The big Kahunas in the AL East are facing off again this weekend. Ugh, you lament, not another weekend of Boston-New York hype. But this time, it’s different. This time, it’s genuinely exciting.
The Red Sox and Rays are currently tied for first place in the division, the Yankees, three games back. If the Yankees take the three-game series, they could win sole possession of first place for the first time this season. (The last time they were in first, April 16, they were tied with Boston.)
While the Rays are still a legitimate threat, they’ve been streaky in July, winning seven straight before losing seven straight (I guess that’s why they call baseball a .500 game). They’re 4-3 since the All-Star break.
The Yankees, however, have won their six games since the break (and according to Bill James–via Rob Neyer–are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now with a “temperature” of 106 degrees. Um, is that Fahrenheit?). Though touted prospects Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes struggled early on, and young ace Chien Ming Wang hit the 60-day DL mid-June, the Yankees’ pitching staff has been carried by its old warhorses: Andy Pettite (100 K’s), Mike Mussina (3.26 ERA), and Mariano Rivera (25 saves). Joba Chamberlain, who takes the mound tonight, has made a successful transition back to a starting role, posting a 2.64 ERA in nine starts, though only two of those starts earned him a decision. New York’s veteran lineup has survived plenty of injuries as well, and has been red-hot since the break, scoring an average of 6.33 runs per game in that short span.
But if anyone can stop this team, it’s the Boston Red Sox, who have the game’s reigning big-game ace starting tonight in the person of Josh Beckett. Their lineup, too, has been raking, but tonight features an ace of its own, specifically an ace in the hole: David Ortiz, the league’s best DH, will return to the three-hole tonight from a two-month stint on the DL.
So with the dog days of August looming, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than at Fenway tonight—the muggy summer air smelling of hot dogs and beer, the green grass aglow under the light towers, and the hum of the crowd rising to a roar as Big Papi steps in.