With a walk-off win against the Rays on Tuesday night, the Sox added to their lead over the Yankees for the first time since Aug. 8. Their mid-week series against the Rays, followed by a day off on Thursday, represents a deep breath for the Sox before a critical three-week stretch.
What's next: a four-game weekend set with the American League West-leading Angels. Once again on Wednesday, Boston manager Terry Francona declined to answer a popular question.
Will Clay Buchholz start?
The Red Sox will take their time before naming a second starter for Friday's day-night doubleheader, Francona said. It has become common knowledge that Boston won't start rotation mates Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling -- in order to preserve their day-to-day schedules -- on the same day.
Calling up a Minor League prospect, such as Buchholz, would require some roster maneuvering. A spot starter on the active roster, such as Julian Tavarez, might also get the nod.
"We may be able to [name a starter] after the game, or we actually may not," Francona said on Wednesday morning. "We may have to do it [on Thursday]. I'll check with [general manager] Theo [Epstein] after the game to see where we are. At some point, we'll line up the whole weekend, but we're just not ready to do that yet."
Whatever the Red Sox choose to do could produce consequences that bleed into the last week of August, when the team visits Yankee Stadium for a three-game series.
"We're just trying to line things up, and do it appropriately," Francona said. "Rather than rush into things and saying, 'This,' and taking it back -- we'll just wait."
Magic of numbers: First baseman Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-4 on Tuesday night. As a result, his batting average dipped below .300 for the first time since May 8.
Francona lamented that perceptions can depend on arbitrary statistics like the .300 mark.
Still, since the All-Star break, Youkilis is batting .226, with just 10 extra-base hits in 115 at-bats.
"If he goes 1-for-3 [on Wednesday], he's at .300, and guys are going to go, 'He's hitting .300, what a great hitter,'" Francona said. "Whatever [Youkilis'] level is, I don't know that we know. Is he a .320 hitter? Is he a .280 hitter? Is he a .300 hitter? Last year, he got banged up at the end of the season. It's a long season. Guys just don't stay at .320 the whole year. It just doesn't happen to too many hitters."
Francona said that he is encouraged by recent signs of life in Youkilis' bat.
"I actually think he came back the other day and started swinging good again," Francona said. "I think perspective is big. And I think as long as he's shooting the ball to right field, he's always going to be fine. I think he got away from that a little bit, which hitters do. It happens."
Clement update: Recovering Red Sox starter Matt Clement, out for more than a year since right shoulder surgery, has been upbeat. Francona took some time to talk to him in Boston on Wednesday morning.
"His spirits are real good," Francona said. "He's big into the fantasy football draft and always runs it for us, so he wanted to get some input on that. So if he's talking like that, his spirits are real good, which is important. It's been a long haul for him."
Still, the Red Sox will find it difficult to schedule Minor League starts into Clement's rehabilitation before the end of the season. The Minors typically play out their seasons by the beginning of September.
"You look at the [Minor League] schedule, and it's getting tougher," Francona said. "We want to be very aware of his future. You try to be respectful of everything."
Okajima ready? Setup man Hideki Okajima was available to pitch on Wednesday, Francona said. On Tuesday night, Okajima would have entered the game in the event of a 10th inning.
"I think we've actually done a pretty good job of not overusing him," Francona said. "He's been so good, that's the easiest thing in the world to do, to find an excuse to run a guy out there. I'm just about certain he's in the top 10 in appearances, so again, it's just trying to use common sense. Which is not always easy to do in the eighth inning because of how good he is."
On deck: After a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox will turn to Josh Beckett (15-5, 3.24 ERA), who will take on Ervin Santana (5-11, 6.22), in Game 1 of Friday's day-night twin bill against the Angels at Fenway Park. Boston has yet to name a starter for Game 2, but righty John Lackey (15-6, 3.07) will go for the Halos in the nightcap.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.