And down the stretch they come

Red Sox set to make final stand at Fenway

For three years, the Red Sox have been a dominant team at Fenway Park. Never will they need to rely on their friendly home turf more than in their final seven games of the regular season, all of which will be played at Fenway. The Red Sox are 50-24 at home in 2005.

The defending World Series champions enter the week with the sole mission of making sure they are around in October to defend their first title in 86 years.

It starts with four games against the Blue Jays, and then three against the Yankees in what should be the most anticipated regular-season series in years.

After holding sole possession of first place in the American League East for 64 days (July 19-Sept. 20), the Red Sox enter this final week in a tie with their ancient rivals, the Yankees.

"Every day, every night, every pitch, everything is the most important situation that could come up," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "It kind of feels like the World Series a little bit. We need to try and get through this. It's going to be amazing. I just hope we play well enough. I know we're going to lay it all on the line."

The Red Sox ride into their final homestand of the season on the heels of a three-game sweep against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

"It seems like we've started the playoffs already," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's kind of hard to explain the feeling."

No explanation necessary. The final seven games, all of which will likely be crucial, will tell the story.

Upcoming series vs. Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have been a nemesis all year, as the Red Sox have won just five of the 14 head-to-head meetings. However, the Sox did take two out of three in Toronto when the teams met Sept. 12-14.

Tuesday, Game 1: RHP Tim Wakefield (15-11, 4.09 ERA) vs. RHP David Bush (5-10, 4.45 ERA)
• Wakefield vs. Blue Jays: First start against Toronto this season
• Bush vs. Red Sox: 0-2, 11.70 ERA in three starts
• Red Sox vs. RHP starters: 63-45
• Keep an eye on ... Third baseman Bill Mueller, who is 3-for-4 against Bush.

Tuesday, Game 2: RHP Curt Schilling (7-8, 5.89 ERA) vs. LHP Gustavo Chacin (12-9, 3.66 ERA)
• Schilling vs. Blue Jays: 1-0, 9.00 ERA in one start
• Chacin vs. Red Sox: 1-0, 3.27 ERA in two starts
• Red Sox vs. LHP starters: 28-19
• Keep an eye on ... Edgar Renteria, who is 4-for-6 against Chacin.

Down the stretch they come
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Wednesday: RHP Bronson Arroyo (14-9, 4.29 ERA) vs. LHP Ted Lilly (9-11, 5.72 ERA)
• Arroyo vs. Blue Jays: 1-2, 3.00 ERA in three starts
• Lilly vs. Red Sox: 2-0, 2.31 ERA in four starts
• Keep an eye on ... Jason Varitek, who is 9-for-23 off Lilly with two doubles and a homer.

Thursday: RHP Matt Clement (13-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Downs (4-3, 4.35 ERA)
• Clement vs. Blue Jays: 0-2, 8.66 ERA in three starts
• Downs vs. Red Sox: 1-0, 5.00 ERA in two appearances (one start)
• Keep an eye on ... Manny Ramirez, who has gone deep five times in the last five games.

Weekend series vs. Yankees: Here we go again, with the rivals meeting up in their latest crucial series. This one could be for all the marbles in the American League East. The Yankees have taken nine of the first 16 meetings between the teams.

Friday: LHP David Wells (14-7, 4.47 ERA) vs. RHP Chien-Ming Wang (8-4, 4.02 ERA)
• Wells vs. Yankees: 2-2, 4.26 ERA in four starts
• Wang vs. Red Sox: 0-0, 3.86 ERA in one start
• Keep an eye on ... David Ortiz, who has clubbed five homers and driven in 17 runs against the Yankees this season.

Saturday: RHP Tim Wakefield (15-11, 4.09 ERA) vs. LHP Randy Johnson (15-8, 3.90 ERA)
• Wakefield vs. Yankees: 1-3, 3.03 ERA in five starts
• Johnson vs. Red Sox: 4-0, 3.62 ERA in five starts
• Keep an eye on ... Gary Sheffield, who is hitting .435 with four homers and 14 RBIs against the Red Sox this season.

Sunday: RHP Curt Schilling (7-8, 5.89 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Mussina (13-8, 4.20 ERA)
• Schilling vs. Yankees: 1-2, 5.17 ERA in four appearances (two starts)
• Mussina vs. Red Sox: 0-2, 7.20 ERA in four starts
• Keep an eye on ... Ortiz, who will be taking his final swings to cement his American League MVP candidacy.

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