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Dan Shaughnessy

They’re not showing all their cards

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 27, 2009

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NEW YORK - One team is going all out to win every day.

The other team is the Red Sox - asking you to stand back and look at the big picture.

The Sox got another encouraging performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka yesterday, but again were beaten by the Yankees, 3-0. Boston managed only two hits against CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Mariano Rivera.

The starting lineups told you everything you needed to know about the respective approaches of these rivals. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, burning his guys in a manner like Don Zimmer (circa 1978), put out his best nine players along with the winningest pitcher in baseball (tied with Adam Wainwright going into yesterday’s games). Jorge Posada wound up being a late scratch because of an injury, but the point was made. Girardi used his big guns. The Yankees are going wall to wall to clinch the division (magic number 1) and the best record in the American League, ASAP.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are using these final days to get some rest and tune up for the playoffs. Terry Francona started Rocco Baldelli in right, Jed Lowrie (hitting .158 entering the game) at short, and Brian Anderson in left. Chris Woodward played short in the eighth and dropped a throw from Victor Martinez that led to a pair of unearned runs. If not for four hit batsmen (two each side), this could have been March 18 at City of Palms Park.

The message from Boston was clear: everything is settled. The Sox are going to win the wild card. They are not going to challenge the Yankees for home-field advantage. Let Girardi wear his guys out. The Sox are getting ready for the playoffs. Call it Tito’s rope-a-dope.

“The mind-set is to manage everything to win,’’ Francona said. “It’s not just one thing. We want to show up and play the game right and be cognizant of what we are trying to accomplish.’’

Occasionally, this means giving a guy like Jason Bay a day off when the Yankees are taking your lunch money. It means keeping your bench sharp. It means giving the big guys a rest. It means thinking big-picture.

Girardi clearly feels differently and yesterday said, “I thought it was important that we continue to play meaningful games, I do. I think at this time of year, it’s important that you play those and that you don’t necessarily let your guard down and you keep playing hard and keep playing winning baseball. To be able to win that series out in Anaheim, I thought was real important. And to be able to win these two tough games, I thought was important as well.’’

Two managers. Two theories. Sox fans might not agree with Francona, but he knows his team and has a pretty good track record in this area.

This is why you are asked not to be bothered that the Sox are 1-8 against the Yankees since Aug. 6. This is why you should close your eyes and think about October if the Yankees beat the Sox again today and clinch the American League East.

The Sox send Paul Byrd to the hill today, a combustible mix if ever there was one. Unless the reverse lock takes hold, the Sox are going to finish 9-9 against the Yankees after an 8-0 start. Also, the Sox are guaranteed to finish under .500 on the road. The Sox are 39-41 going into today’s regular-season road finale.

The Yankees seem to like the trend. Captain Derek Jeter made a loud statement in the first inning Friday night when he singled on the first pitch of the game, then stole second on the next pitch. The Yankees stole seven bases in seven tries in that game. It was relentless and embarrassing for the Sox. They also KO’d Jon Lester (8 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks, 2 1/3 innings).

The Bombers stole two more bases yesterday. That’s 9 for 9 in two games. Could be a problem come October.

Kevin Youkilis, who was hit with pitches twice yesterday, did not seem concerned with the southbound train.

“Right now, we haven’t played the greatest,’’ said Youkilis. “We’re just winding it up. We’re going home. We’ll be focused on playing better ball to come. Both of us are probably going to the playoffs. We’ve just got to go out now and win three games so we can make the playoffs.’’

They will. The magic number is three with eight games remaining.

In any event, the Red Sox are going to clinch a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven seasons. And you know what that means. Hand out the goggles. Put a 12-pack box on Jonathan Papelbon’s head. Praise the Lord and pass the Perrier Jouet. Hide all women and children who live near The Baseball Tavern.

We know that finishing second is A-OK at this point. The Sox proved that in 2004. You can still win the World Series when you finish second over 162 games. And you can celebrate the runner-up spot if it makes you happy.

What really matters is how you are playing going into October. The Sox are not playing particularly well, but two good things happened in New York this weekend. Lester did not break a bone Friday night. And Dice-K looked like 2008 Dice-K.

“Any day that your starter pitches well, especially him, it makes you see things half full,’’ said Francona.

Today might be a good day to employ the half-full theory. Cover your eyes, let the Yankees celebrate, and think about October.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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