Well sorta. Tonight's rubber game will determine the winner of the current-three game series between the Yanks and Red Sox, and will give the winner a one-game lead in the AL East, but if the Yankees win the two teams will be tied overall this season and will even up their head-to-head record since 2002 at 92-92.
The last two nights were opposites in just about every way. Tuesday night was characterized by sloppy play and awful pitching, at least by the home team. Last night was a crisply played and well-pitched game, eight of the ten runs coming on homers, one bad pitch at a time rather than the persistent inability to get hitters out.
Tonight could go either way, though a repeat of last night seems more likely. After a rough start, a pair of ugly relief appearances, and despite a skipped start due to a rainout last week, Shawn Chacon appears to have found his way back to his late 2005 form. In his last three starts he's done this:
The only ugly number there is his walk total and there's been some recent discussion that Chacon's walks, which have always been high, are actually part of his pitching strategy. He pitches around dangerous hitters and gets the next man out. That he's walked more than four men per nine innings but managed to keep his WHIP down supports that theory, which of course requires Shawn to work more of his BABIP magic.
Those three starts have brought Chacon's season ERA down to 3.94 and pushed his record to 4-1. Indeed, add Chacon to Mussina, the bullpen, and the quest for 1000 runs on the list of reasons why the Yankees are in first place right now despite the complete disintegration of Randy Johnson's delivery.
Tim Wakefield, meanwhile, has had some hard luck thus far this season, posting a Chacon-like 3.97 ERA and making quality starts in five of his seven turns, but getting just 3.71 runs worth of support per start, resulting in a 2-4 record. Take out his last two starts and that run support drops to just 2.00 runs per game. In his penultimate start, Wake beat the Yanks by holding them to three runs on four hits and three walks over seven innings while Joe Torre's Jeff Weaver Syndrome handed the Sox the win.
Two of those three hits and two of the three Yankee RBIs in that game came off the bat of Robinson Cano, who is now 5 for 15 in his brief career off the knuckleballer with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs. The only other Yankee hitter with a career OPS above .800 in more than ten at-bats against Wakefield is Gary Sheffield, who is on the 15-day DL. Yes, those 15 at-bats are a ridiculously small sample size, but after years of watching Robbie's veteran teammates wave at Wake's knuckler like they're swinging at houseflies with a rolled up magazine, it's striking how confident and locked in Cano seems against Timmy's tumbler.