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Yankees catch Red Sox at a good time

Hot streak has them tied for first as they arrive here for three games

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / August 5, 2011

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David Ortiz does not follow the fortunes of the Yankees on a daily basis. But he knows they are playing well, based on a glance at the standings in the American League East.

“They’re right there with us,’’ Ortiz said. “And I know we’ve been playing good baseball for a long time. We look up and there they are.’’

For the first time in nearly two months, the rivals will meet again as a three-game series gets started tonight at Fenway Park. And with the Red Sox’ loss to Cleveland last night and the Yankees’ win in Chicago, the teams are in a flat-out tie for first place.

The Yankees, who have won seven straight, haven’t had Alex Rodriguez since July 7, the third baseman having had surgery on his right knee. They also are relying on veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to bolster the rotation.

“They keep winning,’’ Ortiz said. “I give them a lot of credit. It’s not easy because when you’re the Yankees or the Red Sox, everybody wants to beat you.’’

The Red Sox are 8-1 against the Yankees this season, winning seven straight in the series, including all six games in New York.

The teams have not met since June 9. The Yankees have the best record in the AL since then, two games better than the Sox.

“Right now, our season is completely turned around and we’re playing some great baseball,’’ Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher told reporters in Chicago last night. “Right now would be the time that we would want to catch those guys.’’

Because they have beaten the Red Sox only once, this series seems a bit bigger for the Yankees.

“You look up and you’re 1-8 against a team, you wouldn’t think that you’d be one game out of first place,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, “but our guys have responded really well and we know that we have to play better against them.

“We have to hit better. We have to pitch better. We can’t make mistakes, because their lineup feasts on mistakes.

“I think it’s going to be a big weekend. I do. I think it’s important enough to make it a big weekend, because they’re no different from us.’’

The Red Sox and Yankees are the top teams in the American League, and they are seven games ahead of the team with the next-best record in league, the Rangers. That makes the division race also a race for home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the postseason.

That could be significant, particularly if the wild-card team has to deal with Texas, which leads the AL West by one game over the Angels. Since 2009, the Sox are 6-16 against the Rangers, 2-10 in Texas. The Yankees are 16-10 against Texas in that time, but lost to the Rangers in the ALCS last season.

“That’s a tough team to play, especially in their park,’’ Red Sox reliever Matt Albers said. “They have a good lineup and they play well at home. I don’t think anybody wants to go there in October if you can help it.’’

Said Girardi: “I’m sure [the Red Sox] want home field because clubs are built around your ballpark, that’s the bottom line. If you can have a home series at your ballpark and home-field advantage, you want that.’’

Home-field advantage aside, Derek Jeter wants to win the division.

“That’s what you set out to do,’’ the Yankee captain said. “I don’t think you ever set out to finish second - at least I’ve never done that. There are steps during the course of the season, and the No. 1 step is to win the division.

“In the first two weeks of the season, everyone was saying Boston’s season was over. You play the games and you see what happens. They have a good team. I told you at the time when they were 2-10 that they had a good team.’’

The Sox have won 10 of their last 11 and 15 of 20 against the Yankees. But history suggests the Yankees are due to win a few games.

Each year from 2008-10, the teams went 9-9 against each other. Over the last 10 seasons, counting playoffs, the Red Sox are 96-94 against the Yankees. Over 190 games, the difference is 39 runs in favor of the Sox.

“It’s going to be intense,’’ Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford said. “I knew coming here that I would enjoy the experience of playing against them. It’s the big rivalry. You have to come ready.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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