With their five-game slide now behind them, the Boston Red Sox try to keep the New York Yankees from running away with the American League East as the bitter rivals clash in the finale of a four-game set at Fenway Park tonight.
The clubs played a doubleheader on Saturday, with each squad capturing one victory to keep the margin between them in the standings at 8 1/2 games.
In the first game, the visiting Yankees dropped four runs in the top of the first inning and another pair in the fourth in order to come away with the 6-1 triumph. Andruw Jones slugged a pair of home runs for the visitors, giving him 43 career multi-homer games, which ranks him third among active players behind teammate Alex Rodriguez (60) and Jim Thome (48).
Nick Swisher contributed with his 13th home run of the season, knocking in three, while Jayson Nix also went deep with his third home run. Derek Jeter delivered three hits and scored once as well.
Yankees starter Freddy Garcia earned the victory, allowing just one run on six hits and a couple of walks, striking out five over 6 2/3 innings.
Boston's Franklin Morales wasn't so lucky as he permitted six runs on six hits, four of those being home runs, in only 3 1/3. Reliever Justin Germano stepped in and gave the Sox a solid performance with 5 2/3 shutout innings during which he allowed five hits and a couple of walks as well as striking out seven.
In the second game of the day, the Sox rebounded with a much-needed 9-5 victory, during which 27-year old utility infielder Pedro Ciriaco, a veteran of just 31 major league games, claimed the spotlight with four hits, four runs knocked in and two scored for the hosts.
"I've got to take advantage of every opportunity," said Ciriaco. "There's a lot of players in the organization trying to be here. We play to be in this league, so I've got to take advantage of that."
Also getting in on the action were Mauro Gomez and Adrian Gonzalez, who both had three hits and scored twice during the 17-hit barrage for the Red Sox.
Felix Doubront was rewarded with the win as he weathered 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on four hits and striking out six.
New York starter Phil Hughes was tagged for five runs -- three earned -- on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings of work. Now 9-7 on the season, Hughes walked one and struck out three during his time on the mound.
The Yankees again tried to use the long ball to stay competitive as Jones and Eric Chavez both delivered solo efforts and Mark Teixeira laced his 15th home run of the season, a three-run shot, in the first inning to score Jeter and Curtis Granderson.
In addition to permitting 17 hits to the home team, the Yankees were also charged with four errors, which made it that much harder to keep up with Boston.
"It's one of those games; we didn't play well," Jeter said. "I thought Phil did a great job. We can't keep giving teams extra outs, and that's what we did. Especially when you're playing a team like that, they have some guys that can swing the bats."
Attempting to work his way back into the win column for the first time since June 17, Ivan Nova takes the mound for the Yankees tonight in the final game before the All-Star break.
The right-hander had rattled off five straight wins between May 25-June 17, but since then he has just one loss to Tampa Bay to show for his efforts. Against the Rays on Tuesday, Nova allowed six runs, although only half were earned, on seven hits and a couple of walks. Nova managed to fan five in six innings but still the Yankees absorbed the 7-4 setback on the road.
Now in just his third year in the majors, Nova has a record of 1-2 with a 5.70 ERA versus Boston. That one victory came earlier this season.
As for the hosts, they have penciled in Jon Lester as their starter tonight. The Washington native has won two of his last three decisions but is still just an even 5-5 on the campaign.
The left-hander was in action on Tuesday at Oakland where he allowed just one run on four hits and struck out nine through 6 2/3 innings, but still he failed to factor into the decision. Actually, it was good news for Lester because the final was 3-2 in favor of the A's.
In his career against the Yankees, Lester has a mark of 8-3 to go along with a 4.15 ERA while averaging more than one strikeout (108) per inning (99 2/3).
After yesterday's exploits the Yankees have raised their home run total to a league-leading 133 through 84 games. The squad has the top slugging percentage in the AL (.458) and while the Red Sox have just 99 home runs in their 85 contests, they are third in the AL in slugging with a mark of .443.