Notes: Skipper tempers excitement

Notes: Skipper tempers excitement

BOSTON -- Entering play on Sunday, the Red Sox held the best winning percentage in Major League Baseball at .690. They had a 9 1/2-game lead over the Orioles in the American League East, which was by far the largest of any of the division leaders. But manager Terry Francona affirmed that he hasn't been studying the gaudy numbers of his team's red-hot start.

"I don't even know what our record is," Francona said. "I'd rather be what our record is than 13-30. That's stating the obvious."

Ever since his team's epic comeback from being down 0-3 in the 2004 American League Championship Series, Francona has frequently repeated a four-word phrase: Stay in the moment. That simple message can serve a team equally well when things are going good or bad.

"We preach so much to stay in the moment," Francona said. "What we did last week is gone. What we're going to do, or have to try to do next week, if you look at it, you kind of get overwhelmed. I just think it's the right way to do it."

With the way the Red Sox are playing lately, it can only help their quest to reach the ultimate goal. But Francona knows how much baseball there is to play. And the 2006 Red Sox -- who led the AL East as late as July 31 before falling hopelessly out of contention -- can serve as an immediate reminder of how quickly things can change.

"We weren't able to answer some of the things that were thrown at us," Francona said. "That was hard to take. But you don't know what's going to happen. I don't want to sit here either and say, 'Oh, August is coming, we're going to hurt.' That's why the way I was stating it the way I was earlier. That's kind of why we go about it that way. I think that makes us a better team."

With a three-game series against the Yankees set to begin on Monday, Francona was a lot more concerned with trying to beat Tim Hudson and the Braves in the rubber mach of a three-game Interleague series.

"We're trying to be the best team in our league," Francona said. "That's our objective. The best way to do that, in my opinion, would be to play a good game today, then when it's time to play a good game tomorrow, we'll do the best we can."

Extra day for Schill: Because Julian Tavarez and Curt Schilling both started games in Thursday's doubleheader, Francona had to decide which order to pitch them in at New York. He opted for Tavarez on Tuesday and Schilling on Wednesday. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will open the series on Monday night.

Schilling has labored more than usual in his last two starts, giving up six runs over 11 1/3 innings. Perhaps an extra day of rest will help Schilling get his crispness back.

Tavarez, meanwhile, is coming off his best outing of the year. He fired seven innings and allowed just one run in a victory over the Tigers.

Another fast start for Youk: For the second season in a row, first baseman Kevin Youkilis is off to a strong start offensively. Youkilis is hitting .327 with five homers, 22 RBIs and a .416 on-base percentage.

Francona sees signs that Youkilis is a more polished player, and one who is better positioned to have success over the full season.

"We've always talked about his plate discipline, his ability to grind out at-bats and swing at strikes," Francona said. "He's a more mature player and person. I also think, reputation with the umpires, you earn that. Because you do have to earn that in this league. He's a year stronger. He's worked hard in the winter and it shows."

Lester progress report: Left-hander Jon Lester, shut down for a couple of weeks after suffering cramping in his left forearm, is moving forward again. Lester was strong for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, allowing just one hit over 3 2/3 innings.

Lester will pitch again on Friday against Syracuse. The lefty's rehab assignment expires on June 17, though the Red Sox could activate him before then if they feel he's ready.

On deck: Wakefield will be pitted against right-hander Chien-Ming Wang in Monday night's opener at Yankee Stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.