Wells wraps up series against Tigers

Wells wraps up series against Tigers

With darkness appearing one minute earlier each day and the temperature cooling down, even in the hottest of playoff races, the looming shadow of October baseball grows exponentially.

The Red Sox and Tigers have realistic aspirations of a World Series title, both encompassing a generous mix of maturity and youth, with Boston relying heavier on the former and Detroit depending more on the latter.

Playing their last head-to-head game of the regular season and closing out a three-game series, the Red Sox will attempt to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Tigers on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

Boston will then take a rare day off on Thursday before their five-game marathon with the Yankees begins on Friday. The Red Sox currently sit three games behind both the Yankees in the American League East and the White Sox for the Wild Card.

"I'm not talking about the Wild Card. I don't care about the Wild Card. That's for second-place teams," Red Sox ace Curt Schilling said. "We can't think like a second-place team right now. We'll have our nights where we're gonna score, but we're gonna have to pitch more consistently and better, and if we don't, we're gonna be playing golf in October instead of baseball."

For the second consecutive night, the Red Sox will plant a veteran with World Series jewelry on the mound, and the Tigers will send out a promising youngster who may be part of the core that brings a championship to the Motor City.

"I don't think anyone that wears a uniform in the game has doubted it for a long time," Schilling said about the quality of Detroit's squad. "Their bullpen stacks up very nicely and they hit. They're a very, very good, solid team, managed by a guy who knows how to win."

David Wells, the 43-year-old southpaw with 623 appearances under his belt, will make the start for Boston, while Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Verlander makes his 25th career start for Detroit.

However, the generalities of stability accompanying experience and uncertainty tagging along with someone in his nascent stages of development have been contradicted by the two hurlers. Verlander, who is tied for the second-most wins in the Major Leagues, has provided the reliability of a 20-year veteran, while Wells has been as unpredictable as a 23-year-old rookie.

The only regularity that Boston has received from their big man is that after two decades in the Major Leagues, Wells' body has been consistent with that of a 40-something. This will be his fourth start since returning from the disabled list, and his fifth of the season.

Wells, who played for Detroit from 1993-95, won his first game of the season against Baltimore on Friday. He allowed one run and nine hits over seven innings and routinely froze batters with his breaking ball.

He has pitched at least six innings in his last two starts, a feat appreciated by the overworked Boston bullpen. Wells is 13-8 with a 4.58 ERA against Detroit in his career.

"Our rotation has got to stretch it out," Schilling said. "We can't ask these guys [the bullpen] to come in ballgames in the seventh inning every night. There's no team that can do that. It's late in the second half ... you especially can't do that. That's the way it is.

"The responsibility falls on us. [I] sure as [heck] don't want anyone backing away from that. That's part of where you make your reputation as a starting pitcher and with the relievers. After August, these are the biggest games of the year, and they magnify themselves."

The Tigers lead the season series, 3-2.

"We've been throwing the ball really well," Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin said. "It's just right now, we're not hitting as well as we're pitching, and that cycles through all year long. Sometimes, they're scoring a bunch of runs and we're not pitching very well. That's why it's a team and we'll muddle through it."

Pitching matchup
DET: RHP Justin Verlander (14-5, 2.95 ERA)
Verlander can only hope Red is a better color of Sox for him compared to Chicago, which beat him for the third time this season in his last start. He gave up 13 hits in five innings, but four of those runs came from a pair of two-run homers in his final inning of work. His pitching showed little if any rust from nine days' rest.

BOS: LHP David Wells (1-2, 6.23 ERA)
In his third game back from the disabled list, Wells stayed on the mound for his longest outing of the season and secured his first win. He threw seven innings, allowing one run and nine hits, while striking out four against Baltimore. In the injury-depleted Boston pitching rotation, Wells could be the difference-maker down the stretch.

Player to watch
Wily Mo Pena is riding a nine-game hitting streak and is batting .361 (13-for-36) during that span.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

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

Up next
• Friday (Game 1): Yankees (RHP Chien-Ming Wang, 13-4, 3.69) at Red Sox (RHP Jason Johnson, 3-11, 6.26), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Friday (Game 2): Yankees (RHP Sidney Ponson, 4-5, 5.82) at Red Sox (LHP Jon Lester, 6-2, 4.09), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Yankees (LHP Randy Johnson, 13-9, 4.92) at Red Sox (RHP Josh Beckett, 13-7, 5.02), 1:20 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (TBA) at Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 14-5, 3.83), 8:05 p.m. ET

Howard Kussoy is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.