The Yankees head to Boston on a roll, having won their first six games after the All-Star break to tighten up the American League East. New York has improved its general condition a great deal over the last meeting the two clubs had in the Bronx from July 3-6, when the clubs split a four-game series.
"It's real important, because we know that we have to make up ground and we have to keep winning games," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We get a day off to rest, and the guys feel good about themselves. I like the way our club is playing, and we've been hitting outstanding and pitching great. We just need to keep the momentum going."
One key to the Yankees' recent success has been a newfound offensive consistency, one aspect that eluded the club through much of the first half.
The Yankees are hitting .333 (21-for-63) with runners in scoring position in the six games after turning their ballpark over to the All-Star Game; they hit just .254 with runners in scoring position in 865 at-bats prior to the Midsummer Classic.
Good timing indeed, said the Yankees' Johnny Damon.
"Any time you play Boston, it's a big game," Damon said. "It has implications for what can happen and who makes the playoffs. For us to come out like this right after the All-Star break is a good thing."
But the Red Sox also know how to make their scoreboard staff work inside the Green Monster, and Boston's lineup takes on a different appearance with the return of David Ortiz from the disabled list.
Chamberlain has faced Ortiz three times and retired him all three, but he knows putting Big Papi into Boston's order only raises the difficulty level.
"He can still change a game with one swing," Chamberlain said. "You've got to be really good with your pitches and selective, and understand in a situation where you need to get a ground ball, you may walk him because it's a situation where you can't be too good with him."
A weekend sweep either way at Fenway would alter the AL East landscape significantly as the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays all jockey for top position and a ticket to October baseball.
As Boston's Dustin Pedroia opines: "[The Yankees] are not going away. They have too many great players on their team to be out of this race. It's going to come down to the end -- us, the Yankees and the Rays. We'll have our hands full."
It would be easy to further hype up the three games more than than usual, and certainly the grandstands will be significantly frenzied. Yet Saturday's starter, Andy Pettitte, stopped a cold water splash short of calling it do-or-die.
"There's still so much time left," Pettitte said. "Obviously, we want to go in there and win the series. But if we go in there and don't have a great series, it's not going to kill us. We don't plan on going in and having a bad series. If we keep pitching the way we are, I think we're going to do fine."
Friday will mark Chamberlain's 10th Major League start and his fifth appearance against the Red Sox, the second this season.
He's had success of late, even though the won-loss record doesn't show it, striking out 17 in his past two starts while walking one to loom as a tough customer for the Red Sox bats. Boston's Josh Beckett provides a respectable challenge for Chamberlain to topple.
"You want to face the best," Chamberlain said. "That's how you get better and that's how you make yourself become better every day. It's going to be a good challenge. You've just got to go out and attack. You're pitching to the plate, you're not pitching to the hitter."
Pettitte, an old hand at the New York-Boston tiffs, said he sees qualities in Chamberlain's make-up that allow him to forecast success.
"I think he'll do great," Pettitte said. "I think he's been through enough now and pitched in enough big spots that he realizes he just has to go out there and throw the ball and relax. I don't think it'll affect him.
"It's just a matter of blocking out everything, just like the crowd [at Yankee Stadium]. Sometimes when the crowd gets too pumped up, you block it out and just focus on your pitches. Really, that's all you need to do to get your mind right."
NYY: RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-3, 2.52 ERA)
Chamberlain pitched six strong innings against the A's on Saturday afternoon but came away with his seventh no-decision in nine starts. The right-hander gave up just one earned run and six hits. He struck out eight batters and walked one after recording no walks in his previous start. Chamberlain said he's gotten comfortable with his starting role and has been able to get ahead in counts more. He has not given up more than three earned runs in any of his starts.
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (9-6, 3.98 ERA)
The ace fired a complete game in his last start, though it was in a losing cause. Beckett took a two-run lead into the seventh against the Angels on Saturday, only to be roughed up in a four-run rally. This time around, Beckett will be facing the Yankees, a team he is 3-0 against this season with a 3.92 ERA. Beckett has given the Red Sox at least six innings in 10 of his past 11 starts. In seven Fenway starts, he is 5-1 with a 4.82 ERA.
Damon said that he does not expect to be considered to play left field until at least Sunday, the final day of the series. Damon can serve as the designated hitter, and is expected to do so. ... Yankees starting pitchers have held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 13 of their past 14 games, going 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA. ... Robinson Cano is just the second player since 1933 to record multihit games in his team's first six games since the All-Star break and see his team win all six games. The other player, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the Reds' Wally Berger in 1938.
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Official game notes
WCBS 880, WNSW 1430 (Español)
Saturday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 11-7, 3.86) at Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 6-7, 3.69), 3:55 p.m. ET
Sunday: Yankees (Sidney Ponson, 6-1, 4.02) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, 8-3, 3.20), 8:05 p.m. ET
Monday: Yankees (Darrell Rasner, 5-7, 4.83) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 6-7, 3.58), 7:05 p.m. ET