Clemens returns to Fenway Park for the first time in nearly four years when he squares off with Schilling on Sunday night as the New York Yankees and AL East-leading Boston Red Sox complete their regular-season series.
The two haven’t matched up since Arizona beat New York 3-2 in Game 7 six years ago, ending the Yankees’ three-year championship run. Neither got a decision as Clemens gave up one run and struck out 10 over 6 1-3 innings while Schilling yielded two runs and fanned nine over 7 1-3.
Boston (90-59) and New York (84-64) are playing for the 18th and final time in the regular season, although it’s possible the arch-rivals could meet in the AL championship series. The Red Sox lead the Yankees by 5 1/2 games in the AL East, but New York is ahead in the wild card race by 2 1/2 games over Detroit.
Clemens (6-6, 4.45 ERA) pitched in the ALCS twice against his former team during his first stint with the Yankees, including his last appearance in Boston against Pedro Martinez in Game 3 in 2003. Clemens gave up two runs over six innings in a 4-3 win to improve to 5-0 with a 3.32 ERA in his last seven starts at Fenway since losing to Martinez and the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS.
“I enjoy playing there,” Clemens said. “I don’t know how long it’s been but I look forward to it.”
It wasn’t certain the seven-time AL Cy Young Award winner would take the mound Sunday until this weekend arrived. He left his last start on Sept. 3 against Seattle after four innings because of elbow discomfort caused by a change in his mechanics due to a blister on his foot.
The right-hander returned home to Houston and had two cortisone shots in his elbow on Sept. 5. Tests also revealed ligament damage to the 45-year-old’s elbow, but Clemens has responded well in two bullpen sessions this week, including a 40-pitch one on Thursday.
“It’s not a game situation type of scenario, but it was a more violent pen than I would normally throw,” Clemens said. “I’m pleased with it. My foot is holding up fine. For me, that’s where it starts and ends as far as getting over my arm issues.”
This will be the second time Clemens has faced Boston this year. He gave up a run and two hits over six innings to earn the decision in a 4-3 win on Aug. 29.
Schilling (8-7, 3.93) also is known for pitching through pain, but missed six weeks from June 19-Aug. 5 due to right shoulder tendinitis. He seems to be rounding into form heading into the playoffs, posting a 2.52 ERA in his last four starts despite losing two of three decisions.
The 40-year-old right-hander was outpitched by Scott Kazmir in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday, allowing the one run and five hits through six innings. It marked the second time in his last three starts that the Red Sox were shut out.
Schilling is winless in four starts this year against New York, going 0-2 with a 5.76 ERA. He’s had the most trouble with Derek Jeter, who is 7-for-12 against him this year, and Robinson Cano, who’s 5-for-11.
Boston recovered from squandering a five-run lead in the eighth inning of an 8-7 loss on Friday behind Josh Beckett’s sharp seven innings on Saturday en route to a 10-1 win. Beckett gave up one run and three hits while David Ortiz went 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
“We needed a bounce-back day,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “It was nice to play with a lead. It was nice to play with a bigger lead.”
Jeter had two of the Yankees’ four hits, but leadoff hitter Johnny Damon went 0-for-4 after getting four hits on Friday. New York has lost two of three following a seven-game winning streak.
“Both teams are definitely hungry, and both teams definitely want to win the division,” Damon said. “Obviously, (Sunday) is crucial to us.”
New York also had a five-game winning streak over Boston snapped with Saturday’s loss.
Ortiz continues to torment the Yankees, hitting .375 (24-for-64) with three homers and 16 RBIs against them in 2007. Impressive rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who entered the game after Kevin Youkilis suffered a bruised right wrist when he was hit by a pitch from Chien-Ming Wang, is 4-for-7 in this series and batting .426 (20-for-47) during a 13-game hitting streak for Boston.
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