Yanks-Sox rivalry showcased on FOX

Yankees-Red Sox rivalry showcased on FOX

BOSTON -- Josh Beckett, in his first year with the Red Sox, and Randy Johnson, in his second year as a Yankee, are pretty new to the 103-year rivalry between baseball's biggest foes. However, neither of them is new to high-pressure situations.

The two fireballers have won two of the last six World Series MVP Awards. They share more commonalities in winning those championships against the Yankees with upstart franchises, Beckett with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and Johnson with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. Now, Johnson's in pinstripes and Beckett plays for the Bronx Bombers' biggest rivals.

On Saturday afternoon, the two will square off when the Red Sox and Yankees meet in the FOX Game of the Week, the third game of a five-game series this weekend at Fenway Park. With the Red Sox inching up on the Yankees in the American League East, the most highly anticipated series of August just got a little more interesting.

"It's probably 100 times more intense than any other series this year," Red Sox reliever Craig Hansen said. "I'm really looking forward to it, especially since it's a real close race right now and it's pretty much a series that's going to determine a lot by the end of the season."

"The experience here is like no other experience," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I've been to Chicago and I remember the Cardinals and all of that stuff. Sure, that's crazy, but nothing like this. The passion with the East is so different than anywhere else."

In a game with such magnitude and scrutiny, most pitchers would be crushed by the pressure as though they were in a vice. But Johnson and Beckett are the vice, placing pressure on opposing hitters attempting to resist their power.

One could say that these matchups are overhyped, but more often than not, the contests between these rivals live up to or even exceed the billing.

"The players look forward to the game itself. The game itself is great," Torre said. "You're on your toes, you realize you built up this rivalry over so many years and it boils your blood. The games wear you out -- they exhaust you. Win or lose, you did everything you could."

"It's going to be a little more electric. The fans get in here and get behind that and get loud and make the atmosphere more fun than it usually is," Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp said.

Separated in age by more than 16 years, Beckett and Johnson will look to further distinguish themselves from each other on the mound. Coming to their respective teams with the highest of expectations, the two hurlers have experienced peaks and valleys. Considering their hardware, both pitchers are having below-average years, posting their highest ERAs since becoming full-time starters.

Beckett has struggled mightily of late, having not won a start in his last four outings and not pitched more than six innings in his last five appearances. In his last start, Beckett allowed five runs, six hits and four walks over six innings in a loss to the Tigers.

"When you get to [Curt] Schilling and Beckett, I think you kind of think it's going be a good night," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "[Beckett] expects a lot of himself."

Conversely, Johnson has regained a glimmer of his Cy Young form, having won his last two starts, pitching 13 innings and allowing four total runs against the Angels and White Sox. At 43, Johnson is not the strikeout pitcher he once was, but Yankees fans will certainly be glad to take Ws over Ks.

"The bottom line is winning ballgames," Johnson said. "Strikeouts are a byproduct of making quality pitches at the right time. There's a place and a time for strikeouts, but it takes a lot out of you."

After Monday's series finale, the Red Sox and Yankees will meet for four games from Sept. 15-17 for their last regular-season series. However, knowing their history, there's a good chance that won't be the last time they see each other this year.

"Sometimes, you think they forgot that they won the World Series," Torre said. "For years, you can understand the anger that goes with being frustrated, but after winning the World Series, I didn't sense any change."

As this rivalry has shown, some things never do.

Howard Kussoy is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.