In fact, the Red Sox are probably seeing the letter 'W' in their sleep these days. The 31-14 Sox now lead the Yankees by a whopping 10 1/2 games in the American League East.
How rare has a losing streak become for manager Terry Francona's nine? By avenging Monday's series-opening loss, the Sox made it a 26-game stretch that they've avoided as much as a two-game losing streak.
"It's going to come down to getting those quality starts," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "That's going to be the key to it."
But offense was also a big key to this one. The Sox were able to pound on Mussina early and late. On the other side of the ball, Tavarez held the Yankees to three hits and two runs over 5 2/3 innings.
Mussina allowed one-out singles to Kevin Youkilis (15-game hitting streak) and David Ortiz in the first inning, setting up a damaging encounter with Manny Ramirez. The slugger launched career homer No. 477, a three-run blast to left field, giving Tavarez a three-run lead before tossing his first pitch. Mussina labored through the inning, throwing 31 pitches.
"It's stating the obvious, but playing with a lead, especially on the road, we talk about it all the time," said Francona. "The formula, score first and then try to add on. I think tonight was a good example."
Ramirez is technically a visitor at Yankee Stadium. But the man who bashed high school homers just blocks away at Washington Heights always looks at home in this historic yard. Ramirez has 51 homers lifetime against the Yankees. His 27 at Yankee Stadium are the most by any opposing player in the last 51 years.
If Ramirez had any theories on his New York supremacy, he'd likely share it with Tavarez, who is one of his best friends.
"Manny only talks about cartoon movies and how he eats and reggaeton music," said Tavarez. "Manny doesn't talk about those things. It's not just against the Yankees; he hits well against everybody. Manny does as well against the Yankees as he does against everybody because it's Manny being Manny. Manny doesn't worry about a thing, I'm telling you. He just goes out and knows he's going to hit .300 with a lot of RBIs and 30 or 40 home runs a year."
Mike Lowell again gave the Red Sox a long distance connection in the fourth, striking a solo shot that clanged off the screen that is connected to the foul pole in left.
With that 4-0 lead in his back pocket, Tavarez went to work. He held the Yankees hitless over the first three innings. The Yankees began chipping away in the fourth. With runners at the corners and two outs, a wild pitch by Tavarez allowed Hideki Matsui to score. In the fifth, Derek Jeter stepped up with the bases loaded and one out and cut it to 4-2 on a fielder's-choice grounder to short.
Tavarez walked Alex Rodriguez to open the sixth, but quickly erased that misfortune by getting Jorge Posada on a 3-6-3 double play.
That was all for Tavarez, who gave way to southpaw Javy Lopez with the left-handed-hitting Bobby Abreu looming. Lopez did his job by getting a strikeout to end the inning.
"Julian Tavarez, when he throws strikes, he's really good," Francona said. "I thought in the [sixth] inning, Julian went back out and got the double play with Posada. At that time of the game, it allowed Javy to not face more hitters than he was supposed to and match up with the guys he was supposed to, and he did a great job."
Then, the Sox delivered knockout blow to Mussina in the seventh. Julio Lugo delivered an RBI single to right and the sizzling Youkilis brought in another run with a double to right. Mike Myers came on to face Ortiz, who slapped an RBI single to center to give the Sox their largest of the night at 7-2.
In a way, Ramirez was the setup man on this night.
"Once I saw Manny hit the three-run bomb, I knew it would be big for the game," said Tavarez. "Once one guy starts hitting good, the other guys get jealous and say, 'I want to do my job, too.' Manny came up big and everyone did their job today."
It all added up to a birthday present that Tavarez didn't even have to unwrap.