NEW YORK (AP) -The New York Yankees certainly didn't have to wait long for their first chance to respond against the Red Sox.
``It seems like we play them every day, with the unbalanced schedule,'' Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said Thursday. ``We're looking forward to it.''
They need to start winning, too.
One weekend after beating New York three straight times at Fenway Park, the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game series that begins Friday night. Even though it's early in the season, this chapter in the long-running rivalry could be particularly important for the Yankees, who have lost six straight overall.
Betrayed by an injury-depleted pitching staff, New York lost three close games last weekend - with the Red Sox coming from behind in each. It was Boston's first sweep of the Yankees at Fenway since 1990, and it gave Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Co. a measure of revenge for last summer.
Last August, the Yankees swept a five-game series at Fenway to take control of the AL East race.
``There is never a case where you're a leg up, or they are a leg down. That series is one that is behind us now,'' said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who saved two games against New York last weekend.
Most importantly, the sweep started the last-place Yankees on their longest skid since dropping six in a row from May 28 to June 3, 2005. They are 5 1/2 games back of first-place Boston in the AL East.
Sure, it's still April. But the Yankees also know they can't afford to fall too far behind a talented Boston team.
``I think we need to win a game. We need to do that and go from there,'' said New York center fielder Johnny Damon, a former Red Sox star. ``But we need to start having wins because we need to stay as close as we can until we all get healthy.''
The Yankees are beginning to get back to full strength. Chien-Ming Wang, a 19-game winner last season and runner-up for the AL Cy Young Award, has returned to the rotation after a hamstring injury kept him out for the first three weeks of the season. He will pitch Sunday against Julian Tavarez.
New York left fielder Hideki Matsui, who also missed last weekend's series, is back from his own strained hamstring. He will face countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka on Friday night, which is sure to stir up plenty of excitement in Japan.
Matsuzaka got his first taste of the rivalry Sunday night when he earned the win for Boston in a 7-6 victory. He didn't pitch particularly well, though. The right-hander had his worst outing in four big league starts, allowing six runs in seven-plus innings.
When he steps on the mound Friday, it will be his first time pitching at Yankee Stadium.
``He gets cable, he knows,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. ``I think that's why he wanted to sign and play here, because of this type of rivalry.
``If it was to the point where we were worried about sending him out there, shame on us. We think this guy is going to be really good for a long time.''
Matsuzaka will face Andy Pettitte, who pitched well in the opener at Fenway Park before Mariano Rivera and the rest of New York's overworked bullpen blew a late lead.
Pettitte is 13-5 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against Boston. The Yankees, however, went into Thursday ranked 11th out of 14 AL teams in ERA (4.76). The Red Sox were second at 3.27.
Despite Alex Rodriguez's record-setting start, the Yankees (8-12) are four games under .500 for the first time since May 10, 2005.
``We're not pitching good as a staff. That's the only reason why we're struggling,'' Pettitte said.
Boston batted .363 against the Yankees last weekend and hit four consecutive homers off rookie Chase Wright in the series finale, matching a major league record. Wright was soon sent back to the minors.
``There's no doubt that as a starting staff that we need to step up,'' Pettitte said. ``We're on the mend. We're going to be fine. We haven't gotten off to a great start, but things are going to get better.''
The Yankees chose Jeff Karstens over fellow rookie Kei Igawa to start on Saturday against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Igawa will be skipped in the rotation for at least one turn after he was roughed up Monday night at Tampa Bay. The left-hander could be available out of the bullpen.
``I think Karstens pitched a more controlled game the last time he pitched than Kei,'' manager Joe Torre said.
The Yankees also hope to have star shortstop Derek Jeter back against Boston. He didn't play Thursday night against Toronto because of a sore left thigh after he was hit by a pitch Tuesday against the Devil Rays.
``It's perfect for us right now. Let's go. Maybe the rivalry will get us over the hump and winning games,'' New York's Doug Mientkiewicz said.
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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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