Series Preview: Yankees (5-4) at Red Sox (4-4)

It's common knowledge around baseball that the season doesn't really begin until the Yankees play the Red Sox for the first time.&nbsp; Well, common knowledge among fans from New York or Boston at least.&nbsp; So at any rate, the Yankees last season opener - and we mean it this time - is <i>finally</i> upon us, as our Bombers head to Fenway to rekindle an old friendship.

When last we saw the Boston Red Sox, they were looking mighty sullen in the dugout after a certain basketball-playing third baseman - who shall remain nameless, though I'm told he's picked up quite the nickname around Beantown - swatted a long homerun into left field at Yankee Stadium.  But Boston didn't hang their heads for very long, getting right down to the business during the offseason.

Boston, much like these here Yankees, reloaded for 2004 with bigger and better weapons.  Allow me to introduce you to Curt Schilling - owner of 53 victories in his last 94 starts; Keith Foulke - he of the 43 saves and a 2.08 ERA in 2003; and let's not forget about Alex Rodrigu- oh wait, no, he's playing third base for the Yankees, my mistake. 

At any rate, Boston is at least as good of a team as they were in 2003, and they were a heck of a good team in 2003.  Trouble is, so are the Yankees.  The only real difference between 2003 and 2004 (not counting the new faces on both sides of the war) is the rivalry - which has managed to grow even more intense and take on a life of it's own.

This is baseball, folks, let's get down to it.

Things to watch for:  Everything.  Don't miss a second of it.

Yankees Away Record: 2-2
Boston Home Record: 2-2

Pitching Probables:

Friday: Javier Vazquez (1-0, 1.13) vs. Tim Wakefield (0-0, 3.38)|
The Yankees get to show off their newest toy in the very first game of the series, with Vazquez taking the mound to answer everyone's questions about how well he handles pressure.  I doubt he's ever even considered the amount of pressure that pitching for the Yankees in Fenway Park can bring on, but I doubt he cares either.  Vazquez was as cool as the other side of the pillow in his first outing, allowing just three hits through eight innings against the White Sox, let's hope for more of the same. 

The last time we saw Wakefield, his head was spinning 180 degrees to watch that certain basketball-playing third baseman's homerun trail off into the left-field stands.  That one pitch notwithstanding, Wakefield gave the Yankees fits during the playoffs, and probably would have won ALCS MVP if Boston had actually won the thing.  That knuckleball just befuddled the Yankees last year, but do you really think that A-Rod and Sheffield will flail at it like Karim Garcia and Alfonso Soriano?  I don't either.

Saturday: Mike Mussina (1-2, 8.22) vs. Curt Schilling (1-0, 3.21)
Mussina (finally) bounced back from two rough starts to produce a Quality Start in his last appearance against Chicago.  He struck out six and allowed three earned runs in 6.1 innings.  Not the ace-caliber stuff we want, but not too shabby.  Here's hoping Moose is hitting his stride as the Yankees head into this crucial (yes, crucial) series.  Mussina is 16-11, 3.09 against Boston in his career and 10-5, 3.05 in Fenway, if you were curious.

Schilling's one of the best in the business, but he hasn't historically performed well against the Yankees (1-2, 4.66 in seven appearances - four starts) during the regular season.  But Schilling is always up for a challenge, and he's as fierce a competitor as any.  He wants to win this game, I can smell it. 

Sunday: Jose Contreras (0-1, 8.44) vs. Derek Lowe (1-0, 3.00)
Contreras still has all the potential in the world, but he has to harness it.  He looked downright bad at times during his first appearance, throwing just over half of his pitches for strikes.  He's not going to be able to mess around like that and succeed, just like he couldn't against Chicago when they tagged him for five runs a week ago.  Boston also hammered him last season, if you were curious.

Personally, Lowe still confuses the heck out of me as a pitcher, but one thing I do know is that he loves pitching in Fenway Park.  He's not the monster he was in 2002 when he won 21 games, but he's not as bad as he sometimes looked last season (when he still won 17).  He's somewhere in the middle, which seems to match up nicely with Contreras.

Monday: Kevin Brown (3-0, 1.29) vs. Bronson Arroyo (0-0, 6.00)
Finally, Brown gets a real challenge.  The right-hander has made it no secret that he loves competition, and somehow I think that facing the Devil Rays in his first three starts isn't exactly fueling his competitive fire - at least not judging from the way he so easily dispatched them all three times.  Now a 200-game winner, Brown will face his biggest challenge since the 1998 World Series, the Red Sox, as a Yankee.

Someone please tell me what Arroyo is doing here instead of Pedro?  Someone please tell me who this Arroyo character is?  Pedro could have just as easily pitched this game, but no, the weather had to spoil it.  Alas, we'll have to wait to meet our favorite enemy.  Instead we get Arroyo, who is okay, but nothing decent, and certainly not on Kevin Brown's level.  But, hey, there's a reason they play the games.

Predictions and Prognostications:
Not bold prediction:  The Yankees will win at least one game in the series. 
Really boring prediction:  Each team takes two. 
Bolder prediction:  Vazquez and Brown win, the Sox take the two weekend games.
Completely obvious prediction:  This series will be a lot of fun. 

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