BOSTON -- When the New York Yankees last visited Fenway Park in early August, they were bidding farewell to Alex Rodriguez and their playoffs hopes appeared slim to none.

One month later, a youth movement has brought them within four games of the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox and into another late-season showdown with their bitter rival.

Boston hosts New York in the opener of a four-game weekend set Thursday night.

"I probably would've said this is where we should be," said New York manager Joe Girardi, who was touting his team's playoff chances even when they trailed by 6 1/2 games in the AL East on the last day of their August trip to Boston.

"I think we were extremely frustrated with where we were as of July 31, and I told you I expected this club to continue to compete at a high level and win, and that's what they've done."

New York (77-68) has gone 19-12 since taking the rubber match of their three-game set at Fenway Park on Aug. 11, and the Yankees are only two games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

"They've gone through about as much turnover as probably anyone," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "They've got good quality young players that they've been able to turn to that have certainly injected a lot of life into that club."

Gary Sanchez has been at the forefront of the Yankees' comeback. The 23-year-old hit his first career homer during the August series at Fenway and has launched 13 more since.

New York and Boston have played their fair share of meaningful autumn games at Fenway over the years, but this series represents a new chapter in the rivalry.

Still, Girardi doesn't anticipate too many hiccups from his youngsters.

"It could be interesting," Girardi said. "Everything so far they've handled. Are there some tricky things in that ballpark? Yes, but that can affect anyone, so if something happens, I'm not going to be surprised. But my expectation is they'll handle it well."

As well as they have played of late, the Yankees are limping into Boston after dropping three of their past four games, including a 2-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night.

Fortunately for them, the Red Sox (81-64) haven't been playing their best baseball either. Boston routed the Baltimore Orioles 12-2 in the opener of a three-game set Monday, but fell 6-3 Tuesday and were blanked 1-0 in the rubber game Wednesday.

The Red Sox turn to young southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez (2-7, 4.70 ERA) in Thursday's opener.

Rodriguez has been outstanding in limited action against the Yankees this season, going 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against them.

He faced them in the Aug. 11 contest and gave up a run on three hits and a walk while striking out six in a seven-inning no-decision.

Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA in six career starts against New York.

Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .294 (5-for-17) with two solo homers off Rodriguez, and Didi Gregorius has hit .353 (6-for-17) with an RBI against him.

Masahiro Tanaka (13-4, 3.04 ERA) counters Rodriguez for the Yankees. He has pitched well in two starts against Boston this season, going 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA.

Tanaka is 5-2 with a 4.42 ERA in nine career starts against the Red Sox.

David Ortiz (5-for-21, .238) and Xander Bogaerts (6-for-25, .240) each have one homer and three RBIs off Tanaka. Dustin Pedroia is batting .316 (6-for-19) with a solo homer against him.