The Boston Red Sox likely couldn't have pictured the season starting any better than it has, particularly after disastrous starting pitching derailed them last year.
With a shot at an opening-series sweep of the New York Yankees in the Bronx on Thursday night, they'll look to a new addition to their staff in hopes of another strong outing.
Boston seeks its first 3-0 start since beginning 5-0 in 1999, already with road wins against the Yankees in the first two games of the season for the first time since 1935.
Red Sox starters combined to go 48-72 last year with a 5.19 ERA that ranked 27th in baseball - a huge reason for the team's 69-93 record and last place finish in the AL East. But Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have combined for a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings in 8-2 and 7-4 victories over the Yankees on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
Still, Lester and Buchholz were the only two to throw more than 180 innings last year, so the club is anxious to see how new addition Ryan Dempster performs in his start Thursday.
Dempster, who signed a two-year deal with Boston in the offseason, struggled in 12 AL starts last year after being acquired by Texas. He went 7-3 despite a 5.09 ERA after recording a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts earlier in the season for the Cubs.
The Red Sox hope Dempster can be the same innings-eater he's proven to be over the course of his career, throwing 200 or more innings seven times in 15 seasons.
"I work extremely hard during the offseason and season to keep myself as healthy as possible so I can take on that workload," Dempster told the team's official website. "It's something I pride myself on."
With a roster already depleted by injuries, the Yankees caught another bad break in Wednesday's loss. Starter Hiroki Kuroda recorded just four outs before a Shane Victorino line drive bruised his middle finger, eventually forcing Kuroda out of the game. Kuroda, who tied Phil Hughes for the team lead in wins last year with 16, underwent X-rays and a CT scan that came back negative, though he was set to see a doctor Thursday.
New York certainly hopes it'll be able to keep him away from a lengthy and very expensive disabled list that already includes Derek Jeter , Alex Rodriguez , Mark Teixeira , Curtis Granderson and Hughes.
They'll look to 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to help them get on track as he takes the mound Thursday to begin his 15th season with the club. He's coming off a year in which he was limited to 12 starts due to a broken leg keeping him out for three months, though he went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts.
The Yankees didn't hold a lead at any point in their first two games for the first time since 1998 and are trying to avoid their second straight 0-3 start, though it didn't keep them from finishing with the AL's best record at 95-67.
"It's not unusual to lose two games in a row," manager Joe Girardi said. "It becomes somewhat glaring when it's the first two. We didn't get off to a good start last year and that worked out OK."
Thursday marks Pettitte's first start against Boston since Oct. 2, 2010. In his five most recent outings opposite Boston, he went 2-1 despite a 6.29 ERA.
Dempster has struggled in five career starts versus the Yankees, posting an 0-4 record with a 7.62 ERA.
|Boston Red Sox|
|March 27, 2013||Stephen Drew||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|March 22, 2013||Franklin Morales||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|March 22, 2013||Craig Breslow||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tendinitis|
|March 22, 2013||David Ortiz||15-Day DL||Right Achilles soreness|
|February 20, 2013||Ryan Kalish||60-Day DL||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
|New York Yankees|
|March 26, 2013||Cesar Cabral||60-Day DL||Left elbow pain|
|March 22, 2013||Curtis Granderson||15-Day DL||Fractured right forearm|
|March 22, 2013||Phil Hughes||15-Day DL||Right upper back thoracic injury|
|March 22, 2013||Mark Teixeira||15-Day DL||Strained right wrist - out 8-10 weeks|
|March 22, 2013||Derek Jeter||15-Day DL||Recovery from left ankle surgery|
|March 16, 2013||Michael Pineda||60-Day DL||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Andy Pettitte was a rock on the mound in his latest gritty performance. Mariano Rivera jogged in from the bullpen to nail down a ninth-inning lead.
Following two straight duds to start the season, the banged-up New York Yankees finally looked like themselves Thursday night.
Pettitte pitched the Yankees to their first win of the year and Rivera made a successful return to the mound in New York's 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
"I was waiting for 11 months," said Rivera, who acknowledged feeling a little anxious before his first regular-season pitch since knee surgery. "There were a lot of emotions tonight, but you have to control that. You have to finish the game."
Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli homered for the Yankees, providing some unexpected power to a depleted lineup missing the "sore four" - Derek Jeter , Alex Rodriguez , Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson .
