Of course, another hot start by Barry Bonds – a .342 average, 20 homers and 38 RBI -- has helped, but the slugger hasn't done it alone. The ageless Benito Santiago is hitting .299 with 33 RBI and Jeff Kent is at .284 with eight homers and 32 RBI.
Where the Giants have shown the most improvement this season is on the mound. Former ace Livan Hernandez, Friday's starter, has rebounded from a brutal 2001 and is 5-5 with a 3.92 ERA. Lefty Kirk Rueter is among the NL leaders in ERA at 2.78 and is 7-3. And young Russ Ortiz, who had been hurt by poor control throughout his career, has followed his breakout 2001 campaign by going 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA.
The Giants' bullpen, led by closer Robb Nen, ex-Yankee Jay Witasick and converted starter Tim Worrell, has developed into one of baseball's best.
The Yankees come into the game with a 38-22 record, but have fallen to 3 1/2 games behind Boston after losing two of three to pesky Baltimore.
Fans will get another look at the new right fielder, Juan Rivera, who doubled and walked in his first game Wednesday after being recalled from Class AAA Columbus. The Yankees hope his presence shores up the one weak spot in what has been a dangerous offensive machine. New York is hitting .280 as a team and still leads the majors in home runs by a wide margin with 97 in 60 games.
Hernandez, the only of the Giants' scheduled starters that the Yankees have faced, goes Friday in the opener against Mike Mussina. Hernandez seems to be continuing on his odd-even streak, following a dismal 2001 with a solid start to 2002, after posting career-best numbers in 2000. Always one to give up a lot of hits, Hernandez allowed 266 in 226 2/3 innings in 2001 en route to a 13-15 record and a 5.24 ERA. So far in 2002, he's kept the hits down to just over one per inning (85 in 82 2/3 IP). Ex-NLers Robin Ventura and Rondell White obviously have seen Hernandez the most, with wildly varying degrees of success – Ventura is 11-for-22 lifetime with 12 RBI, while White is just 1-for-12.
Mussina will be the first Yankee pitcher to face Bonds, starting Friday's opener against Hernandez. This will make for an interesting matchup, as Bonds, by far the league leader in walks, will be facing one of the best control pitchers in baseball. Mussina has walked just 17 hitters in 80 1/3 innings and has an outstanding 70/17 strikeouts to walks ratio.
Now 8-2 with a 4.26 ERA after shutting down Boston on five hits in seven innings, Mussina has won his last five decisions.
On Saturday, the Yankees send Ted Lilly against right-hander Jason Schmidt. A career National Leaguer, Schmidt is starting to round into shape after starting the season on the disabled list. He's allowed just one run on eight hits and recorded 15 strikeouts in his last 16 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.57.
Lilly continues to pitch better than his record indicates, but comes off his worst start of the season, giving up four runs and five hits in four innings in a 7-1 loss to Boston June 2. The loss dropped the lefty to 2-5, and his ERA rose from 2.88 to 3.33. In his career, Lilly has faced only ex-Met Tsuyoshi Shinjo, former Mariner David Bell and Reggie Sanders, recording six outs without allowing a hit or walk against the trio.
Sunday's series finale will feature a matchup of power pitchers, with Roger Clemens throwing for the Yankees against Russ Ortiz. Clemens pitched well in his last start, scattering six hits in seven innings and striking out 13 in a no-decision Tuesday against Baltimore. Clemens has won his last six decisions, though he's had no-decisions in his last three starts, to remain at 7-2 with a 3.69 ERA.
Ortiz will pitch for the Giants. The team's ace, Ortiz is starting to gain some consistency, one of the things that plagued him early in his career. He won 49 games from 1999 to 2001, including marks of 18-9 in 1999 and 17-9 last year. He has cut back on his walks dramatically over that three-year stretch, going from 125 to 112 to 91, and has walked 30 in 74 2/3 innings in 2002.
There's been little any pitcher, whether righty or lefty, home or away, has been able to do so far to slow Bonds. He hit 36 of his 73 homers on the road in 2001, and batted .321 with 17 homers in 141 at-bats against leftys in 2001. So far this year, he's hitting .353 with eight homers in just 34 at-bats against leftys. And away from Pac Bell Park, his average drops but not his power – his .296 average is 101 points lower than at home, but his homers are even divided at 10 each. … Giants J.T. Snow and Witasick will be making return trips to Yankee Stadium. Snow started his career with the Yankees, playing seven games in 1992 before being traded to Anaheim. Witasick was with the team for much of last year and was dealt in the off-season for John Vander Wal. … Andy Pettitte will make his third rehab start Friday night with Class AA Norwich. If everything goes well, Pettitte may rejoin the Yankees rotation next week...