The Red Sox and Yankees will meet for the final time this season Sunday night, and there will be even more than usual at stake at Fenway Park.
Saturday's 5-1 win over New York put Boston's magic number at six to clinch the American League East title. Meanwhile, two straight losses have left the Yankees three games behind the Rays and Rangers -- the co-leaders in the AL Wild Card race -- and another defeat would further lengthen their odds at reaching the postseason.
Boston will go for the sweep Sunday behind right-hander Clay Buchholz, taking the mound for just the second time after missing more than three months with a bursa sac injury. All he did Tuesday in his first start back was hold Tampa Bay to three hits and strike out six batters over five scoreless innings.
Buchholz needed only 74 pitches to get through that outing. While his results were excellent, and the time off left him healthy for the stretch run, Buchholz said he wasn't as sharp against the Rays as he'd like to be. That should come with more time and repetition, Buchholz said.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he has a pitch-count range in mind for Buchholz on Sunday night.
"It'd be great if he could go out and continue what he did down in Tampa," Farrell said. "But as I mentioned [Friday], the stress of the pitches from his start to the end of his night, that'll have as much bearing as the number of pitches thrown."
The Yankees will hand the ball to right-hander Ivan Nova, who was limited to 79 pitches his last time out due to triceps tightness as he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks Tuesday in Baltimore. Manager Joe Girardi said Nova has been dealing with the tightness "for a while now," but Nova doesn't want to miss his turn in the rotation.
"You never want to tell your manager, because they can push you back or skip you, whatever," Nova said Tuesday. "You just want to keep pitching."
Nova has faced Boston just once this season, allowing three runs in four innings on Sept. 5.
Yankees: Soriano scratched
Outfielder Alfonso Soriano was scratched from New York's starting lineup Saturday with a sprained right thumb. The team announced the change just before first pitch, leaving the Yankees without a middle-of-the-order bat in Saturday's 5-1 loss.
Soriano, who was slated to bat cleanup Saturday, leads the Majors with 15 homers and 47 RBIs since July 26, when the Yankees acquired him from the Cubs.
• The Yankees reinstated right-hander David Phelps from the 60-day disabled list on Saturday, hoping to provide some relief for their worn-out bullpen. Phelps has been out since July with a right forearm strain that he re-injured in August. Girardi said Phelps, 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts), could work "as a one-inning guy, maybe a little bit more than that."
Red Sox: Doubront to make another start
Felix Doubront hasn't pitched since Sept. 6, but he'll make at least one more appearance in Boston's rotation. Farrell said Doubront will throw a simulated game Tuesday in preparation for a start against the Blue Jays next weekend.
Doubront allowed 10 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last two outings and was given some rest when Buchholz returned. Farrell noted that the 25-year-old's increased workload -- 82 2/3 innings in 2011 to 161 in 2012 and 154 this year -- may have worn on his body.
"We felt this was the need, just from the physical standpoint," Farrell said. "There wasn't anything glaring inside the last five or six starts he made, it was just the lack of consistency. And to me that looked like fatigue."
• Closer Koji Uehara didn't have to pitch Saturday, but he's retired 37 consecutive batters, the longest stretch in club history and the longest for any reliever since White Sox closer Bobby Jenks retired 41 straight in 2007. According to SABR, Jenks' streak is the longest ever for a reliever.
• The Red Sox will honor Mariano Rivera, who could be making his last visit to Fenway Park before he retires at season's end, in a pregame ceremony Sunday night. Fans are invited to take their seats at 7:30 p.m. ET.
• Girardi hopes to use Alex Rodriguez as the Yankees' designated hitter rather than give him a two-day break with Monday's off-day.
"I would love to have him in the lineup," Girardi said. "I don't think we have the luxury of giving people two days off, but we'll see how he feels."