Andy Pettitte and Johnny Damon provided an opportunity for the New York Yankees to make a race of the AL East again. Josh Beckett, though, will try to close that window for the Red Sox as the archrivals continue a crucial three-game series on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees (73-59) entered this series knowing this may be their last chance to mount a serious challenge to the Red Sox (80-52), who are trying to end New York’s nine-year run of division titles.
New York pulled within seven games of Boston with a 5-3 victory Tuesday, as Pettitte improved to 8-1 in 10 starts since the All-Star break and Damon snapped a 3-all tie with a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
“It counts, so I guess that’s all that matters,” said Damon, who is just 11-for-47 (.234) against his former team this season.
Derek Jeter, who ended an 87 at-bat homerless drought with a solo shot in the fifth, is hitting .345 (20-for-58) with four homers in 13 games against the Red Sox in 2007. The Yankees captain, though, is just 4-for-16 lifetime against Beckett, who held him hitless in a 6-5 Yankees win on June 3.
“It’s a situation now like we’re in the playoffs,” said Jeter, whose team trails Seattle by one game for the AL wild card lead. “We need to get some wins.”
Beckett (16-5, 3.21 ERA) may be the pitcher the Red Sox want most on the mound. He is 9-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 10 road starts, not allowing more than three runs in any of them and winning his last three. The right-hander, who has the chance to become the first 17-game winner in the majors, overcame a shaky first inning and allowed just three runs in 5 2-3 innings Friday as the Red Sox routed the Chicago White Sox 11-3.
“Three walks. I definitely wasn’t too excited about that, but to get out of that inning with only one run was a big deal. I was lucky,” Beckett said. “The guys picked me up and scored runs.”
He is 3-2 with a 7.91 ERA in six starts against the Yankees since joining the Red Sox in 2006, including a 2-1 mark at Yankee Stadium. That doesn’t include his masterful five-hitter to clinch the 2003 World Series for Florida.
With the Yankees staff in a state of change following the removal of struggling Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens (5-5, 4.34) will try to lead the New York to its fifth straight home win. It will be Clemens’ first start since Sept. 6, 2003 during his first stint with New York against the team with which he broke into the majors in 1984.
The 353-game winner struggled at Detroit on Friday, giving up six runs in five innings after waiting out a more than four-hour rain delay, and left without a decision in New York’s 9-6, 11-inning defeat.
“It just looked like he was fighting it,” Torre told the Yankees’ official Web site of Clemens. “He didn’t look like he could locate. He had trouble getting balls down.”
Clemens is 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA in seven home starts, but eight of the 18 total runs he allowed came in a no-decision against the White Sox on Aug. 2. He is 8-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 19 lifetime starts against the Red Sox, but 6-5 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts versus them with the Yankees.
The Red Sox may be without left fielder Manny Ramirez, who left Tuesday’s game due to back spasms. The enigmatic outfielder has tormented the Yankees this season, batting .392 (20-for-51) with four homers and eight RBIs, and his teammates are hoping any absence won’t be an extended one.
“Hopefully, but I don’t think so,” teammate David Ortiz said when asked if Ramirez could be back after missing just one game.
Ramirez, who reached the 20-homer mark for the 13th straight season before leaving the game, is hitting just .180 (9-for-50) lifetime against Clemens with 18 strikeouts.
Ortiz has hit Yankees pitchers hard in 2007, batting .367 (18-for-49) with two homers and 13 RBIs. Ortiz, however, is just 4-for-19 (.211) with a solo homer and five strikeouts lifetime versus Clemens.