After a seesaw thriller in the opening game, the next chapter of this long weekend edition of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry will continue to help set the tone for the September stretch run in the American League East.
The Red Sox remain solidly ahead of their three division pursuers, but Thursday night's opener was proof this is no time to get comfortable with any lead. The Red Sox recovered from losing a five-run lead for a 9-8 win Thursday.
On Friday, the Sox will turn to young lefty Felix Doubront and the Yankees will bring veteran southpaw Andy Pettitte to the mound in a clash that figures to bring the thrills in the Bronx again.
The Yankees are looking at these four games as crucial, considering it is their last home opportunity to get after the division leaders. They're now nine games behind the Red Sox, though they remain very much in the AL Wild Card hunt. Every game is important for the Yankees from here on out -- especially against the leader of the pack.
"I think it means probably more to us, because of where we are in the standings," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They've got a little bit of a cushion here with some of the troubles the other teams have had. But it means a lot to us, and if you're in their shoes, you're fighting for home-field advantage. So these games are important to them."
The Red Sox enter Friday's action at three games ahead of the Tigers for the top AL seed.
This start represents kind of a test for Doubront to see if he is coming back to earth. After a strong run most of the season, he has been hit hard in two of his past four starts, one of which was against the Yankees.
In the Aug. 16 start against New York, Doubront allowed six earned runs -- tying a season high -- on eight hits in just four innings of work. His last time out, he didn't make it out of the fourth inning against the White Sox, giving up four runs before being pulled despite entering the fourth with a five-run lead. The Red Sox held on for a 7-6 victory.
"It was a great win, great job for the bullpen," said Doubront. "For myself, I'll just move forward. It was just one of those games."
Pettitte was the winning pitcher in that Aug. 16 meeting, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings in a 10-3 victory. In his last seven starts since July 30, Pettitte is 3-1 with a 2.95 ERA, becoming the first Yankees pitcher to win 10 games in 14 different seasons.
Red Sox: Middlebrooks making his mark
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who spent the middle part of the season in the Minors before being recalled Aug. 10, launched his 13th homer of the season and has seven RBIs in his past three games.
Batting .347 (26-for-75) with four doubles, four homers and 14 RBIs since his recall, Middlebrooks is showing about six weeks in the Minors hasn't deterred him from making an impact for the Sox down the stretch.
"He did everything we asked him to do," Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "So he came back and he's helped us win some games ever since. I don't think there's anything that unique about the situation. He's just a young player who, as with many young players, went through a tough time and had to get back on track. To his credit, he's done it.
"He recognized that the season was long and there was still time in 2013 to make this a good year for him."
Yankees: A third day too much for Mo
Girardi said before Thursday's game he didn't know if Mariano Rivera would be available to pitch. It's even more likely Rivera won't be coming out of the 'pen for Friday's game.
The Yankees closer had pitched on back-to-back nights, throwing 13 pitches on Tuesday and 15 more during a four-out save on Wednesday. When New York had the lead in the ninth Thursday, it was Rivera on the mound again, and it was one of the rare occasions when it didn't go well.
Rivera blew the save, allowing the tying run in the ninth while throwing 19 pitches. It was his sixth blown save of the season, matching his most since six in 2003, and his first since three in a row Aug. 7-11.
• The Red Sox are 28 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 7, 2011.
• Robinson Cano, who had a two-run double Thursday to bring his RBI total to 94, is batting .378 (42-for-111) since Aug. 5.
• The Red Sox now lead the season series with the Yankees, 8-5, with five games remaining. The Yankees won the season series 13-5 last year, their first advantage since 2007.
• Boston is 5-2 at Yankee Stadium this season.
• The Red Sox are 33-25 against AL East foes. The Yankees are 32-28.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.