IT’S NOW OR NEVER for the New York Yankees. This week’s three-game series against the Boston Red Sox might not be make, but it could certainly be break.
Five games behind the Red Sox in the race for the American League wild card, the Yanks simply cannot afford to lose this series.
To be brutally honest, they really need to complete their second successive sweep, having revived their fading hopes in Baltimore this weekend.
And there’s actually reason to believe they could do it.
With 46 runs in the last seven games, offense should not be a problem. And while not exactly favored by the probable starting pitching line-ups, they’re certainly not overmatched.
The Yanks catch a break tomorrow night. Red Sox ace and Yankees killer Josh Beckett still has tingling and numbness in his right arm and will miss at least one start.
That means Andy Pettitte will be up against Tim Wakefield instead. The knuckleballer has been on the DL since August 7 due to tightness in his right shoulder so there has to be a major question mark about whether he’ll be at his best.
Even if he is, the Yanks have had plenty of success against him in the past. With Pettitte giving up just one run in seven innings on his last start in Toronto, it should be game one to New York.
Paul Byrd, who joined Boston from the Cleveland earlier this month, faces Sidney Ponson on Wednesday.
This is a real crapshoot. Byrd is 2-5 against the Yanks with an ERA on 4.90. He allowed four runs on six hits over six innings, but that was good enough to give him the win against the Blue Jays.
Becket-less Boston could have pitching problems
Ponson was simply horrible in Toronto last Thursday, lasting just over two innings, during which he gave up seven runs on eight hits.
But he’s been pretty good on his last two starts at the Stadium, notably against the Los Angeles Angels, when he conceded just two hits in seven innings.
It’s asking a lot for him to repeat that level of performance, but if he can just keep his team in the hunt, the Yanks can come through late and win game two.
On paper, game three looks the toughest challenge for Joe Girardi’s men. Mike Mussina goes for his 17th win against Jon Lester.
Lester dominated both his starts against the Yanks last month, the Sox winning 9-2 and 7-0. He pitched a complete game at Yankee Stadium, allowing just five hits and no runs.
The Yanks have been unable to work him out. But the Blue Jays had no such problems on his last outing, pounding him for seven runs on eight hits in only 2.1 innings.
The bad news for the home team is that Lester will be fresh. The good news is that his last outing must surely have dented his confidence.
Mussina has been Mr. Reliable this season. Even when he’s got off to a shaky start, he’s managed to hang in there.
It may be wishful thinking – and it would be foolish to place too much faith in a team that currently has Ponson, Darrell Rasner and Carl Pavano as three of its five starting pitchers.
But if Mussina comes through, the Yanks can sweep the Sox and put themselves right back in the hunt for October.