Red Sox @ Yankees Series Preview

Round 3 of the AL East battle between first place Boston and second place New York begins Friday night with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, the first meetings between these bitter rivals in New York this season. Round 1 went to the Red Sox, winners of three of four in April at Fenway Park. Last weekend's four-game series was a draw, with the Yankees taking the final two games.

The Yankees, now 36-18, have closed to within a game of Boston, which improved to 35-15 with a three-game sweep of Toronto. New York took three straight from Chicago to run its winning streak to five games. Boston comes to New York after having very little success there in 2001. The Yankees won eight of the nine games at Yankee Stadium, and the Red Sox dropped two of three to the Mets at Shea Stadium as well.

The Red Sox have outhit the Yankees, .285-.259, and have won five of the eight meetings despite being outscored 43-35. Third baseman Shea Hillenbrand has hit Yankee pitching especially hard, going 14-for-32 (.438) with two homers and eight RBI, including the dramatic two-run homer off Mariano Rivera in the April 13 7-6 Boston win. Fellow infielders Rey Sanchez (10-for-25, .400) and Nomar Garciaparra (11-for-29, .379, six RBI) have also been successful so far against New York.

On the flip side, catcher Jason Varitek and OF Trot Nixon are a combined 6-for-49 (.122) with just three RBI.

For the Yankees, Alfonso Soriano is hitting as well against the Red Sox as he is against the rest of the AL, with a .375 average (12-for-32), four home runs and six RBI. Jason Giambi is at .360 (9-for-25) with two homers, and Robin Ventura also has two home runs and is 7-for-23 (.304). Bernie Williams has had a tough time thus far, going 6-for-31 (.194).

MOUND MATCHUPS


The Yankees get a third look at the AL's most surprising starter, Derek Lowe, on Friday, while throwing David Wells in opposition. Wells, 6-1 with a 3.92 ERA, pitched just 3 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits and four walks, last Saturday, but the struggles are not attributed to his recent back problems. Instead, the Yankees claim it's typical for Wells to struggle at Fenway, where he's 8-10 with a 5.62 for his career.

Lowe has continued his mound magic, which includes four starts where he's given up two hits or fewer. Tops, of course, was his April 27 no-hitter over Tampa Bay. This comes from a pitcher two years removed from being one of baseball's best closers (42 saves in 2000) and one who had just 22 career starts before this year, 19 of them in his first two years in the league. Lowe has a 1-1 mark against the Yankees in 2002, beating them with seven two-hit innings on April 15 and losing a tough 3-2 decision last Saturday.

On Saturday, the Yankees send Mike Mussina against a pitcher who has beaten them twice this season without having a start against them, veteran righty Rolando Arrojo. Mussina improved to 7-2 by taking advantage of Yankee bats in a 14-5 win last Sunday. His ERA rose to 4.42 in giving up five runs and seven hits in six innings.

Arrojo joins the Red Sox rotation in place of Darren Oliver, who was torched for seven runs in four innings by the Yankees last Sunday. Arrojo, 3-1, 3.93 ERA, has a win in each of the two series between the teams, and will be making his first start of the season. He started nine games in 2001 and 32 in 2000.

The series concludes Sunday with Mike Thurman scheduled to make his second Yankee start. He'll be opposed by Frank Castillo. Thurman debuted on the mound Monday and shut down a hot-hitting White Sox squad, giving up just two runs in seven innings for his first AL win. The veteran pitched four five years in Montreal, nearly all as a starter. If Thurman doesn't pitch Sunday, Ted Lilly will likely be called on to throw on four days rest. Lilly improved to 2-4 and lowered his ERA to 2.88 with seven three-hit innings in Tuesday's 4-2 win over Chicago.

Castillo, 3-5, 3.94 ERA, makes his first start of the season against the Yankees. The right-hander stopped a two-game losing string with a win Monday against Toronto, despite allowing four runs and five hits in five innings.

SERIES NOTES


A shot in the shoulder has certainly given the Yankees offense a shot in the arm. Since returning to the lineup April 19, after getting a cortisone shot in each shoulder, Bernie Williams is hitting .360 (54-for-150) with 10 homers and 32 RBI. He has raised his average to .315 and has been especially hot over the last six games, going 13-for-26 with nine RBI. … Injured starting pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte threw Wednesday. Neither expressed any problems. … Boston's Sanchez, who missed the Toronto series with a strained right hamstring, is expected to be ready for the Yankees series.

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