First Pitch: So we meet again

Remember this scene? It may have turned around the Yankees' season. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

NEW YORK -- The ball left Alex Rodriguez's bat and it changed some of the perception of him. After Boston Red Sox's Ryan Dempster took the appeal process into his own hands by firing four pitches at A-Rod until he finally hit him, Rodriguez drilled a solo homer off Dempster.

"It was the ultimate payback," Rodriguez said after the New York Yankees' 9-6 win at Fenway on Aug. 18.

Now, the two teams are set to meet again. Dempster will not pitch for the Red Sox after he started on Wednesday, but there still may be the lingering effects of that Sunday night when Yankees manager Joe Girardi went berserk, defending A-Rod, who had sicked his new lawyer, Joe Tacopina, on the Yankees the day before.

"Time is always good," Girardi said on Wednesday, trying to play down any impact of that Sunday on this Thursday. "I think we obviously know what is at stake. We have to go out and play the games and win the games. That is the most important thing. I think our guys know what is at stake."

On that night, my colleague, Wallace Matthews opined:

Now it can be revealed: There is a vast, baseball-wide conspiracy against Alex Rodriguez, and it includes the commissioner of baseball, the front office of the New York Yankees and players like Ryan Dempster.

They are conspiring, however improbably, to turn A-Rod into a sympathetic figure, and however unwittingly -- at least in the case of Dempster and whoever else takes it into his own hands to mete out the punishment that baseball's collective bargaining agreement has deferred -- to bring the Yankees together at just the wrong time for the rest of the American League.

If you want to look for rallying points in a season that has had woefully few of them so far, look no further than the weekend of Aug. 16-19, 2013.

Since then, including that Sunday night, the Yankees are 12-5. Now, the two teams meet again.

Up now: Wally on how the first-place Red Sox are trying to be spoilers. Plus, notes from Mariano Rivera's four-out save in the series sweep of the Chicago White Sox.

On deck: The Yankees and the Red Sox face off. Here are your matchups: Ivan Nova (8-4, 2.88) vs. Jake Peavy (11-5, 3.91); Friday, it's Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.01) vs. Felix Doubront (10-6, 3.89); Saturday, it's David Huff (2-0, 3.32) vs. John Lackey (8-12, 3.22); and Sunday, it's Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99) vs. Jon Lester (13-8, 3.88). Note: Saturday and Sunday are both 1:05 p.m. starts.

In the hole: Wallace Matthews, Ian O'Connor and Mike Mazzeo will have you covered from the Bronx. Plus, ESPN Boston will provide all the news from the Sox's clubhouse.

Question: What are your expectations for this four-gamer?