Sox-Yanks script hasn't changed

BOSTON -- The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!

And when they get to Fenway Park on Friday to begin a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox, the clubs will be dead even atop the American League East standings with matching 68-42 records.

The Red Sox had owned first place alone in the division since July 6, but the New York Yankees have kept it close. And when the Cleveland Indians defeated the Red Sox 7-3 on Thursday night here, and Yankees beat the White Sox 7-2 in Chicago for their seventh straight win, they drew even in the AL East.

It's August. The clubs are tied for first. It's going to be a fun weekend of baseball.

"We're trying to win the division, and they are, too," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "That's what makes baseball fun. It's a great division we're in and it's a lot of good competition. We're going to go out there and try as hard as we can to win."

It's easy to say the Red Sox and Yankees are one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. It's a storied rivalry, one rich in competition and with epic battles.

The Red Sox were the odds-on preseason favorites to win the World Series in 2011, but their 0-6 start to the season made many wonder if what was on paper could ever come to fruition on the field. Obviously it has, and it's no coincidence that Boston's first victory to snap its winless skid at the start of the season came against the Yankees on Opening Night at Fenway Park on April 8.

The Red Sox took two of three from New York that weekend and also swept the next two series (both in the Bronx) to take an 8-1 record heading into this weekend's three games.

Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford has played in the AL East his entire career and faced the Yankees many times when he played for the Rays, but this rivalry is different and he now knows it.

"It's going to be real intense and exciting games," Crawford said. "It'll be close games, probably, but hopefully we'll come out on top and hopefully have the same results."

At the All-Star break, the Red Sox owned the best record in the AL and led the majors in nine offensive categories. Still, Boston could not distance itself from the Yankees.

"It seems like those guys never lose a game," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "Every night you're watching the scores and you see them whooping ass. We gonna try to keep on playing like the way we have against everybody."

"It's impressive the way they do it," Ortiz added. "They don't have Alex [Rodriguez] right now, and not every single starter in their rotation is doing that good [except] for CC [Sabathia]. You watch the way they win games and bounce back, and [to] do it the way they're doing it is pretty impressive."

The fact that Boston has dominated the series this season doesn't mean much behind closed doors. And even though it's almost inevitable that both teams will earn postseason berths, don't try to tell the players that.

"We're both not in and we've got 50-something games left," Pedroia said. "We can both stink and someone could pass us up. We've got a lot of games left, and 50 games is a long time, so both teams have to continue to play well, and we're going to try to do that and I'm sure they will, too."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he always keeps an eye on what other teams are doing around the league, but that he mostly focuses on the team the Sox are playing or are about to play.

That's been his philosophy since he started in Boston. It's that "one pitch, one inning, one game at a time" mentality that has helped the Red Sox be successful, especially against the Yankees (e.g., the 2004 ALCS).

Even a newcomer like Crawford understands how it is here.

"I don't think we feed into that too much," said Crawford, who is just 5-for-40 (.125) against the Yankees this season. "As long as we're in first place and that's what we focus on and taking care of our business. I know we haven't shook them yet, but we can only control what we can do."

Francona was able to control his starting rotation to the point that he could push ace Jon Lester back one day in order to start against the Yankees on Friday night. The southpaw (11-4, 3.17 ERA) will face New York righty Bartolo Colon (8-6, 3.30). Lester is 2-0 against the Yankees this season. He's allowed seven earned runs in 12 innings of work in two starts. He also has a career 8-1 record against New York with a 3.56 ERA in 14 starts.

Lester spent time on the disabled list recently with a lat strain, but he has shown no ill effects in his two starts since returning.

John Lackey (9-8, 6.23) gets the ball for Boston on Saturday against Sabathia (16-5, 2.55). On Sunday, Boston's Josh Beckett (9-4, 2.20) gets the nod against righty Freddy Garcia (10-7, 3.22).

"We're fortunate we've had a chance to get Lester back and [get] our rotation a little bit settled," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "Lackey's done a good job, and Josh has done a good job himself all year."

After this series, there are two more left. Boston hosts New York again in a three-game set (Aug. 30 to Sept. 1) before the Yankees host the Red Sox in the final weekend of the season (Sept. 23-25).

The way these clubs have been playing, it's likely it'll be the same scenario then as it is right now. Either way, the Red Sox and Yankees never disappoint.

"It's always an exciting series," Varitek said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.