Whatever struggles CC Sabathia might have encountered so far this season, Sunday night's game presents the Yankees' with ace an opportunity to give his club a much-needed boost.
Matched against Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster in the finale of a three-game set at Fenway Park, Sabathia will be tasked with pitching the Yankees to what would be their first series victory of the season over Boston, a pivotal one for the Yankees' postseason aspirations as well.
Of course, the American League East-leading Red Sox have their sights set on sending the Yankees out of town disappointed. Boston remains the only team in the Majors to have avoided a four-game losing streak this season, having stopped their latest one at three games with their 6-1 victory Saturday afternoon. They now have an 8 1/2-game advantage over the fourth-place Yankees.
Heading into Sunday's series finale, Sabathia is coming off two solid starts but still owns a 4.66 ERA that is well above his norm since joining the Yankees in 2009. That has made the big left-hander subject to some criticism, but he's taking on his next assignment with his focus on snuffing out some of that scrutiny.
"You know when I'm out there and I'm playing, I'm not thinking about what people think about me or what's going on," Sabathia said. "I'm thinking about trying to making a good pitch and helping the team win. I get to go out there every time out and try to change people's opinion of me, so hopefully I can do that."
Sabathia has allowed just five runs in 13 1/3 innings over his last two starts, a loss to the White Sox and a win over the Angels. However, he has a 6.23 ERA in three games against the Red Sox this season, allowing seven runs in five innings his last time out against them. He hasn't had a lot of success at Fenway Park, either, recording a 4.93 ERA over 11 career starts.
"I've had some big games here, I've had some bad ones, but, you know, hopefully [Sunday] is a good one," Sabathia said.
Dempster, signed as a free agent last winter, will be making his 25th start for the Red Sox this season. After struggling in his previous two starts, he gave up one run over seven innings in his last outing against the Blue Jays, needing just 88 pitches to get that far.
The Red Sox enter Sunday's game in first place in the AL East for the 17th straight day and have spent 118 days in first or sharing it this season. Saturday's win came after they'd lost six of their previous eight.
"We're very confident in our team," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We have a good team. And yet we're going to go through some peaks and valleys."
Yankees: Soriano stays hot
Alfonso Soriano might not have been able to continue his amazing run of RBIs on Saturday, but he had two more hits to keep his hot streak going with five consecutive multi-hit games.
Before his two-hit game Saturday, he'd had at least three hits in his last four games, the first Yankee to do so since Johnny Damon (Aug. 17-19, 2006). He'd also registered 18 RBIs over those four games, one of six players ever to accomplish that, four of them Yankees.
"He's got a chance to do some damage," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the guy he's been his whole career, since the day we saw him. He's got a lot of power and he has the ability to change games."
Red Sox: Pedroia seeks new streak
Dustin Pedroia didn't have quite the success he'd had on his previous birthdays Saturday. An 0-for-5 performance, which included a wicked foul ball of his shin in the ninth inning, halted a streak of 13 consecutive games reaching base safely, although he did contribute a strong defensive effort.
Pedroia turned 30 on Saturday, and he had homered three times on his birthday previously, matched with Ted Williams and Troy O'Leary for second behind Nomar Garciaparra's four birthday bombs in Sox annals.
• David Ortiz notched home run No. 425 with a mammoth shot to dead center Saturday, leaving him one homer behind Billy Williams (47th all time) and two behind Mike Piazza (46th). Ortiz also is nine hits shy of 2,000 for his career.
• The Red Sox now lead the 19-game season series, 7-4.
• The Yankees are 10-5 in their last 15 games at Fenway Park, 2-3 this season.
• Once this series is through, the two teams will meet again Sept. 5-8 at New York and Sept. 13-15 at Boston.
• Following Sunday night's game, the Red Sox travel across the country overnight to open a series at San Francisco on Monday night. The Yankees, meanwhile, will have Monday off before starting four games in three days against the Blue Jays, starting with a Tuesday doubleheader.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.