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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Jumping at chance to face NY

Julian Tavarez got some pretty good hang time but still was unable to come up with Nick Markakis’s sixth-inning hot shot up the middle. Mark Loretta did flag it down, however, and started a 4-6-3 double play.
Julian Tavarez got some pretty good hang time but still was unable to come up with Nick Markakis’s sixth-inning hot shot up the middle. Mark Loretta did flag it down, however, and started a 4-6-3 double play. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

The standings will look familiar when the Red Sox take the field at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night. The Sox and Yankees will be sitting on top of the American League East, separated only by a few percentage points.

It'll be a homecoming of sorts for 25-year-old Josh Beckett. He'll be on the Yankee Stadium mound for the first time since Oct. 25, 2003, when he got Jorge Posada to ground out to complete his World Series-clinching masterpiece in Game 6.

''I think he was something like 12 years old then," Derek Jeter joked when he was in Boston last week. ''I got three hits off him the first time we faced him in that Series, but none of us did much that last night."

Beckett was all of 23 when he was named Series MVP for Jack McKeon's upstart Marlins. He was cocky and fearless. Just like he was in high school. Just like he is now.

Randy Johnson, who was 5-0 against the Red Sox last year, will be on the mound for the Yankees tomorrow night. Like Beckett, Johnson had a lot to do with beating the Yankees in another World Series played in this century. Toss in Wednesday's starters -- Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina -- and the first two games of this series feature four pitchers who once started against the Yankees in postseason play. Tim Wakefield on Thursday makes five.

The Sox completed their tuneup for New York with another thrashing (10-3) of the beyond-bad Orioles yesterday. That makes for 11 consecutive victories over Baltimore going back to last season. The O's once again are the wOes. They are in complete free fall and 1988 doesn't seem that long ago.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are playing good baseball. Since their 11-19 start in 2005, they are 102-59, which gives them the best record in the majors over the last 161 games. They are, however, 0-1 against the Red Sox this year, victims of David Ortiz, Wakefield, and Jonathan Papelbon one week ago today.

Ortiz is struggling. Since his three-run bomb in the late innings last Monday, Big Papi is 1 for 20, the only hit his three-run double against the Orioles Friday night. Generally speaking, Johnson is not the guy you want to face if you are a lefthanded-hitting slugger in a slump. The last time the Red Sox were in Yankee Stadium (Sept. 11, 2005) Sox manager Terry Francona ''rested" Ortiz against Johnson and the Yankees beat Boston, 1-0. Ortiz pinch hit against Mariano Rivera in the eighth and walked. Francona and Ortiz were soundly ripped by critics in the Apple.

Francona assured everyone Ortiz will be in the lineup tomorrow night.

''The only time David won't play is when he really needs a rest, and I don't think he needs [one]," said the manager. ''Of course, he might get some time when we have interleague play. He's just caught in-between right now, as happens to a lot of hitters. The good news is that we still won the game and you know somebody's going to pay down the road."

Most of the other Sox hitters are hot as they pack for this afternoon's old-timey train ride to New York. Mike Lowell, Manny Ramírez, Wily Mo Peña, and Kevin Youkilis had good homestands and Trot Nixon takes an eight-game hitting streak into Yankee Stadium.

The Sox are reluctant to talk about the Yankees when they are in the middle of series against other opponents, but the lid was lifted after yesterday's ridiculously easy finale against the once-proud Orioles.

''I am looking forward to it," said second baseman Mark Loretta, who'll be playing his first game as a Red Sox in New York. ''It is May, but just based on the one game here last week, there will be a lot of excitement, a lot of hoopla."

Rookie Papelbon got to pitch one inning in Yankee Stadium at the end of last season and said, ''We're going to have to keep our emotions in check. I know it's going to be a hostile environment, but I like pitching in a hostile environment. Last year we had batteries thrown at us. I'll be ready."

The Sox are in a good place. Their three most reliable starters are lined up and the bullpen is rested. Boston has won four in a row and took five of six at home after a rugged road trip.

''I don't think this team lacks confidence, but we're starting to swing the bats better," said captain Jason Varitek.

Lowell was with Beckett when the Marlins won the World Series in New York in '03. He remembers how loose his teammates were because they felt like they had nothing to lose. He said they watched ''Slap Shot" on the clubhouse television before Series games in Yankee Stadium.

That was nothing. That was only the World Series. Tomorrow Lowell and Beckett find out what it's like to go to Yankee Stadium when you play for the Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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