When baseball's biggest rivalry resumes tonight, it will mark a homecoming of sorts for one of the principal figures and a new home for another.
And also a sense of urgency for the Boston Red Sox, who enter the Bronx for a critical three-game weekend series with the American League East-leading New York Yankees with plenty of ground to make up in the playoff race.
The usually contending Red Sox currently reside at the bottom of the division standings, one game under the .500 mark and 10 1 /2 behind the front-running Yankees. Boston still isn't that far back in the AL Wild Card picture, with a 4 1/2-game deficit to make up, but has lost five of its last six contests and knows every one from this point on will be important.
"We're at a point now where we need to win," second baseman Dustin Pedroia told the Red Sox' official site. "That's basically it. It doesn't matter who we're playing."
The team's present struggles overshadow the return of manager Bobby Valentine to New York for the first time since the 2002 season, the final one of his seven-year run with the crosstown-resident Mets. The high point of that tenure came in 2000, when the veteran skipper guided the Mets to the 2000 World Series before falling to the Yankees in five games.
Valentine's first year in Boston hasn't been as successful, and the Red Sox come in reeling after Wednesday's 5-3 setback at AL West power Texas. The BoSox managed just five hits against Rangers pitching on the night, though both Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks had solo homers in a losing cause.
Red Sox starter Josh Beckett allowed three fourth-inning runs and four overall over seven frames of work, with the former All-Star permitting nine hits in losing for the fifth time in his last six decisions.
The Yankees return home from a challenging West Coast trip in which the Bronx Bombers dropped four of six games, but were able to end the swing on a high note by rallying for a 5-2 victory over Seattle on Wednesday.
That series was the first in a Yankee uniform for longtime Mariners icon Ichiro Suzuki, traded by Seattle to New York prior to Monday's opener of the set. The two-time AL batting champion went 3-for-12 over the three games against the team he spent 11 1/2 glorious seasons with.
Suzuki will make his Yankee Stadium debut as a member of the pinstripes tonight and is expected to man his customary post in right field, as regular right fielder Nick Swisher is still bothered by a strained hip flexor and will likely sit out a sixth straight game.
"Just a few days ago, I wouldn't even think about being in [this] situation, that I would be wearing this uniform, playing against the Red Sox," said Suzuki through an interpreter.
The Yankees will also be without Alex Rodriguez for this series and beyond, after the star third baseman suffered a fractured left hand after being hit by a pitch in Tuesday's loss to the Mariners. He's believed to be sidelined into September.
Jayson Nix was the hero of Wednesday's win, with the reserve utilityman delivering a pinch-hit three-run double in the top of the eighth inning that gave New York a 4-2 lead. Russell Martin knocked him home with a single later on to add to the margin, and relievers David Robertson and Rafael Soriano threw a scoreless inning each to close things out.
"All I wanted to do was hit a sac fly," said Nix of the at-bat. "I wasn't trying to do too much, I just wanted to get one run in, we're down by one run. I think that helped because I wasn't trying to do too much on the ball."
Derek Jeter finished 3-for-4 with a solo home run for the Yankees, who'll send Phil Hughes to the hill tonight in search of his 10th win of the season.
The right-hander pitched solidly in defeat against red-hot Oakland on Saturday, yielding two runs and just four hits over 7 1/3 innings, but is 0-2 over his last three starts and hasn't fared well when facing Boston in the past. In 17 career matchups (9 starts) with the Red Sox, Hughes is just 2-6 with a poor 6.49 earned run average.
One of those losses occurred earlier this month in Fenway Park, where Hughes was reached for five runs (3 earned) on 10 hits before exiting after 5 1/3 innings on July 7.
Boston counters with Aaron Cook, with the sinker specialist set to make his seventh overall start and sixth since becoming a fixture in the team's depleted rotation.
Cook was sharp in his first outing after the All-Star break, surrendering one unearned run and walking none in a seven-inning no-decision against the White Sox on July 16, but gave up five runs (3 earned) and a pair of homers to take the loss against Toronto this past Saturday.
The longtime Colorado Rockie, who's 2-3 with a 3.50 ERA for the season, has taken on the Yankees just once previously. That came at Yankee Stadium last year and wasn't a good result, with Cook being tagged for six runs (5 earned) and 12 hits over 5 2/3 frames in an 8-3 Colorado loss.
New York won four of five bouts with Boston this season, all of which took place at Fenway Park, but the Red Sox went 7-2 at Yankee Stadium a season ago.