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BOS@NYY: Lester fans four over seven solid frames

With the Red Sox closing in on a division title and the Yankees scrambling for position in a crowded Wild Card race, there is plenty on the line for both as the two American League East rivals engage in their final series of the regular season.

In a matchup of southpaws befitting such a September scuffle, the Yankees' CC Sabathia squares off against the Sox's Jon Lester when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon. Once again, expect the kind of tension that defined the rivalry for so long before the Sox bowed out early last year.

This year, the Red Sox have reached 90 wins for the fifth time in seven years and the 11th time since 1998, two behind the 13 the Yankees have during that time frame. This year, the Red Sox are closing in on the AL East by the day, lowering their magic number to seven.

"We're a good team," said Jonny Gomes. "We have good talent. Good starters, good bullpen, good position players, good bench players. We're deep. To be where we are in the standings, we have to be good. It's not an accident at this point."

The Yankees, meanwhile, lost ground for the second AL Wild Card, dropping two games behind the Rays, who hold a 1 1/2-game edge over the Indians.

The rivalry certainly delivered the goods in the opener with a Yankees comeback answered with a Jarrod Saltalamacchia grand slam in the seventh inning, and Saturday's game figures to do the same.

Lester vs. Sabathia has been a marquee matchup over the years, but Sabathia has not performed well much of this season, his 4.82 ERA going into his 31st start telling the tale. His two September starts have been more like it, as he has pitched into the eighth inning in both, allowing three runs on five hits for a win over the White Sox and three on seven hits in a loss at Baltimore.

Lester has eight wins against the Yankees since the beginning of the 2009 season, which is tied with David Price for most wins against the Yankees since then. His last start was against the Yankees in the Bronx last Sunday night, when he allowed three earned runs on 10 hits in eight innings of work in a 4-3 Yankees win.

The Yankees meet a nemesis again with even more work to do after Friday night's loss, but they are keeping the faith despite injuries piling up and time running out.

"I believe in these guys," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I believe in the character in that room. Maybe I've kind of gotten used to the injuries this year, because we've seen it a lot. Just, OK, move on. You have to move on. Sometimes that sounds like it's cold, in a sense, but it's not. It's part of the job, and it's what as players and coaches and an organization you need to be able to do because you owe it to each other in that room, and you owe it to your fans."

Yankees: Dealing with the I-word
After seeing Brett Gardner go down with an oblique injury, the Yankees are losing their everyday center fielder and leadoff man, the player with the second-most games played and at-bats behind Robinson Cano, and probably for the season.

They also know what it's like to deal with injuries to key players, because they've been doing it all year.

"I'm almost to the point where I don't think anything surprises our guys anymore," Girardi said. "I don't want to diminish how important players are to us, but we kind of got used to it. You get a guy back, a guy goes down. It's how it's been all year long."

Red Sox: Ellsbury's return uncertain
The Red Sox are continuing to turn to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field with Jacoby Ellsbury out indefinitely with a compression fracture in his right foot. Bradley, a sensation in Spring Training and the club's No. 2 prospect, is 3-for-17 since his recall last week, taking an 0-for-4 while batting in the No. 9 spot Friday.

The Red Sox are hoping Ellsbury can return before the regular season is over, but he has yet to start any baseball activities. Ellsbury was cleared Friday to do physical activity -- getting in some work in the pool just to get moving a little bit.

Worth noting
• After going 4-for-4 on Friday, Cano raised his career average at Fenway Park to .347 (111-for-320), which ranks second only to Lou Gehrig (.350) among Yankees batters with 200 or more at-bats there. Cano was behind Bob Meusel (.340) and Bill "Moose" Skowron (.339) before Friday's game.

• Koji Uehara ran his franchise-record streak of consecutive batters retired to 37 with a perfect ninth inning Friday. The longest such streak by a reliever was 41 by Bobby Jenks of the White Sox in 2007, according to SABR.

• The Red Sox now lead the season series 11-6 and are 4-3 in Boston this year.

• The Yankees still have won 11 of the last 17 meetings at Fenway Park.

• The Red Sox are now 38-27 against the AL East. The Yankees are 36-32.

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