The Yankees looks to ride their resurgent offense to a third straight victory Saturday when they continue a three-game series against the first-place Red Sox.
Any series between the Yankees and Red Sox takes on added significance due to the long history between the teams. This series, however, is like no other in recent memory because New York (23-29) entered tied for last place in the AL East, 13 1/2 games behind Boston (36-17), which owns the best record in baseball.
Coming off a 10-5 win in Toronto on Thursday that snapped a five-game skid, the Yankees continued that momentum with a 9-5 victory in Friday’s series opener.
Jorge Posada had a pair of doubles, including a three-run shot to cap a six-run rally that broke a fourth-inning tie, and Robinson Cano homered as New York roughed up Boston starter Tim Wakefield for eight runs in 3 2-3 innings.
The victory moved the Yankees out of the AL East cellar. They can notch their first three-game win streak since May 1-3.
“I hope we can build on this because we’re good,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “We’re much better than we’ve been playing, but obviously the results haven’t shown.”
The game featured a minor confrontation when Yankees reliever Scott Proctor hit Boston’s Kevin Youkilis with a pitch in the bottom of the ninth, apparently in retaliation for Javier Lopez hitting Cano in the top of the inning.
Youkilis made a move toward the mound and the benches and bullpens cleared, but no punches were thrown.
“That didn’t look like (a last-place team) tonight,” Youkilis said. “I don’t think the New York Yankees are ever a last-place team. They have too much potential.”
Youkilis extended his hitting streak to 23 games with a sixth-inning single. He is batting .428 (43-for-101) during the streak and is hitting .353 this season, second in the AL behind Posada (.358).
Even the usually mild-mannered Torre displayed a temper, getting ejected for arguing a call at third base in the fifth inning.
“I think we need to be a little more fiery,” Torre said. “I think we showed fight tonight. We need to assert ourselves … just get that determination back.”
Cano is showing signs that he may be ready to break out of his slump, going 6-for-8 with three doubles, a homer and three RBIs in his last two games. He was hitting .249 before this surge after batting .342 last season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any game thinking, ‘Well, we’re due for a clunker,’” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “It just kind of happens that way some times.”
Mike Mussina (2-3, 5.86 ERA) looks to win for the first time in nearly a month as he faces the Red Sox for the second time in three starts. He pitched well in his last appearance, allowing two runs and five hits over 6 1-3 innings before leaving without a decision in New York’s 4-3 loss to the Angels on Sunday. Mussina had been reached for 12 runs and 18 hits in his previous two starts, spanning 12 innings.
One of those outings was a 7-3 loss to the Red Sox on May 22 at Yankee Stadium in which he gave up seven runs over 6 2-3 innings in his first start against them this year.
Mussina is 0-3 with a 5.24 ERA in his last eight starts at Fenway Park, including two playoff outings.
He will be opposed by another veteran right-hander as Curt Schilling (5-2, 3.68) takes the mound for Boston. Two of Schilling’s worst starts of the season came against New York, resulting in an 0-1 record and a 6.92 ERA.
New York tagged him for six runs and 12 hits over six innings at Yankee Stadium in an 8-3 win on May 23, but Schilling rebounded with a strong performance Monday in a 5-3 victory over Cleveland. He limited the Indians to one run and six hits in seven innings with a season-high 10 strikeouts.
Schilling is 7-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 16 regular-season starts against the Yankees. He’s 11-1 with a 3.08 ERA in his last 20 home starts, including 2-0 in six outings this season.