BOSTON — Finish strong.
And in the process, perhaps bury a rival insofar as the division is concerned.
The Yankees arrived here late Wednesday night feeling good about themselves, Robinson Cano saving them from a Rays sweep at a recent indoor house of horrors named Tropicana Field.
Now the Yankees have four games in Fenway Park against the Red Sox — including a doubleheader Saturday — before the All-Star Break. The Yankees, at 49-32, lead Boston by 7 ½.
“You want to be sprinting to end that first half, you want to finish strong, especially when you have division opponents,” Nick Swisher said. “It’s going to be a great series. They’re throwing three lefties at us, Beckett and three lefties, so it should be interesting. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The place is going to be packed and we’re going to be ready.”
Hiroki Kuroda starts Friday and he, likely, will be followed by Freddy Garcia on Saturday afternoon, Phil Hughes on Saturday night and Ivan Nova in primetime Sunday night.
“You just want to be playing well,” Mark Teixeira said. “You don’t want to go into the break on losing streak, definitely. You want to win some games and feel good about taking a few days off.”
Yankees/Red Sox series for the better part of the last decade have been mostly about battles for first place but this year has been different. The division is stronger than it’s ever been, with all five teams above .500.
“This is a crazy division,” Joe Girardi said.
Entering Thursday night the Yankees led Baltimore (44-37) by five games and the Rays by (43-39) by 6 ½. Toronto is tied with Boston at 42-40.
“They always have a good team,” Cano said. “Always have good guys in the lineup. We’ll have to play hard to win games.”
But a decidedly different lineup. Sure, there’s still David Ortiz, who hit his 400th career home run on Wednesday against the A’s in Oakland.
“I was so happy for him,” Cano said.
But the lineup also features some names not as familiar to the rivalry in recent years like outfielders Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish, and rookie Will Middlebrooks, whose performance (.298 average with 10 homers and 37 RBI) helped grease the rails for Kevin Youkilis’ departure to the White Sox (the veteran’s lack of performance and issues with manager Bobby Valentine contributed as well).
Teixeira said seeing the Red Sox without Youkilis will be “weird,” using the same word to describe seeing the veteran third baseman in a White Sox uniform last week at the Stadium.
Swisher agreed but said the names on the back of the jersey are mostly irrelevant in one sense.
“I don’t care who’s on the field, man, it’s the Red Sox, it don’t matter,” he said. “As long as it’s on the front of their jersey, that’s all that matters.”
Teixeira said it’s the perfect way to close the season’s first half.
“Every Boston/Yankees series is fun,” he said. “If you get a little tired because it’s the middle of the summer, these wake you up a little bit. These series, the fans are so into it. It’s like Game 7 of the World Series every game. It’s a lot of fun.”
And while the games “don’t count for anything more” against the Red Sox and it can be argued, as of now, games against the Orioles and Rays hold more importance, Teixeira said there’s a bigger picture.
“What it means to the fans, what it means to both cities, that’s never going to go away,” he said. “Same thing in college football, Michigan/Ohio State or whatever rivalry it is. It means so much no matter what’s going on. These games are so important to the fans. You feel the energy.”