The Yankees (74-59) moved one percentage point behind the Seattle Mariners for the wild-card lead thanks to the Los Angeles Angels’ sweep of their AL West rivals. But New York has been helping itself in the East, taking the first two games of this series to draw within six games of division-leading Boston (80-53).
“Everything’s in our grasp - the wild card and the division,” Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth said after Wednesday’s 4-3 victory.
Roger Clemens pitched six solid innings and Alex Rodriguez hit his major league-leading 44th homer for the Yankees, who have not swept the Red Sox at home since a three-game set June 29-July 1, 2004. New York, though, did have a five-game sweep at Fenway Park from Aug. 18-21 of last year to essentially wrap up its ninth straight AL East title.
Johnny Damon has had key hits against his former team in each of the first two games of this series. His two-run single capped a three-run second inning on Wednesday, one day after his tiebreaking homer in the seventh lifted New York to a 5-3 victory.
“Unless he plays, we don’t win,” Rodriguez said of Damon, who is batting .350 (14-for-50) with three homers and seven RBIs in his last 10 games. “Johnny to me I think is the most important part of our offense.”
After the Yankees denied Josh Beckett a major league-best 17th win, Chien-Ming Wang (15-6, 3.95 ERA) will try to join him, Boston’s Tim Wakefield and the Los Angeles Angels’ John Lackey as the only 16-game winners. Wang has won his last two starts, and limited the Detroit Tigers to two runs—one earned — in eight innings of a 7-2 victory on Saturday.
“I just tried to throw sinkers and keep my pitch count down,” said Wang, who has given up just seven homers in 159 1-3 innings.
Two of those home runs, though, came in a 7-4 loss to the Red Sox on April 29. But Wang limited them to five runs—none on homers—over 12 innings in victories on May 21 and June 1.
Wang is 4-4 with a 4.78 ERA in nine starts and one relief appearance against Boston, including a 2-2 mark and a 3.72 ERA in five games at Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox again are expected to be without left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has a strained left oblique muscle and could miss several days. Manager Terry Francona said Ramirez, whose homer in the series opener was his first since May 5, was unlikely to play until Friday at the earliest.
“I hate to say he’s not going to play before we need to, but that’s realistic,” Francona said. “He showed up early (Wednesday) - pretty sore. It’s not worse than he was yesterday, which is good.”
That leaves a big hole in Boston’s lineup behind David Ortiz, whose solo homer off Clemens into the upper deck in the sixth inning was Boston’s first hit Wednesday. Ortiz has four home runs and nine RBIs over his last five games, and is 12-for-24 with three doubles and two homers lifetime against Wang.
Curt Schilling (8-5, 4.11) will try to help the Red Sox avoid a sweep. The 40-year-old right-hander has won consecutive starts, appearing to round into form after missing nearly six weeks with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
Schilling limited the Chicago White Sox to one run and three hits in six innings of a 10-1 rout on Friday. As he did in that outing, Schilling will be going on five days’ rest Thursday and he usually has better control in such situations, walking seven batters and striking out 40 over 63 1-3 innings in 10 starts.
But he has struggled against the Yankees this season, going 0-1 in three starts while getting tagged for 15 runs and 29 hits - including six home runs - in 18 innings. Schilling was reached for six runs and 12 hits in six innings of an 8-3 defeat May 23 at Yankee Stadium, where he is 2-2 with a 5.33 ERA in four starts since joining the Red Sox in 2004.
He is 7-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 17 starts and 22 overall appearances against the Yankees, but has not beaten them since June 8, 2006.
Rodriguez is 9-for-39 (.231) lifetime versus Schilling, but 3-for-8 with a double and two homers this year.