J.D. Drew was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a lower back strain, leaving the Boston Red Sox without their All-Star right fielder during a tight pennant race.

Boston got much better news about Josh Beckett, who felt strong in a 50-pitch side session and is on target to start Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.

Beckett missed a turn in the rotation because of numbness and tingling in his right arm.

"He's ready to go Friday and he's excited," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

Drew was put on the DL retroactive to Aug. 18, and the move opened a roster spot for right-hander Tim Wakefield. The knuckleballer was activated from the DL to start the opener of a three-game series against New York, Boston's final regular-season visit to Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox also called up infielder-outfielder Joe Thurston, purchasing his contract from Triple-A Pawtucket. Right-hander Chris Smith was optioned to Pawtucket.

Drew left an Aug. 17 game against Toronto after experiencing tightness in his lower back and hasn't played since. He was examined by a specialist Tuesday and had tests on his back.

"I had really a good day last Thursday in Toronto _ and then it felt terrible," Drew said.

Jacoby Ellsbury started in right field again for Boston, with Coco Crisp in center. The Red Sox also are missing injured third baseman Mike Lowell and shortstop Julio Lugo.

Part-time first baseman Sean Casey, bothered by a stiff neck recently, was not in the starting lineup Tuesday night.

"It's much better today. The neck locked up for a couple of days," Casey said.

Jeff Bailey, called up from the minors Aug. 14, started at first base for the Red Sox, who began the night with a 1 1/2-game lead over Minnesota in the AL wild-card race. The Yankees were five games behind Boston.

The 32-year-old Drew has struggled with injuries throughout his career. He is hitting .280 with 19 home runs and 64 RBIs, but has only six hits in his last 34 at-bats over 12 games.

Drew was a first-time All-Star this season and was selected MVP of the July 15 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium after hitting a two-run homer that tied the score in the seventh inning.

"The signs are, we are going in the right direction. That's why we got the MRIs, to see what's going on," Drew said before the Red Sox announced they had placed him on the DL. "If it continues to progress in the right direction, the guys in the trainer's room know what to do. We'll just take it a day at a time."

To make room for Thurston on the 40-man roster, right-hander Bartolo Colon (back) was transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL.

Thurston was batting .314 with 10 homers and 62 RBIs in 123 games with Pawtucket. He was leading the International League with 155 hits.

Wakefield pitched for the first time since Aug. 6. He had been sidelined with tightness in his right shoulder.

As for Francona, he's not feeling particularly nostalgic about his team's last visit to Yankee Stadium. New York will move next year into a lavish, $1.3 billion ballpark being built across the street.

"What makes this place so special, I don't think is the building, it's what's happened in this stadium. So many great players and great teams have come through here," Francona said.

"Any team can erect monuments. The reason those monuments are up is because they're great players. That's no secret. But we're moving what, 100 yards? The only difference from where I sit, their payroll will probably go up a bunch more. Make it harder for us."