They will also have knotted post-2001 business against the Bombers. Since 2002, including their postseason clashes, the Yankees now lead in wins, 56-55.A chance to claim equality against the Yankees certainly looked far-flung last August, when the Yankees finished up their five-game, 49-run blitz here. Earlier in 2006, Boston was unable to pull rank on a New York team carrying on minus Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. "Well, we were banged up pretty well, too, later in the season," said Varitek. Certainly, but before injuries to Varitek, Papelbon, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Manny Ramirez finished off the Red Sox, the Yankees had read at least their first rites here on Aug. 18-21. That sweep had opened up wide wounds. The healing continued Saturday when Josh Beckett, after starting out by pitching down to Karstens' level, recovered to go 6 2/3 innings. In total, Beckett allowed nine hits, four earned runs -- and two walks. Last time he saw the Yankees here, on Aug. 19, he'd gone an inning shorter and given up nine earned runs -- and nine walks. "Didn't think about that at all," Beckett said. "That was just one of those days. You just hope they come few and far between." Even on a late afternoon when he was kept in the park, Rodriguez was a focal point. He went 2-for-4, not a bad "off" day. His first hit of the nationally-televised game was a leadoff double in the third, when it occurred to us how perfect he was for FOX, the NASCAR network, because he keeps making left turns. Yet Rodriguez remained a central character primarily for upsetting Beckett and stalking Papelbon. Upon being chased by Rodriguez's opposite-field single with two outs in the seventh, Beckett made his slow walk into the dugout -- where he promptly challenged the cooler. "Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself. I expect to be perfect," Beckett explained. "That pitch to Alex got a little too much of the plate, and that's why I was frustrated. "You never want someone else to clean up your mess." Eh, that's pretty much the bullpen's job description, Josh. Okajima, Mike Timlin and Papelbon did that job in hitless fashion. That's Papelbon routine style, naturally. In six games, he has allowed one hit. When he came into this game at four to A-Rod, people became clock-watchers. A one-out walk to Melky Cabrera brought Papelbon closer to A-Rod time. "If it had to happen ... I'm always up for a challenge, for sure," Papelbon said. "But I'm still going at it one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time. "I'm not thinking about having A-Rod on deck. I had a task at hand, and that's all I focused on." "I don't want to get to Alex, because that would've meant decision time," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "And the less decisions you have to make, the better." Presumably, Francona was alluding to confronting a decision of whether to let Papelbon pitch to Rodriguez had he reached the plate. That would have been interesting because, had Francona chosen to intentionally walk A-Rod, he would have been putting on base the potential lead run. He was spared from considering such baseball sacrilege when Abreu lifted Papelbon's second pitch to the edge of the warning track in center, where Coco Crisp clutched it for Boston's seventh win in eight games. Sunday night, the Yankees will try to avoid leaving town five games behind in the standings. Jason Varitek rolled his eyes. "There is so much equality in the league now, a lot more than when I started (1997). We're just trying to win series," he said. This is what he meant: In today's baseball, it doesn't matter how far apart you are -- especially so early in a season -- because there are too many teams out there more than willing to assist with a reconciliation.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.