The first-place Red Sox will try to put more distance between themselves and the Yankees as the teams meet in the opener of a three-game series in the Bronx on Tuesday night.
Boston (80-51) led the division by 14 1/2 games on May 29, but a surge by New York after the All-Star break reduced that deficit to four games on Aug. 19. Boston has gone 6-1 since then while New York (72-59) stumbled to a 2-5 mark.
The Red Sox, owners of the best record in baseball, have opened an eight-game lead heading into their final trip to Yankee Stadium this year.
“We can’t look ahead,” Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. “We have to play like we’ve been playing.”
With hopes of winning the division title seemingly slipping away, the Yankees may have to start focusing on the wild card. They trail Seattle by two games after the Mariners were blanked by the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, though, thinks they still can go into the postseason as division winners.
“We can’t let ourselves believe that we can’t catch Boston and we need to focus on the wild card,” he said. “We are still thinking about the division, and Boston’s the team in front of us.”
New York returns home after dropping three of four in Detroit, capped by a 16-0 defeat on Monday. Jeter, who missed Sunday’s 5-4 loss with a sore knee, was 0-for-11 in the series, and the staff combined for a 9.45 ERA in the losses.
“I think emotionally we’re fine,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “(Monday’s) game was a downer for everybody, but I don’t think it’s going to affect how we go out there tomorrow night.”
Andy Pettitte (11-7, 3.69 ERA) looks to close out his successful month with a sixth straight win for New York. Pettitte is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA this month, and his 44 wins and 3.32 ERA are career bests for August.
The left-hander yielded one run and five hits over seven innings in an 8-2 win over the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.
“I love to go out and give us a good start when we need one,” Pettitte said. “Obviously, I take lot of pride in all my starts and I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’m able to give us some big ones whenever we have some losses.”
Pettitte is 1-1 with a 5.24 ERA in four starts versus the Red Sox this season, and 14-6 with a 3.38 ERA in 25 career starts against them.
The Red Sox lead a red-hot lineup into this series after a resounding four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox, capped by an 11-1 rout of Sunday. Boston plated at least 10 runs in all four games - the first time any major league team has done that since Colorado from June 27-30, 1996.
According to the Red Sox’s official Web site, it also was Boston’s highest scoring four-game series since June 23-26, 1949, when they scored 46 against the St. Louis Browns. The Red Sox never scored double-digits in runs in five straight contests.
David Ortiz batted .412 (7-for-17) with three homers, seven RBIs and nine runs in the series. Ortiz also has put together another big year against the Yankees, hitting .391 (18-for-46) with two homers and 12 RBIs to help the Red Sox win seven of 12 meetings.
Boston’s Manny Ramirez had only three hits in 10 at-bats over three games versus the White Sox, but scored seven runs. He’s hitting .420 (29-for-69) with three homers and 18 RBIs in his career against Pettitte.
Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka (13-10, 3.76) is trying to avoid his second three-start losing streak this season. After failing to beat Tampa Bay at home on Aug. 15, the right-hander fell on the road against the Devil Rays on Wednesday giving up a two-run homer to B.J. Upton among two hits over six innings of a 2-1 loss.
“It’s not like you can always count on run support,” Matsuzaka said through an interpreter after getting two runs or less of support for the 12th time in his last 16 starts. “We’re not going to score a lot of runs day-in and day-out, but I think my mind-set going into a game is even if we hit a lull in that offensive support, I’m going to pitch well and hold them to as few runs as I can.”
Matsuzaka, who also lost three consecutive starts from May 30-June 10, is 2-0 against the Yankees this season despite a 6.92 ERA. The Red Sox scored a total of 18 runs in those games.