Keeping the Ball in the Park a Key for Smoltz, Red Sox The Red Sox are ready to play their biggest series of the season, so throw the numbers out the window.  This is the Red Sox and Yankees.

Thus far, the local nine have gotten the better of the Pinstripes, winning the first eight head-to-head games of the year.

This weekend's four-game set at the new Yankee Stadium begins with the Yanks clinging to a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East. Expect anything in this latest installment of good versus evil.  

Believe it or not, the key to the series, in my opinion, will be future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Never mind his bloated ERA, which is currently over seven. And his win-loss record could be better. But a player like Smoltz is all about rising to the occasion. The intense rivalry is what a competitor like Smoltz needs to get back on track. His velocity is there, and he's throwing strikes.

The main problem is that he's throwing too many strikes. That may sound like an oxymoron, but major league hitters are designed to hit pitches thrown directly across the plate, and that location seems to be Smoltz's downfall this season. A series-opening win would obviously be in Boston's best interest.

The Yankees shuffled their pitching rotation to give them their best chance at winning. Sergio Mitre is out, meaning the Sox will get a full dose of Joba Chamberlain, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

Keeping the ball in the park will be the goal not just for Smoltz but for Boston's entire pitching staff. The short porch in right field combined with the Yanks' lefty-heavy lineup could be a recipe for disaster for the Sox. But they've done it before, and they can do it again.  

Jason Bay will also need to be a key contributor in this series if Boston wants to have a shot at closing in on the division lead. He does have a few aches and pains and isn't starting in Thursday night's opener, but he should be all systems go by Saturday.

This is going to be an interesting series, to say the least. So get ready. It's the Red Sox and Yankees once again.