Thursday, August 5, 2010
Yankees the focus of Red Sox's road trip
By Steven Krasner Special to ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Every game counts the same. Wins against any team are as important as wins against teams in your own division. Take them one game at a time.
OK, so maybe the Boston Red Sox really do believe the cliches they were spouting Thursday night after beating Cleveland 6-2 behind a dominant Daisuke Matsuzaka and Adrian Beltre's grand slam at Fenway Park, which enabled them to earn only a disappointing split of the four-game series against the lowly Indians. But staring the Red Sox in the face now is a crucial, 10-games-in-10-days road trip that begins Friday night with the opener of a four-game series against the New York Yankees in an American League East showdown.
Fresh off the disabled list, Mike Lowell will look to be productive as the replacement for Kevin Youkilis.
Boston will enter the series trailing the first-place Yankees by six games -- seven in the loss column. The Red Sox also happen to be trailing the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games -- six in the loss column. And while the Sox can't necessarily claim a postseason spot just by having a great trip, they most certainly can dig themselves an insurmountable hole with an awful record on the journey, particularly if it gets off to a rough start in New York.
This trip is vital to the injury-plagued team's playoff hopes, beginning with the four games in New York, then continuing with three contests in Toronto and finishing with three against Texas, the top team in the AL West.
Adding to the degree of difficulty for the Red Sox is that they are missing the stars on the right side of their infield. Former AL MVP and team sparkplug Dustin Pedroia has been on the disabled list since June 26, and on Tuesday, two-time All-Star first baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the disabled list and lost for the season because of a torn muscle in his right thumb. Youkilis will have surgery Friday morning, only a few hours before his teammates head to Yankee Stadium.
Do the Sox have to sweep in New York?
If they do, they would pull to within two games of the Yankees, either putting them into doable wild-card-winning territory or closing in on first place, depending on what the Rays do over those four days. Three out of four also would put Boston in the thick of the playoff competition.
A split? Losing three out of four? Getting swept? Would any of those mean it's time to get out the shovel and bury this team that has been so decimated by injuries?
While those scenarios wouldn't mathematically eliminate Boston, the odds certainly would grow much longer for a postseason berth, especially facing six more games on the road trip after leaving Yankee Stadium.
The Sox, not surprisingly, didn't want to offer any specific goals in terms of number of wins for the coming trip.
"We just want to play [Friday's] game good. That's all we need to do," manager Terry Francona said.
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Said Victor Martinez, "Today's done, and we have to come back tomorrow and keep playing hard and let things happen. You don't want to start worrying about everything. You just have to let things happen and see what happens."
That doesn't mean, however, that the significance of the trip has escaped their attention.
"I think every game from now on is important," Beltre said. "We've had injuries; we're six and a half games back. This will be a good test. Hopefully when we get back home we're closer than we are now."
"This is probably, as it looks right now, the most important road trip -- the most important 10 games of the season considering the competition and the magnitude of some of the games," Bill Hall added. "[Thursday night's] win was an important win for us. Hopefully it will give us some momentum heading in to face the Yankees and we can cut into their lead."
The Red Sox's primary focus is on the Yankees. Certainly because of the rivalry, but the stakes are getting higher and higher as the regular-season schedule begins to hit the home stretch. Boston has 53 games remaining; the Yankees have 55.
"I always like playing against New York," David Ortiz said. "Those are fun series. They're always good. You have to be on top of your toes for nine innings. I like the challenge."
The pitching matchups, for the most part, are solid.
Clay Buchholz (11-5, 2.59 ERA) will face recently rejuvenated Javier Vazquez (9-7, 4.61) on Friday. Saturday it will be John Lackey (10-6, 4.48) squaring off against CC Sabathia (13-5, 3.19). On Sunday, it will be Josh Beckett (3-1, 5.70) against A.J. Burnett (9-9, 4.93); and in the finale, Jon Lester (11-7, 3.07) faces Dustin Moseley (1-1, 4.13), who has been filling in for the injured Andy Pettitte.
How well the Red Sox meet the challenges in New York, Toronto and Texas might very well determine whether the following 43 games will matter in the playoff race or whether Boston will simply be playing out the string.
"We've got some good pitching. We have our rotation set, finally," said Mike Lowell, who has come off the disabled list and taken over for Youkilis. "I like our chances. How can you not?"