It is true that the Yankees have stumbled of late, losing five in a row at one point last week, but that was all at Yankee Stadium, and things happen to be looking up for the Bombers as of the last two games. The Yankees just completed a 2-1 series victory over their rival Boston Red Sox, pulling them back to within a half of a game of first place in the AL East. Tuesday's game was a laugher, when the Yankees pounded the Sox 11-3, and Wednesday's game showcased the indomitable Yankees "magic" – as the Bombers recovered from a Mariano Rivera meltdown to win in the bottom of the ninth.
The Tigers meanwhile, have been up to their old tricks; namely not scoring runs behind their reasonably solid pitching staff. Over their last six games, the Tigers are averaging just three runs per game, right in line with their season average of 3.02. But this series they've hopefully upgraded their offense with the addition of outfielder Alex Sanchez, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for two minor leaguers. Sanchez was hitting .282 with ten RBI and eight steals for Milwaukee, and has taken over in center.
Roger Clemens will be taking the spotlight for himself on Sunday, as he tries for the second time to notch his 300th career victory. Clemens was shelled in his first attempt, allowing eight runs against his former team, the Red Sox, on Monday. Should the Tigers manage to beat Clemens Sunday, which would be no small feat to say the least, they would most certainly garner plenty of respect from their peers and critics alike.
Friday: Jose Contreras (RHP, 1-1, 8.74) vs. Gary Knotts (RHP, 1-1, 4.09)
All of the pitching matchups in this series have a special little twist to them. Contreras will be making his first major league start on Friday, taking David Wells' spot in the rotation while Boomer nurses an injured calf. Contreras will be looking for a great start in order to earn favor with George Steinbrenner and possibly muscle his way into the starting rotation. Contreras pitched against the Tigers' AAA team – the Toledo Mud Hens – on April 29, striking out eight batters in five scoreless innings.
Knotts is actually on a two-game winning streak, something quite uncommon for Tigers pitchers. In his last start, Knotts held the Chicago White Sox scoreless for 7 2/3 innings, allowing just four baserunners and striking out six – a career high. Knotts has never faced the Yankees, and only one Yankee has ever faced him: Todd Zeile, who is 0-1 against him. Knotts is tough on righties, limiting them to a .198 batting average, and he's also tough at home where he sports a 1.66 ERA in 21 2/3 innings.
Saturday: Jeff Weaver (RHP, 3-3, 5.31) vs. Adam Bernero (RHP, 0-6, 6.03)
Saturday's pitching matchup includes the long awaited return of Jeff Weaver to Detroit. Weaver was traded from the Tigers to the Yankees in a three-team deal that sent Ted Lilly to Oakland and Carlos Pena to Detroit. Since Weaver was traded, he is 8-6 with a 4.60 ERA for the Yankees. Weaver has been inconsistent so far in 2003, and he lost his last start against Toronto, allowing four earned runs in five innings, raising his ERA to a season-high 5.31.
Bernero is still looking for his first victory of 2003 season, despite pitching relatively well. Four of his ten starts have been quality starts, and he has only allowed more than four runs three times. In his last outing, Bernero allowed five earned runs against Chicago, but did not figure in the decision. Jason Giambi has two homeruns in three at bats against Bernero.
Sunday: Roger Clemens (RHP, 6-3, 3.71) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (RHP, 2-7, 5.43)
Roger Clemens makes his second attempt at win number 300 after failing to do so in his last outing against the Red Sox. Since 1996, The Rocket's first year out of Beantown, Clemens owns a 13-1 record against the Tigers, including the second 20-strikeout game of his career. If Clemens thinks the Tigers will be easy pickings however, he's wrong. These Tigers have nothing to lose and are sure to get up for the series, particularly this game.
Jeremy Bonderman, a player that is half Clemens' age, will take the hill to face the future hall of famer. Bonderman is winless in his last four starts, but hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in a game since April 9. In his last start, he pitched six strong innings against Cleveland, giving up just two runs on three hits while striking out seven. The Tigers won, but Bonderman didn't figure in the decision. The rookie has never faced any of the Yankees. And he hasn't had much success at home, where has posted a 1-4 record with a lofty 7.14 ERA.
Tigers' 1B Carlos Pena tore a tendon in his left knee on Tuesday and hasn't played since. The extent of the injury is unknown, but expect Pena to miss at least a few more days … LHP Mike Maroth was injured on Wednesday when he strained a hamstring. Again the extent of the injury isn't known, but Maroth isn't expected to start again until April 1 anyway … OF Alex Sanchez went 1-4 in his debut with Detroit on Wednesday … Yankees OF Bernie Williams underwent surgery on his knee on Tuesday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks … Juan Rivera is hitting .250 since being called up take Williams' place on the roster … Since moving to the leadoff spot in the lineup, Derek Jeter is batting .333 with two homeruns in 18 at bats.