Rivalry Renewed

Although it's likely that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will both reach the postseason, there's plenty of evidence that the archrivals are gearing up for their weekend three-game series at Fenway Park. One piece could be found during Boston's batting practice on Wednesday.

The Red Sox could have slugger Manny Ramirez back in the lineup on Friday when they try to extend their 5 1/2-game lead in the AL East over the Yankees.

Boston (89-58) is seeking its first division title since 1995, and had its magic number reduced to 11 when New York (83-63) had its seven-game winning streak snapped Thursday with a 2-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won nine of 12 after David Ortiz's walk-off, two-run homer - his second of the game - beat Tampa Bay 5-4 on Wednesday.

Before that game, the Red Sox got good news when Ramirez took about 30 swings in batting practice, sending the ball into the center-field bleachers on his last one. He has missed 15 straight games with a strained muscle in his left side since a 5-3 loss to the Yankees on Aug. 28.

"Until he is pain-free and doesn't have that point-tenderness, they have to keep everything he does under a controlled basis," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the team's official Web site. "That's where we're at, but he continues to increase his daily activity daily."

His return could be bad news for New York. Ramirez is hitting .392 (20-for-51) against New York this year and .431 lifetime against Andy Pettitte, who starts Friday for the Yankees against Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This series closes with two marquee pitching matchups as 18-game winners Chien-Ming Wang and Josh Beckett meet Saturday, and Roger Clemens will return from elbow problems to face Curt Schilling on Sunday night.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made New York -115 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 10.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -115 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

The Yankees, who have won the last nine AL East titles, saw their lead over Detroit for the wild card reduced to 3 1/2 games with Thursday's loss. They rested catcher Jorge Posada, who is batting an AL-best .483 (14-for-29) in September and has 13 RBIs in 14 games against the Red Sox this year.

"We know we have something at stake going into Boston. We know we have to play well," former red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon said. "There's a lot of things that can happen at Fenway Park. Hopefully, it's good for us and not so good for them."

New York lost five of its first six 2007 meetings with Boston, but has won seven of the last nine. The Yankees swept a three-game set from the Red Sox last month at home, and this will be the teams' final series of the regular season.

"I think that's a different scenario now," Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon told the team's official Web site. "You're coming into Fenway Park and playing on our turf and the last series of the season, and that's a big difference instead of us going there. Hopefully, we can get our home fans behind us and play with a little intensity in our home park."

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is hitting .394 (26-for-66) against the Red Sox this year, going 4-for-4 in a 5-0 win on Aug. 30 in the last meeting.

Pettitte (13-8, 3.78 ERA) is 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA in eight starts since the beginning of August. He gave up two runs and seven hits over 6 1-3 innings at Kansas City in an 11-5 win last Saturday.

The veteran left-hander improved to 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his last four road outings.

Pettitte will make his sixth start of the season against Boston after going 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in the first five, including 0-0 with a 5.91 ERA in two road starts. He's 5-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 regular-season starts at Fenway Park.

Pettitte has limited Ortiz to two singles in 14 at-bats this season.

The struggling Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.44) returns to the mound following the shortest outing of the season by a Boston starter. He was tagged for a season-high eight runs over 2 2-3 innings in an 11-5 loss at Baltimore on Saturday.

Matsuzaka fell to 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA in his last five outings.

"I'm the one guy dragging on this team a little bit," he said through an interpreter. "For that, I am very apologetic."

The Japanese right-hander hasn't pitched well against the Yankees, going 2-1 in three starts despite a 6.98 ERA. Jeter has homered twice against him, going 4-for-9 in those games.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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