Red Sox-Yankees Preview

For a foundering Boston Red Sox team desperate to stop an epic

collapse and hang on to the AL wild card, facing an opponent with

little at stake this weekend might have been good news.

The problem is, that opponent is the archrival New York Yankees,

who would like nothing better than to push the Red Sox further

along an early path to the golf course.

With their once-gaping wild-card lead down to a tenuous 2 1/2

games and following a rainout Friday night, the Red Sox try once

again to end their September struggles Saturday when they open a

three-game set in the Bronx against the AL East champion

Yankees.

The three games will now be played over two days after rain

postponed Friday’s contest. The teams will play a day-night

doubleheader Sunday.

When the month began, this series figured to be for the division

crown. Boston and New York had jousted atop the division all

summer, and the Red Sox held a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees.

The runner-up appeared nearly certain to win the wild card as Tampa

Bay – the closest pursuer – languished nine games behind

Boston.

Little has gone right since for the Red Sox (88-68), who fell to

5-16 in September after dropping three of four at home this week to

last-place Baltimore. Boston’s swoon allowed the Yankees (95-61)

the luxury of clinching the division Wednesday and brought the Rays

within two games of the Red Sox before Friday night, when Tampa Bay

lost 5-1 to Toronto and fell 2 1/2 games behind.

“If you were to ask me in August about that – if you would have

told me this would happen in September, I would have laughed,”

slugger David Ortiz told the team’s official website. “Because the

way we were playing, the way things were going, even with some

injuries, we would have come out (of it).”

The Red Sox have dealt with their share of injuries down the

stretch – third baseman Kevin Youkilis hasn’t played in eight days

due to a sports hernia – but health woes don’t come close to

explaining their collapse.

“We certainly haven’t made it very easy for ourselves,” Boston

manager Terry Francona said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get where

we want to go, but we have our work cut out for us.”

One night after clinching their 11th division title in 14 years,

the Yankees didn’t appear eager to do the Red Sox any favors,

dropping the finale of a four-game series against the Rays 15-8 to

end a four-game winning streak. However, they may be salivating at

the prospect of sending Boston to an early offseason.

“Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome for me,” New

York catcher Russell Martin said. “They are fun to play against

just because they have a quality team, and they’re gritty, and they

play hard and stuff, but I’d love to see them lose.

“I hate the Red Sox,” he added.

Of all Boston’s problems, the biggest may be a starting rotation

that has compiled a 6.82 ERA this month and has produced only two

quality starts in its last 18 games. One of those belonged to Jon

Lester (15-8, 3.15 ERA), who will take the ball Friday.

However, even Lester may not be the man to end the slump. He’s

7-5 when taking the mound after a Red Sox loss, compared with 8-3

following a win. The left-hander is also coming off consecutive

defeats to Tampa Bay in which he allowed eight runs over 11

innings.

Lester is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in four starts versus the Yankees

this season. Both wins came in the Bronx against Freddy Garcia

(11-8, 3.77), who will oppose Lester again Friday.

Garcia fared particularly poorly in a June 7 loss to Lester and

Boston, lasting a season-low 1 2-3 innings while yielding four

runs, four hits and three walks. The right-hander was more

effective Aug. 7 at Fenway Park, limiting the Red Sox to one run

over five innings and not getting a decision.

Garcia, who will turn 35 on Oct. 6, could be showing signs of

fatigue down the stretch. He’s 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA and a .385

opponent batting average in three September outings, failing to

last longer than five innings in any of them.

The Red Sox are 6-0 at Yankee Stadium in 2011, but the teams

have split their last six meetings overall.