AL East-leading Red Sox try for series win over Yanks

Once again the Boston Red Sox try to become the first team in the majors to reach 60 wins as they close out a three-game series versus the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on Sunday night.

After kicking off the second half of the season with a 4-2 win in the series opener on Friday, the Red Sox found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-2 decision on Saturday that was filled with defensive gems and questionable base running.

Of the 12 hits recorded by the Yankees yesterday, all but three were tallied by the trio of Brett Gardner, Lyle Overbay and Eduardo Nunez, who each registered three hits. Overbay and Nunez both stroked a pair of doubles, the only extra-base hits for New York, while Luis Cruz came around to score a total of three times.

Hiroki Kuroda, one of the top pitchers in the league in terms of ERA (2.65), allowed only two runs on five hits and a walk, striking out four through seven innings as he picked up his ninth win of the campaign.

"It was a close game all along, so I had to be careful with my pitches," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "When they gave me the run support, I think I was able to be more bold."

Even in enemy territory, NY closer Mariano Rivera walked onto the field in the ninth inning, the outcome still in question, to a standing ovation from the Boston faithful. The top reliever in the history of baseball, Rivera allowed one hit and struck out two as he recorded his 31st save of this season and the 639th of his illustrious career.

Rivera, who converted his 12th straight Fenway save dating back to June 3, 2007, appreciated the reception he received from the Boston fans.

"Definitely, I have tremendous respect for the organization, for the fans here and the field," Rivera said. "Great games. When we come here, it's a battle and beautiful games."

While Kuroda more than held his own for the Yankees on the hill, Boston's John Lackey brought a mixed bag with him as he saw his record drop to 7-7 on the season. Now sixth in the AL in ERA at 2.95, Lackey gave up four runs as he scattered 10 hits and fanned seven through 6 1/3 innings of work.

Mike Carp delivered three hits for the home team, including a double in the bottom of the seventh for their only extra-base hit. David Ortiz chipped in with two hits and a run scored, while Dustin Pedroia came up empty in four at- bats.

For Pedroia, who has been the subject of contract negotiations in recent days, the game took a more puzzling turn in the eighth when he fouled a ball behind home plate and not only watched catcher Chris Stewart lean into the stands to make the grab, he also wheeled around and caught Daniel Nava trying to advance to second to complete the unconventional double play.

Aiming to snap a personal two-game slide, CC Sabathia takes the ball for the Yankees tonight at Fenway. Just 1-3 in his last four decisions, the left- hander is coming off a sub par effort versus Minnesota last weekend when he dipped to 9-8 on the campaign and saw his ERA rise above 4.00 yet again.

Against the Twins, Sabathia lasted just four innings, scattering eight hits and eight runs, although only three of those runs were earned. The California native walked two and struck out five, but was also touched for a seventh home run in the last five outings.

Sabathia was able to pick up a win in his most recent matchup with the Sox at the end of May when he gave up just a single run on six hits through 7 1/3 innings. The hurler also struck out 10 in that outing, matching his season- high in the process. Despite the win, for his career Sabathia is still just 9-10 with a 4.19 ERA in 24 all-time appearances versus Boston.

Countering for the Sox this time around is Ryan Dempster. The right-hander, who is three games below .500 on the season which means he is three games under for his career (129-132), has appeared in three straight games without a decision and has won just one of his last six outings overall.

Dempster last pitched on July 11 at Seattle where he lasted a mere 3 1/3 innings, even though the Red Sox eventually came away with the 8-7 road win. The hurler was knocked around for nine hits, leading to seven runs -- four earned -- while walking one and striking out four versus the Mariners.

A loser in his most recent meeting with the Yankees earlier this season, the native of British Columbia is a disappointing 0-5 with a lofty 7.29 ERA in six all-time matchups with the Bronx Bombers.

Boston, which won only five times versus the Yankees in 18 meetings last season, holds a 5-3 edge in the series this year thanks to four wins in six games played earlier this season in New York.