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Worth the wait: Red Sox, Yankees begin key series

A rainout last night may have forced the Red Sox into double action on Sunday, but at least it came with a bit of good news.

Boston picked up a half-game in its advantage for the American League Wild Card spot despite the unexpected day off and it returns to action this afternoon hoping to end its late-season slump against the rival New York Yankees.

These two foes were slated to begin a three-game set last night, with the Red Sox coming in having lost seven of their last nine games. They entered September with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees for the top spot in the AL East, but have gone 5-16 in the month and watched New York win the division on Wednesday.

The slide had allowed the Rays to pull to within two games of the Red Sox for the league's final playoff position, but Tampa Bay fell another half-game back with Friday's loss to Toronto. That defeat breathed a bit of life into Boston's playoff chances.

"We're still in a position to put ourselves in the right spot. That's what we have to focus on," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said after Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Orioles. "We have to take care of ourselves. And then from there, we'll worry about what happens. We control what we do by playing good baseball."

Going to Yankee Stadium may be just what the doctor ordered for the Red Sox. Boston is a perfect 6-0 in the Bronx this year and is 11-4 against the Yankees on the season.

Red Sox ace Jon Lester was scheduled to pitch last night's opener, but he will go in this game instead. The left-hander is 15-8 on the year, but has lost his last two starts, both against the Rays. Lester was defeated on Saturday, as he allowed four runs and five hits in seven innings to up his season earned run average to 3.15.

Lester, though, has dominated the Yankees over the course of his career, going 8-2 against them with a 3.53 ERA in 16 starts.

New York's Freddy Garcia also had his start pushed back to today and he is 11-8 with a 3.77 ERA on the season. Garcia was charged with the loss on Sunday in Toronto, as he surrendered three runs and five hits with three walks in just 4 2/3 innings.

Garcia has pitched to a 6.92 ERA in four outings versus the Red Sox this season, but is 8-4 lifetime against them with a 4.69 ERA in 20 games (19 starts).

One day after securing their 11th American League East title in 14 years, the Yankees committed four errors and found themselves on the wrong end of a 15-8 decision to the Rays on Thursday.

Bartolo Colon gave up seven hits and seven runs -- five earned -- over three innings. He's winless in his last nine appearances.

"It's location, it's movement," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the reason for Colon's struggles. "It's some velocity as well. That's why there's concerns. You keep going forward and continue to evaluate."

The Yanks, who lost for only the second time in their last 12 games at Yankee Stadium, would love nothing more than to play spoiler for the Red Sox this weekend.

"Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome for me," New York catcher Russell Martin said. "They are fun to play against just because they have a quality team, and they're gritty, and they play hard and stuff, but I'd love to see them lose.

"I hate the Red Sox."

The Yankees had planned to honor the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris' then record-setting 61 home run season in 1961, but delayed the event until today due to the poor weather.

Those expected to attend the ceremonies include Maris' widow Sue and former teammates Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford as well as Bob Cerv, the former teammate and roommate of Maris and Mickey Mantle.