Yankees begin must-win series vs. Red Sox (Aug 31, 2017)
NEW YORK -- For the next four days, the New York Yankees can control their distance from the Boston Red Sox in the American League East race by getting wins.
After Sunday, it will be up to the Yankees to win as often as possible and hope Boston's opponents can provide assistance.
The Yankees begin their final series with the Red Sox on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
New York heads into the series trailing the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games after getting outscored 18-7 in three losses to the Cleveland Indians.
The last time the Yankees were 5 1/2 games out was Aug. 13, when Rafael Devers hit the game-tying homer off Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Benintendi delivered the winning hit in the 10th. Before getting swept by Cleveland, the Yankees had won nine of 13 and sliced the deficit to 2 1/2 games.
"At this point in the season, you're going to be able to say those are the most important games of the season because we won't run into them and (because of) where we are in the standings," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before the doubleheader sweep.
A four-game sweep by the Yankees would get the deficit to 1 1/2 games. A four-game sweep by the Red Sox would stretch the lead to 9 1/2 games and make the wild card the more realistic entry into the postseason for New York.
"Any time we play them, especially right now, it's always a big deal," Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia said. "It does seem weird we aren't going to play them (after Sept. 3). I have never been a part of that. That will be a little weird, but we will have to go out and try and win the series."
Boston is 9-7 since its last win in New York and enters the series on a three-game winning streak. After getting outscored 25-4 by the Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox completed a sweep of Toronto when Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland hit homers.
"We know this time of year things are probably magnified a little bit more," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We look forward to the intensity of the games because we've been in some real tight ballgames with them. They've been highly competitive."
Sabathia will start the series opener and will be pitching on five days' rest after being pushed back a day. Sabathia said he found out about the decision a few days ago.
"I am here to pitch. Whenever they tell me that day is, that is the day I am going to go," Sabathia said. "It is what it is and I will be ready to go on Thursday."
Sabathia is making his third start since returning from the disabled list due to right knee inflammation. Sabathia was on the DL when the Red Sox last visited New York and returned Aug. 19 in Boston when he allowed two runs and four hits.
He followed it up by allowing one run and five hits in seven innings during a no-decision in New York's 11-inning loss to the Seattle Mariners on Friday.
Sabathia is 16-13 with a 4.19 ERA in 38 career starts against the Red Sox. The current Boston roster is hitting a combined .187 (32-for-171) off him.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will start for the Red Sox. If he allows two earned runs or fewer and pitches at least six innings, he will join Babe Ruth as the second Red Sox pitcher to do so in five starts against the Yankees.
Rodriguez started the series opener of Boston's last trip to New York. He allowed two hits in six scoreless innings before the Yankees scored five times in the eighth.
Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees. In seven of those outings, Rodriguez has allowed two earned runs or less.
Besides looking to produce another effective showing against the Yankees, Rodriguez is trying for his first win in over three months. In nine starts since May 25, he is 0-3 with a 5.76 ERA.
The streak continued for Rodriguez when he allowed five runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings Saturday in a 7-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
New York owns an 8-7 lead in the season series. The Yankees won four of five meetings before the All-Star break and split a four-game series right after the All-Star break in Boston.
The Red Sox have won four of the last six meetings, including the last series in New York, Aug. 11-13. Boston might have swept that series, but it allowed five runs in the eighth inning in the series opener.