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The look of champions with this performance

John Tlumacki/Globe StaffRed Sox catcher Victor Martinez hides his eyes as Hideki Matsui (right) is congratulated by Jorge Posada after the Yankee DH homered in the fifth. John Tlumacki/Globe StaffRed Sox catcher Victor Martinez hides his eyes as Hideki Matsui (right) is congratulated by Jorge Posada after the Yankee DH homered in the fifth. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 22, 2009

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The New York Yankees look unbeatable in the aftermath of last night’s 20-11 win over the Red Sox at Fenway. You can probably say they look like a championship team.

To the Red Sox they probably look like the 800-pound gorilla after beating them five straight times.

There was a stretch early this season when the Yankees couldn’t touch the Red Sox, dropping the first eight meetings, but now it’s turned completely the other way. The Red Sox have to trot out Brad Penny, while Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka are on the disabled list. It might be that these teams meet again in the American League Championship Series, and if they do - and if Boston is at full strength - will things look this bleak for the Red Sox?

The Yankees were happy last night, but not over the top. They gave credit to the Red Sox for their mini-comebacks. The Yankees got a seven-RBI performance from Hideki Matsui, who stroked two three-run homers, and Derek Jeter went 3 for 6 and started the game with a ground-rule double that set the tone.

“It was incredible the way we swung the bats tonight,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “The good thing is we kept tacking on. They kept coming back, coming back as well. Big night for Matsui. Big night for Alex [Rodriguez]. Big night for Melky [Cabrera] - I mean up and down the lineup.’’

Relentless. Simply relentless.

The Yankees came to Fenway hoping to keep their foot on the Red Sox’ throats. The pitching matchups favored the Yankees in a big way. Andy Pettitte vs. Brad Penny? With the way Penny has pitched lately, what chance did Boston have? Today it’s Junichi Tazawa vs. A.J. Burnett. Could Tazawa surprise us and beat Burnett? Sure. But on paper it’s another mismatch. Tomorrow is the only game where Boston has a chance with Josh Beckett, who was roughed up in his last start at Toronto, facing CC Sabathia.

The Red Sox need to win a game or two to hold off Texas and Tampa Bay in the wild-card chase. Nobody is even thinking about catching the Yankees. New York leads by 7 1/2 games and while that’s not insurmountable it’s hard imagining this Yankee team going on a major losing streak.

“You want to keep pushing,’’ said Girardi. “That’s the one thing. You want to keep pushing as a club. We talked about when we entered the second half - we’re probably going to face some adversity. We went to Chicago and we lost three in row and we seemed to have bounced back from that and we just want to keep pushing.’’

At this rate, Girardi’s Yankees appear to be pushing Red Sox Nation off the Mystic River Bridge, but the reality is that when October rolls around there’s a good chance the Red Sox will be the wild-card team. If the standings hold as they are, the Sox would play the Angels in the first round. If history repeats, the Red Sox should get by Los Angeles. The Yankees would face the Tigers. If they beat the Tigers, the two teams would meet for the ALCS with the likely matchups of Beckett vs. Sabathia, Burnett vs. Jon Lester, Pettitte vs. either Clay Buchholz, Matsuzaka or Wakefield.

There’s still plenty of Yankees-Red Sox to come and nobody in that Yankee clubhouse was dumb enough to declare anything over.

Asked why there are such ebbs and flows in this rivalry, Jeter said, “That’s baseball. It happens.’’

Jeter, who over the last eight games is hitting .543 (19 for 35) has been an amazing story. At 35, he’s played a terrific shortstop and he’s now batting .333 on the season.

“He’s amazing,’’ Pettitte said. “He’s as hot right now as I’ve ever seen him. I’ve been playing with him for a long time and as Scott Brosius once said, ‘He’s got a slump-proof swing.’ ’’

The humble Jeter was taken aback by the comments. “I’m just trying to get on base,’’ said Jeter.

Jeter leads a pack of veterans who didn’t break down as many predicted. Matsui may not be with this team next season, yet he smacked two huge home runs and continues to make a case that the Yankees should bring him back. Matsui has 20 homers for the fourth time in his career. Alex Rodriguez, who had been mired in a 3-for-15 slump on the Yankees’ current road trip, stroked four hits and had a near homer on a triple in the seventh.

The one downer for the Yankees last night was Johnny Damon leaving after his first at-bat when he fouled a ball off the side of his right knee. He’ll likely miss a few games.

Old man Pettitte, who won his 10th game, kicked himself for not lasting longer than five innings, but his pitch count got up to 104 and a long Yankee fifth inning seemed to hurt his rhythm. Anyway, no need for deep-game heroics by Pettitte as the Yankee lineup, which produced 23 hits, did it all. All the Yankee pitching had to do was throw strikes and keep the ball in the ballpark.

What the Yankees were in agreement on is that they needed to set the tone in the first game in this ballpark. They needed to show they could win here.

“We had the 0-8 and won the first one at our park - didn’t have to answer that question,’’ said Girardi. “Then we hadn’t won here yet - now we don’t have to answer this question. There’s a long way to go, but our guys have played really well.’’

They look like champions. They look as if they’ve buried the Red Sox. Nobody’s going to say it yet because there still might be an October between these teams when things could look a little different than they do now.

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