Pettitte looks to sweep aside Sox

Pettitte looks to sweep aside Red Sox

NEW YORK -- Talks of the Yankees' so-called inability to beat the Red Sox this season have all but permanently vanished during the past three days. When Boston came to the Bronx on Thursday night to open a four-game series, it had beat its blood rivals eight consecutive times, and there were doubts if New York had the internal toughness to withstand such an assault.

The Yankees consistently downplayed their perceived mental block, insisting they are a different team now than the one that looked frail and timid the last time the Red Sox rolled into town.

Consider their point taken.

The Yankees have won the first three games of the set convincingly and have held Boston scoreless for 24 consecutive innings, leaving little doubt that the first eights contests of the season series were no indication of the next 10. No longer does anyone pound manager Joe Girardi with questions about jinxes and lack of emotional fortitude. After Saturday's 5-0 victory, the buzz was all about the possibility of a sweep.

The two teams will square off again on Sunday, when New York will try for its seventh consecutive win, in a game televised nationally on ESPN. The Yankees enter the contest leading the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games in the American League East standings -- their largest lead of the season. Andy Pettitte will face left-hander Jon Lester.

"First we talked about winning a game," Girardi said. "You talk about winning a series. We have a chance to extend the distance tomorrow. Anytime you have a chance to do that, they are really important games."

The key to the Yankees' recent success has been their dominant pitching, which has been especially integral the past two days. On Friday, A.J. Burnett allowed just one hit in 7 2/3 shutout innings, setting the tone for New York's thrilling 2-0, 15-inning victory. Ace CC Sabathia followed that by hurling 7 2/3 scoreless frames of his own, surrendering just two hits. The bullpen has been equally stingy.

It was the kind of performances the Yankees envisioned when they signed Burnett and Sabathia to lucrative free-agent contracts in the offseason, and their outings have provided the spark the team has needed thus far in this series.

Before Friday's game, Sabathia spoke about the momentum of a pitching staff, saying that no starter wants to be the one to snap a winning streak, or throw poorly amid a string of strong starts. In that case, turning to Pettitte may not be the worst thing. In his past two outings, he has given up just two earned runs in 13 innings. On Tuesday, he outdueled the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, who was the subject of trade rumors prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline.

That's the Pettitte the Yankees hope will show up on Sunday, when they have the chance to continue rolling along.

"It's not something that's easy to do," Girardi said when asked about the significance of holding Boston dormant for 24 consecutive innings. "We've had very good pitching in this series, especially the last two days. It's not something easy to do. You hope Andy could do it tomorrow."

Pitching matchup
NYY: LHP Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.35 ERA)
Thanks in large part to some newfound control of his cut fastball, Pettitte was able to hold the Blue Jays to just one run in 6 2/3 innings last time out. Struggling with his control at times, Pettitte nonetheless struck out six batters, using the cutter to work ahead in counts. That snapped a three-game losing streak for Pettitte, and he would like to avoid adding to another small streak -- dating back to August of last season, Pettitte has lost back-to-back games to the Red Sox.

BOS: LHP Jon Lester (9-7, 3.79 ERA)
The power lefty continues to turn in solid results. In Lester's most recent start, he gave up three hits and a run over six-plus innings. He is 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in four starts since the All-Star break, and is 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 11 road starts. Lester has pitched twice against the Yankees this season, going 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA. Lester is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in six career starts against New York.

Tidbits
With their victory Saturday, the Yankees have won 17 of their past 22 games and are a season-high 26 games over .500. ... Sabathia recorded a season-high nine strikeouts Saturday. ... Derek Jeter hit his 12th homer of the season in the eighth inning.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• ESPN

On radio
• WCBS 880, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Monday: Yankees (Sergio Mitre, 1-0, 7.50) vs. Blue Jays (Marc Rzepczynski, 1-3, 3.74), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Yankees (TBD) vs. Blue Jays (Scott Richmond, 6-6, 3.97), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Yankees (TBD) vs. Blue Jays (Ricky Romero, 10-5, 3.66), 1:05 p.m. ET

Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.