First place on line as Bosox visit Yanks

David Ortiz and the Red Sox trail Russell

David Ortiz and the Red Sox trail Russell Martin and the Yankees by one game in the AL East standings going into this week's series at Yankee Stadium. (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

It's Yankees-Red Sox, the way it's supposed to be.

When the rivals met in two previous series this season, the subtext surrounded the Red Sox merely trying to survive.

But when the teams start a three-game series Tuesday night at the Stadium, it'll be all about first place.

And there's the added intrigue of Derek Jeter's chase for 3,000 hits, a milestone that could be accomplished during the upcoming 10-game homestand.

Jeter, coming off a nine-game West Coast trip in which he went 10-for-35, enters Tuesday night's game with 2,986 hits. "As a club, we're starting to get excited. I think the fans are starting to get excited and would love to see him do it at home during the homestand," Joe Girardi said.

But Jeter would be the first to say his primary focus this week is the Red Sox, who trail the first-place Yankees by a game in the AL East standings.

"There was a lot of talk early on when they were struggling, and they're not struggling anymore. They're playing good baseball," Girardi said. "They've been a little nicked up in their starting rotation, they're getting [John] Lackey back and things are starting to fall into place for them. They've played much better. I think because it will be for first place, it will be exciting."

Even when the Red Sox were under .500, the Yankees were the one team they could beat.

The Red Sox entered the teams' first series 0-6 and took two of three games at Fenway Park. When the teams next met, May 13-15 at the Stadium, the Red Sox were 17-20 but swept the three-game series. The middle game was a memorable Saturday night affair because of what took place beforehand, as Jorge Posada pulled himself from a lineup in which he was slotted to bat ninth.

But while Boston (33-26) has righted its ship after a 2-10 start, the Yankees (33-24) also enter the series on a roll, having won 13 of their last 18. "I think it's important to go home playing well," Girardi said. "Guys are feeling good about themselves, feeling good about the way they're throwing the baseball, the way they're hitting the baseball. I think that's important."

The Yankees completed their West Coast trip Sunday with a 5-3 win in Anaheim, which gave them a 6-3 record on the trip after an 0-2 start and clinched their first road series victory over the Angels since 2004.

"It's big for a lot of reasons," said Mark Teixeira, who hit two home runs Sunday. "We want some momentum going into the off day and then the series against Boston. And then playing a team [the Angels] that we haven't played that well against over the years is always big."

Nick Swisher, who hit his third home run of the trip Sunday, said the series against the Red Sox is important because it's the next one. "For us right now, every game is big, whether it's a rivalry game or any other game," he said. "We feel that we're playing great baseball."

That's because of the work of the rotation. Entering Sunday, the starters had gone 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA in the previous 17 games. Bartolo Colon wasn't as good as he had been in his previous start -- a four-hit shutout May 30 in Oakland -- but he kept his team in Sunday's game.

Said Swisher, "We've been getting unbelievable pitching."

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