Another top drawer battle at Fenway

Another top drawer battle at Fenway

On July 7, just three days before the All-Star break, the White Sox and Red Sox began an exciting three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field that appeared to many as a possible preview of the American League Championship Series.

Jon Lester, the Red Sox rookie sensation, outpitched Mark Buehrle in the series opener, with David Ortiz setting the tone early via a first-inning home run. Boston outslugged the South Siders the following day, with Josh Beckett earning the victory over David Riske in relief, and Ortiz launching another home run off White Sox starter Freddy Garcia.

Then, there was the never-ending Sunday finale. Jermaine Dye tied the game with a two-out home run off closer Jonathon Papelbon in the ninth, raising Papelbon's ERA at the time all the way up to 0.59, and Tadahito Iguchi eventually singled home the winning run in the 19th inning. Curt Schilling and Jose Contreras started that particular contest and Boston's Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek combined to finish 1-for-25.

It's now two months later, and the White Sox not only remain in playoff contention but sit atop the AL Wild Card standings. And the Red Sox?

They have crammed two seasons' worth of injuries into the past eight weeks, falling out of contention in the AL East. Barring a three-game sweep of the White Sox, starting Monday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox also look to be an unlikely candidate to win the Wild Card.

A few familiar faces will be back in action for Boston come Labor Day, with shortstop Alex Gonzalez and right fielder Willy Mo Pena returning Sunday, and Varitek and Nixon expected back in the series opener with the White Sox. But Ortiz (irregular heartbeat) and Ramirez (right knee patella tendinitis) could miss the entire series, along with Papelbon (shoulder soreness), and four of the five members of the Red Sox starting rotation who are out of action.

No Tim Wakefield. No Matt Clement. No Schilling, who was scratched from Monday's start against Jon Garland. There's also no Lester, who is being treated for a form of cancer known as lymphoma.

Yet, the White Sox look at Julian Tavarez, Kason Gabbard and Kyle Snyder, the three hurlers going to the mound for Boston, and see the same sort of challenge as if they were facing the staff aces.

"We don't have any room for error, so we can't take anyone lightly and we won't," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of facing lesser-known Boston pitchers. "The one thing I'm guarding against is us playing tight because we feel like we should win and have to win.

"Our routine is not going to change. We keep things as normal as we can around here."

Walker mentioned doing a lot of homework on the trio of Boston hurlers, including studying what video is available. The White Sox are familiar with Tavarez, who threw four scoreless innings during Boston's 19-inning loss before the All-Star break. Walker also went out of his way to compliment Snyder, who shut down Toronto in his last start Friday.

Garland takes the mound Monday for the White Sox, followed by Javier Vazquez and Contreras. Garland has pushed himself into AL Cy Young contention with a 12-1 run and 3.09 ERA over his last 14 starts, raising his victory total over the last two seasons to 34. That particular winning sum is tied with St. Louis' Chris Carpenter for the Major League lead during that timeframe.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was asked Sunday morning about the apparent mismatch on paper between his team and the once powerful Red Sox and expressed a little sympathy for Boston manager Terry Francona. Then again, Guillen lived through his own batch of injuries during his first year in charge in 2004, with both Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas going down, and understands these maladies simply are part of the game.

"To compete, the main thing is health," Guillen said. "If you're not healthy, it's going to be hard. I don't mean you can't, but you got to be healthy. It's one of the few teams, like you have the New York payroll, somebody gets hurt, they bring three. That's a different scenario.

"When everyone goes down in the same week, it seems like it's going to be hard, especially when you lose your pitching staff to their best hitter, but they have a couple players coming back. I don't think we should feel sorry for them because it can happen to anyone, but they still have a good ballclub.

"I feel for Tito [Francona]," Guillen added. "In the meanwhile, better them than me. It's part of the game and I know Tito will handle it very well because he's a strong man. And he's man enough to deal with it, and the players, too."

In sticking to their overall philosophy for the season's final month, the White Sox as a team are focused more on their own well-being than anyone else's physical shortcomings.

"When you look at [the Red Sox injuries], we still have to worry about our hand, what we want to accomplish," White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome said. "We've talked about that for the last three weeks, where the unique thing is we control our destiny here, we have that opportunity.

"We just look at it as if we take care of business, we will be where we want to be," Thome said.

Pitching matchup
CWS: RHP Jon Garland (16-4, 4.47 ERA)
Garland looked like he was going to break his three-start winning streak last Wednesday before the White Sox rallied in the bottom of the eighth to make him baseball's second 16-game winner. He struggled early against the Devil Rays as his fastball stayed up in the zone. He gave up three runs in the first but gave the Sox eight innings, a boon to their bullpen.

BOS: RHP Julian Tavarez (2-4, 4.90 ERA)
The right-handed reliever will replace a starter -- this time Schilling -- for the second time in a span of five days. Tavarez filled in after David Wells was traded on Thursday and gave up five hits and three runs over three innings. It was the first start of the season for Tavarez and 80th in his career. Tavarez has good history against the White Sox this season, as he fired four innings of shutout relief against them in a 19-inning game on July 9.

Player to watch
Eric Hinske, one of the newest and currently healthier Red Sox, has found great success against the White Sox ace. Hinske is 10-for-24 lifetime when facing Garland, including two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• CSN Chicago

On radio
• WSCR 670-AM

Up next
• Tuesday: White Sox (RHP Javier Vazquez, 11-8, 4.98) at Red Sox (LHP Kason Gabbard, 0-3, 6.35), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: White Sox (RHP Jose Contreras, 11-7, 4.23) at Red Sox (RHP Kyle Snyder, 4-3, 5.94), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Indians (LHP Cliff Lee, 11-10, 4.63) at White Sox (LHP Mark Buehrle, 12-11, 4.71), 7:05 p.m. CT

Scott Merkin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.