Showdown Series: Game 1 preview

ali_250_080609.jpgBy Jon Lane
Yes it’s August 6 and this series will not decide the season, but whenever the Yankees and Red Sox hook up, it means something. So much so that Muhammad Ali will be in the house tonight. The Yankees will pay tribute to the three-time World Heavyweight Champion during a pregame ceremony when Ali and Joseph Cinque, President of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, will present Yankee Stadium and Hal Steinbrenner with the academy’s “Six Star Diamond Award,” for excellence in hospitality.

The hype machine has been churning all morning talking about the teams’ first meeting since June 11. The Yankees lead the Red Sox by 2 games and barring a collapse on either side, this will go down to the wire (and don’t write off the Rays either).

In the event you’re visiting from Neptune, the Red Sox are 8-0 against the Yankees this season. Yankees fans are tired of hearing it and so are the players. Back in June, they flew to Fenway 8-3 in their last 11 games after taking a rain-shortened series from the Rays confident that the results would be different. The Red Sox took Game 1, 7-0, and won the next two each by one run. Most disturbing about the last loss was the Yankees’ inability to hit Brad Penny.

If you disagree with the theory that the Red Sox own a psychological advantage, consider that they’re 2-13 at Tropicana Field — and played like it the past two nights. This team is beaten up. Jason Bay re-aggravated his hamstring, which means you could be looking at an outfield of J.D. Drew, Rocco Baldelli and Jacoby Ellsbury — and the rotation is so tattered the Red Sox signed Paul Byrd out of semi-retirement to a Minor League contract.

After Sunday, the Red Sox will be anywhere from 1 1/2 games up to 6 1/2 games back. One fan who called into WEEI-AM took a pessimistic stance: “We have lots of holes. We acted hastily on [cutting Julio] Logo. We’re gonna get slaughtered.

Tonight’s result will be telling. A Red Sox win and Yankees fans will panic. A Yankees win and they’ll be 3 games in front, and 1-8 won’t look so bad. I’ll be on location with Jerome Preisler later today for full coverage from both sides. In the interim, a few more storylines to get you ready:

ortiz_200_080609.jpg? How will Yankees fans react to Big Papi? Tonight is David Ortiz’s first game at Yankee Stadium since the revelation that he was one of the infamous 104. The big guy has yet to discuss it in great detail. Will he speak tonight or the next three days or hide from the phalanx of cameras, microphones and notepads? Chris Shearn pleaded with Yankees fans to not sink to Red Sox Nation’s level and its treatment of Alex Rodriguez. Will they comply? And will Ortiz kill the Yankees again in a big spot? Despite his shoddy overall numbers (.225-15-61), he’s .321-2-8 against New York this season with a .679 slugging percentage. There’s something about seeing him at-bat with runners on base, the game on the line and facing Mariano Rivera. How Phil Coke and/or Phil Hughes (unavailable tonight) or Alfredo Aceves fares in this situation will be their toughest challenge this season.

? Joba Chamberlain is pitching on seven days rest. He’s been the Yankees’ best starter since the All-Star break (0-3, 0.83 ERA in three starts), but is also on that undisclosed innings limit, a situation that will continue to be scrutinized. If he shuts down Boston tonight and continues this run, can the Yankees continue to consider pulling him from the rotation? Or is asking a 23 year old (24 next month) to tread deep waters risking either injury or a severe drop in production (see Fausto Carmona)? One thing not to worry about is his mettle. Despite an 0-1, 4.09 ledger in two starts this year, Chamberlain has succeeded against the Red Sox before and you know that he can deliver in the clutch.  

? How much does John Smoltz have left? His ERA is 7.12 — 1-2, 9.18 since the break — and has pitched into the sixth inning (but no further) in only three of his seven starts. The Yankees’ potent lineup and Coors Field East may spell early disaster.

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