It's been a disappointing first half of the season for the Boston Red Sox, but a couple of unheralded newcomers at least made sure they won't enter the All-Star break with a losing record.
With a win Sunday, the New York Yankees can guarantee themselves the best record in the majors at the season's unofficial midpoint.
The longtime AL East arch-rivals will usher in baseball's All-Star break when they conclude a four-game series Sunday night at Fenway Park.
The Yankees (51-33) took the first four meetings of their season series with the Red Sox (43-42), including a 10-8 victory Friday and a 6-1 win Saturday to open a split doubleheader.
New York totaled nine runs in the first innings of those two contests, and jumped on Boston again with a three-run opening frame in Saturday's nightcap. This time, though, the Red Sox rallied for a 9-5 victory that snapped their third five-game losing streak of the season.
Pressed into starting duty with Dustin Pedroia (thumb) on the disabled list and Will Middlebrooks nursing a hamstring injury, recent callups Mauro Gomez and Pedro Ciriaco paced the Boston offense by combining for seven hits, five RBIs and four runs from the bottom two spots in the order. In doing so, they ensured the Red Sox wouldn't take their first losing record since 1997 into the All-Star break.
"I can guarantee you most people in the ballpark weren't carrying his baseball card with them," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Ciriaco, who had four hits and four RBIs one day after being promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket, "but he had a super performance."
While Boston won't finish the first half below .500 as a team, Jon Lester (5-5, 4.33 ERA) could for the first time in his career. The left-hander's .675 lifetime winning percentage (81-39) ranks sixth among pitchers with a minimum of 100 decisions since 1900, but he's been far from dominant in 2012, allowing opponents to hit .270 and giving up four runs or more in eight of his 17 starts.
Lester limited Oakland to one run and four hits while striking out nine in 6 2-3 innings Monday, but wound up without a decision after the Athletics rallied to beat the Red Sox 3-2.
Lester is 8-3 with a 4.15 ERA in 17 starts versus the Yankees, but the most recent was his worst. New York pounded him for eight runs and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings to hand him a 9-1 loss in the Bronx last Sept. 24.
Despite the loss Saturday night, the Yankees will enter the All-Star break with 50 wins or more for the fifth consecutive season and the 10th time in 12 years. New York is currently one-half game in front of Texas for baseball's best record, thanks to a 25-10 mark since May 30.
All 11 of the Yankees runs in Saturday's doubleheader came on seven homers. The Red Sox didn't go deep in either game.
"It's crazy, man. Like I've always said, this team's designed to hit home runs," said Nick Swisher, whose three-run shot in Game 1 snapped a personal 0-for-17 drought. "That's kind of our thing."
The Yankees will wrap up their first half with Ivan Nova (9-3, 4.05) on the mound once again seeking to become the staff's first 10-game winner.
Nova is 0-1 over his last three starts following a personal five-game winning streak but hasn't pitched poorly, posting a 2.84 ERA in those outings. The right-hander gave up six runs - three unearned - in six innings of Monday's 7-4 loss at Tampa Bay.
He earned his first win in five career appearances versus Boston on April 20, allowing two runs over six innings of the Yankees' 6-2 victory.