All those All-Stars are on the disabled list, plus pitcher Phil Hughes , and without them New York dropped its first two games to the rival Red Sox.
"You don't want to leave your home park going 0-3, that's for sure," manager Joe Girardi said. "So I thought it was pretty important."
Lyle Overbay had a two-run single off Ryan Dempster (0-1), who struck out eight in his Boston debut but needed 101 pitches to get through five innings. The two-time All-Star signed a $26.5 million, two-year contract in December after spending last season with the Cubs and Rangers.
"Just got outpitched by the guy on the other side of the field," Dempster said. "I made a lot of good pitches and a couple balls fell in. That was enough to win the game."
Looking for their first season-opening sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox were handcuffed by a pair of New York greats.
The 40-year-old Pettitte (1-0) tossed eight sharp innings on a 43-degree night and Rivera entered to a standing ovation from those left in the bundled-up crowd of 40,611 as the familiar chords of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blared over the Yankee Stadium speakers.
Baseball's career saves leader, set to retire after this season, missed most of last year after tearing a knee ligament May 3 while shagging flies during batting practice in Kansas City.
Rivera issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia and gave up a one-out double to Jonny Gomes before Will Middlebrooks drove in a run with a groundout. But the right-hander threw a called third strike past rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. for his 609th save and first since April 30 last year at Baltimore.
"Obviously, I feel real secure and good about things whenever you see that guy come running in from the bullpen in the ninth inning," Pettitte said. "It's special, and it will be special for me watching him this year and knowing this is it. After this, he won't be closing games for us anymore, so I'll savor it as much as I can."
By appearing in his 19th Yankees season, Rivera broke a tie with Yogi Berra , Mickey Mantle and Jeter to set the franchise mark. Jeter will match Rivera again when the captain makes his season debut.
It was the 69th time Rivera has saved a regular-season win by Pettitte, a major league record. The two hadn't teamed up since the 2010 playoffs against Minnesota.
"These two have been doing it a long time together," Girardi said. "I've caught both of them and I've managed both of them, but as a fan it's really kind of neat to see."
With fans chanting his name, Pettitte got through the eighth inning and pumped his fist before heading into the dugout for good.
Backed by three double plays - one that he started himself - Pettitte allowed one run and eight hits. He threw an efficient 94 pitches and gave New York's staff a huge boost after Hiroki Kuroda was pulled in the second inning Wednesday night with a bruised middle finger.
Pettitte, beginning his 15th season with the Yankees, earned his 246th career win and improved to 19-10 in 38 starts against Boston. He missed almost three months last season with a broken left ankle and finished 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA.
Pettitte has practically made a career of righting the ship for the Yankees. The team said he is 18-3 with an ERA below 3.00 in 27 starts with New York trying to avoid a regular-season sweep, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
He was working on a five-hit shutout when Middlebrooks smacked a two-out single in the seventh and scored on a double by Bradley. David Ross made a bid for a tying homer with a long drive to left-center that was caught just in front of the fence, near the 399-foot sign.
"He gave it a ride and Gardner makes a heck of a catch against the wall," Boston manager John Farrell said.
Cervelli greeted Clayton Mortensen with a leadoff homer in the seventh that made it 4-1.
Gardner and Cervelli hit their first homers since going back-to-back off Baltimore's Tommy Hunter on Sept. 6, 2011. Neither player spent much time on the active big league roster last season.
Eduardo Nunez , often a defensive liability, turned three double plays at shortstop and made a leaping grab to rob Shane Victorino of a leadoff hit in the fourth. Nunez also had two hits, including a key double.
Victorino tried to score from second base on a wild pitch in the first inning when Pettitte didn't cover the plate. Cervelli was slow and a little nonchalant in retrieving the ball, then scrambled back in time to tag Victorino as both players dove headfirst and banged into each other.
Victorino jammed two fingers on his throwing hand but remained in the game. He said he was fine, and Cervelli apologized to him the next time up.
NOTES: Ross singled in his first Red Sox plate appearance. ... Looking to split up his left-handed hitters, Girardi moved Robinson Cano up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 13, 2010. Kevin Youkilis batted third and Ichiro Suzuki hit sixth for the first time in his career, according to STATS. ... New York sent RHP Ivan Nova to Detroit early so he could rest up for his 1:05 p.m. start Friday against RHP Doug Fister and the AL champion Tigers. ... The Yankees released RHP David Aardsma .