Despite standings, it's still a rivalry

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was quietly holding court with a half dozen of his teammates in the visitors clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington early Wednesday afternoon when an "ESPN Sunday Night Baseball" television commercial previewed Boston's upcoming series against the New York Yankees.

"Wooo," screamed Pedroia. "Yankees and Red Sox. Are you ready?"

He was semi-mocking the preview for the simple reason that these days it doesn't matter whom the Red Sox play because the club desperately needs wins against every opponent. Boston's current road trip began with a series loss to the Texas Rangers, and with the Red Sox facing a three-game set against the AL East leaders this weekend in New York, wins are a must if Boston is to remain in contention for the wild card.

A series win against the Yankees could serve as a much-needed confidence boost for the struggling Red Sox.

"Hopefully," Pedroia said. "We're going to play as hard as we can the rest of the way. It's not like we're quitting. We're going to play our tails off."

The Red Sox's starting rotation for the weekend will feature Aaron Cook on Friday, Jon Lester on Saturday and Felix Doubront.

For Cook, this will be only the second time he's faced the Yankees in his career. In his only other start against New York, the right-hander suffered a loss on June 25, 2011, at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Colorado Rockies. He worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits.

"I know Yankee Stadium is a hitter-friendly ballpark and I've been fortunate enough to play in a lot of hitter-friendly ballparks in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Colorado. And I pitched at Yankee Stadium last year, so I kind of have an idea how I want to go after the guys and just make sure to keep them honest and make quality pitches down in the zone," Cook said.

The Yankees will be without Alex Rodriguez, who suffered a broken hand after he was hit by a pitch in the team's recent series against the Mariners. Even without the slugging third baseman, Cook knows how challenging it will be against a solid New York lineup.

"They're a great team," Cook said. "They put together a great lineup every time out there and it's a team you have to take serious, and you can't really take any batter off or any pitch off, you've got to be on top of your game and just be able to attack them."

Lester's outing on Saturday is also key. The left-hander has struggled all season and enters his start against the Yankees with a 5-8 record and a 5.46 ERA.

Lester has had success against the Yankees in his career, posting an overall 8-4 record with a 4.33 ERA in 18 starts against them. He's been especially good at Yankee Stadium, with a 6-2 record. And while he's looking to draw on his past success, the southpaw also realizes the Yankees have a dangerous lineup.

"It's the Yankees. It doesn't matter your stats, or anything like that. It's still the Yankees and you still have to prepare and have a good plan going in and obviously have that in place," Lester said. "You have to go out and execute those pitches and if you don't that lineup will definitely hurt you.

"It's like everything else. You can't worry about your past success or your past failures, just know that you've put yourself in the best position to succeed and know that when you step on the rubber you have a better plan than these guys, and I'm just going to beat them. That's all you can think about."

The rivalry took on a new dimension this week when the Yankees acquired veteran outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners. It's strange seeing the Japanese sensation in pinstripes, but he's looking forward to the experience of playing against the Red Sox in one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports.

"I've only obviously watched it on TV," Ichiro told reporters this week. "I know that there's a lot of tradition involved in that game. Just a few days ago, I wouldn't even think about being in that situation, that I would be wearing this uniform, playing against the Red Sox. So I don't really know what to expect.

"When I watched it, sometimes I thought it's like a fight -- not in the real sense, of them actually fighting, but really, a physical, fighting atmosphere, in the game, is what I felt watching on TV."

It will be a fight. No matter the outcome, it will be your typical Red Sox-Yankees series. If the Red Sox can produce timely hitting and receive quality starting pitching, they might have a chance to win the series.