He could also have the New York Yankees in first place.
Instead, the Red Sox remain atop the AL East entering the archrivals’ three-game series at Fenway Park, and they’d improve to 11-2 against the Yankees if they can beat Sabathia for a fifth time in 2011 on Tuesday night.
In his first two years as New York’s ace, Sabathia (17-7, 2.99 ERA) was usually sharp in this rivalry, going 4-1 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts.
It’s been a completely different story this season, with the big left-hander losing all four meetings - allowing at least six runs in each of the last three. He is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston and 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA versus all other opponents.
“Believe me, it’s not like we go, ‘We’re going to lunch up on him,’” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Aug. 6 after his club’s most recent shellacking of Sabathia. “He’s really good. He’s had his way with a lot of teams, and we give him a good battle.”
Sabathia’s hardly been alone in the New York clubhouse in having trouble with the Red Sox. Boston has piled up 75 runs in the teams’ 12 meetings, clinching the season series with six games still to play.
Derek Jeter(notes), Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes) are all batting below .200 against the Red Sox this year. Jeter hopes to play Tuesday after missing two games with a bruised kneecap, but Rodriguez may miss a third straight contest after having an MRI on his left thumb Monday.
“We need to play well,” Jeter said. “They have a great team. Everyone knows that. It’s a challenge for us.”
Dustin Pedroia(notes) is hitting .439 against the Yankees this year, going 6 for 10 against Sabathia. Jacoby Ellsbury(notes), who has a team-high 13 RBIs versus New York, is 4 for 8 with a home run off New York’s ace.
“They have a good lineup … they wear on you,” Sabathia said. “I’ve faced all of those guys a lot. When I’m right, I can beat anybody.”
Sabathia hasn’t been at his best in his last four starts, posting a 5.72 ERA with opponents batting .321 and the Yankees (80-52) losing three of those games.
The right-hander has been the beneficiary of bountiful run support lately, going 7-1 in his last nine starts despite a 4.11 ERA - still an improvement from his woeful first half.
He’s recorded between 18 and 20 outs while allowing between three and five runs in each of his last five outings, including an 11-5 win over Texas last Tuesday.
“It’s huge. Consistency. You know what you’re going to get,” Francona said. “This is Lackey. It took us a while.”
It also took the Red Sox (82-51) a while to finish a doubleheader sweep of Oakland on Saturday, but they outlasted three rain delays that totaled about four hours to complete the series before the worst parts of Hurricane Irene arrived.
The Yankees have played three games since the last time Boston took the field. They waited out the storm in Baltimore, then split a doubleheader Sunday before beating the Orioles 3-2 on Monday to move within 1 1/2 games of the Red Sox.