Beckett to face Moose in opener

Beckett, Red Sox look to strike first in Bronx

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz isn't one of those players who will tell you that he doesn't pay attention to the standings in early June.

The designated hitter has a pretty good idea of where things stand as the Red Sox go to New York for a four-game series that starts Monday night with a top-notch pitching matchup of Josh Beckett and Mike Mussina.

"Every series, you have to go hungry, especially how everyone is playing right now. Everyone is tied up," said Ortiz.

The Red Sox and Yankees are as close as you can get to a tie without actually being tied. They are equal in wins, but New York has one more loss, giving the Sox a half-game edge in the American League East. Toronto is lurking, just 2 1/2 games off the pace.

"I keep saying that this is the toughest division in the American League," Ortiz said. "You have a lot of competition. I'm not saying that the other divisions are bad. But these teams [in the AL East], they get stronger, because they know they have to deal with the Yankees."

And even though the Yankees have dealt with injuries to what seems like every significant player over the last few weeks, they are still a challenge to be reckoned with and the Red Sox know it.

"They've got some injuries, they're still a great team," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I don't think that we ever though they weren't."

After sitting out the first seven games between the rivals with a non-displaced fracture of his left index finger, Sox center fielder Coco Crisp finally gets a chance to see what all the hype is about.

"The first time we played, it was exciting," said Crisp. "I'm just going to relax and play the game. It was definitely enjoyable, especially with Johnny [Damon] there. For me, it was the first time I finally got to meet him. We were able to talk back and forth through the media, but we were able to finally converse. Now I get to go there and it should be fun."

The Red Sox lead the season series, 4-3, with 12 meetings left.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (7-2, 4.46 ERA)
Beckett's otherwise fine month of May came to a dismal close in Toronto last Tuesday as he surrendered a career-high four home runs. Beckett lost for the first time in May as the Blue Jays tagged him for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings. Now he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, a complete-game five-hitter that clinched the 2003 World Series for the Florida Marlins. Beckett is 1-0 against the Yankees this season. He gave up three runs over seven innings and matched a season high with seven strikeouts in the Bronx on May 9.

NYY: RHP Mike Mussina (7-1, 2.42)
Mussina starts following his finest game of the season, a complete-game victory against the Tigers on Wednesday. Mussina allowed just one unearned run in the game, using a sharp curveball to keep hitters off-balance. Mussina has posted a quality start in each of his 12 starts this season.

Player to watch
Catcher Jason Varitek had three hits on Sunday and is starting to look more comfortable at the plate.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850 AM, WROL 950 AM (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Red Sox (RHP David Pauley, 0-0, 12.46) at Yankees (RHP Chien-Ming Wang, 5-2, 4.82), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 8-2, 3.86) at Yankees (RHP Jaret Wright, 3-3, 4.12), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (RHP Tim Wakefield, 4-7, 7.05) at Yankees (LHP Randy Johnson, 7-4, 5.33), 7:05 p.m. ET

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