for-63) batting average and striking out 18 batters in 18 innings.
The Yankees counter with 24-year-old right-hander Jeff Karstens, who makes his 2007 debut after beginning the season on the disabled list with elbow stiffness. Karstens went 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in eight appearances, including six starts, last year.
He has never faced the Red Sox, but injuries to Yankee veterans Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and Carl Pavano have thrust him and rookie Chase Wright - Sunday’s starter - into the spotlight of the rivalry.
“I’m anxious to see these young guys pitch,” Torre said on the Yankees’ official Web site. “Even though I think they’re going to handle themselves well, you’re always curious to see the look in somebody’s eye when they see the madness that goes on.”