The Boston Red Sox already have a playoff berth, but they keep lurking in the AL East division race.
The Red Sox try to extend their slim division hopes for another game on Friday, when they begin a season-ending three-game series against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.
Boston (94-65) is two games behind Tampa Bay with three remaining, but the Rays hold the division tiebreaker. So the Red Sox must sweep the Yankees (87-72), and hope the Rays are swept by the Tigers - not likely with Detroit currently last in the AL Central - to win the East.
Manager Terry Francona’s team kept its chances going with a 6-1 victory over Cleveland on Thursday, hours after the Rays failed in their first bid to clinch the division by losing to the Tigers.
Jon Lester made a bid for his second no-hitter of the year - carrying it into the sixth - before leaving after conceding just two hits.
“If it happens, it’s nice. But we’ve got to get ready for the playoffs,” said Lester, who no-hit Kansas City on May 19.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2, 2.80 ERA) will try to lead the Red Sox to their fourth straight victory. The right-hander has won back-to-back starts and seven consecutive decisions since a loss to the Los Angeles Angels on July 28, a span of 10 starts.
He turned in one of his best outings of the year on Sunday at Toronto, scattering two hits with two walks over seven innings of a 3-0 victory. The 18th victory held a personal satisfaction for the Japanese star, who said afterward, “Since the moment I turned pro, I wanted to match my win total to the number on my jersey. It took me 10 years, but I finally got there.”
Matsuzaka labored to a victory in his only start against the Yankees this year, giving up four runs and five hits while walking six in five innings on April 13. He is 3-1 despite a 6.30 ERA in five lifetime starts versus New York, walking 19 in 30 innings.
For the first time since 1993, the Yankees are playing a meaningless series in late September. They had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Thursday with an 8-2 loss at Toronto, where Brett Gardner had three of New York’s six hits in a makeshift lineup—Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon all were held out.
A greater concern is the status of closer Mariano Rivera, who was not with the team Thursday but in New York to have an MRI on his sore throwing shoulder. Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters that Rivera told him his body “was cranky,” but was more defensive after general manager Brian Cashman said the closer had been pitching with discomfort in his shoulder.
“I’m telling you what the player told me,” Girardi said. “If you don’t like it, there’s not a whole lot I can do. I’m the manager, I have to answer the questions. I’m answering the questions with the knowledge that I have.”
Alfredo Aceves (1-0, 1.38) continues his bid to be a potential starter in 2009. The rookie right-hander has pitched well since joining the rotation, yielding three runs in 19 innings. He did not have anything to show from a strong outing against Baltimore on Saturday, working around five hits and three walks in six innings before the Yankees eventually won 1-0.
This will be his first appearance against the Red Sox.