Tonight in Boston, Andy Pettitte will square off with Felix Doubront to kick-start a weekend showdown with the Red Sox. Tomorrow afternoon, Cy Young hopeful Hiroki Kuroda will take the ball against John Lackey, and Sunday night, Cy Young castaway C.C. Sabathia will share the mound with Ryan Dempster.
Sound familiar? It should. A month ago, these same two teams and these same six pitchers took to the Fenway Park field, with the Red Sox taking two of three on the weekend.
But if the pitching matchup is a mirror image this weekend, the offensive clash is black versus white.
The Red Sox will be rolling out the same potato-mashing lineup they did a month ago, but the Yankees now enter town with some thunder of their own. Aside from their grey road uniforms, these August Yankees will look starkly different than those July Yankees.
And it’s this reconfiguration that gives New York a legitimate chance to win their third consecutive series, something they haven’t done since the middle of April.
Of the Yankees likely to start tonight, only four are holdovers from the last time these two teams met, and for the Yankees that’s a good thing. The lineup that Joe Girardi trotted out against Doubront and the Red Sox four Fridays back featured Vernon Wells hitting cleanup, Zoilo Almonte hitting fifth, Lyle Overbay hitting sixth and Brent Lillibridge hitting seventh.
Those days, if the top third of the order didn’t manufacture a run, the Yankees weren’t scoring. One out of every three innings, it seemed, they might scratch across a run, which meant that the offense had three bona fide chances to score any given night. Maybe four. The remaining innings were a pitcher’s delight.
These days though, the bating order has some length. If you retire Gardner, Ichiro and Cano, there is still Rodriguez, Soriano and Granderson to come. And though the bottom third softens somewhat, the Yanks 7-9 hitters aren’t giving away outs like they used to. Instead of Lillibridge, you get a pesky Eduardo Nunez; instead of Luis Cruz, a capable Vernon Wells.
It’s not Murderer’s Row by any historical standard, but certainly so by any 2013 standard. If the trio of pitchers starting for the Sox this weekend haven’t realized that yet, they’ll realize it soon.
Where they found repose a month ago, they’ll find A-Rod and Soriano now; where they found relief, they’ll find Granderson. In almost any place Doubront, Lackey and Dempster took a breather in the Yankees lineup, the air will be thinner, drier and in shorter supply this weekend.
The Yankees know it, too. Like a Little League team brandishing shiny new bats, the Bronx Bombers can’t wait to show their rivals their newly-acquired tricks. Girardi is bringing his A-Team this weekend.
But as recent years have proven to the Yankees, games aren’t won on paper. If New York wants to build on the momentum of back-to-back series wins, they’ll have to swing the bats even harder in Boston. The Red Sox are one of the highest-scoring clubs in the Majors and, as far as they’re concerned, the offensive titans of the A.L. East.
But the Yankees, as we know them, are finally here.
They have rediscovered that slugger’s personality that has come to define them in the past decade. Tuesday and Wednesday against the Angels, when the Yankees scored a combined 25 runs, their satisfaction with their own brawn was visible. They watched their homeruns with insolence and stroked their base hits with style, flexing their muscles and enjoying the view in the mirror.
It was cathartic for this offensively-starved team, but revelational too, as if they finally figured out who they are. And what they can do.
Now comes the test. Can the Yankees, newly-minted sluggers, pound the ball with the best of them? Can their bats, growing louder, keep pace with Boston’s, thunderous since April? The pitching has proven itself already – it’s time for the offense to do the same.
A month ago when these foes met in Fenway, the rivalry wasn’t bursting with its usual fervor. A depleted Yankees side, looking more like a Quadruple-A team than defending champions of the A.L. East, simply couldn’t match up with the mighty Red Sox. Try though they did to cook up a zesty series, the clash was inherently flawed.
This time though, all the characters – maybe even Derek Jeter on Sunday (!) – are back. So too is that anticipatory buzz this rivalry is wont to arouse.
For the first time in 2013, its Yankees-Sox, and it feels like it.