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Red Sox, Yankees clash as crunch time approaches

David Oritz and the Red Sox need a strong series against Mark Teixeira the Yankees ti jump start their contention in the AL East race.

Globe, AP photos

David Oritz and the Red Sox need a strong series against Mark Teixeira the Yankees ti jump start their contention in the AL East race.

It’s July 6 and the Red Sox’ season is a little more than halfway over.

The franchise has celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, welcomed a pile of new players, and traded an old favorite in Kevin Youkilis.

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Josh Beckett played golf when he wasn’t supposed to and got booed for it. David Ortiz hit a milestone home run and Daisuke Matsuzaka came off the disabled list, pitched poorly, and then went back on.

Carl Crawford and Andrew Bailey haven’t played because of injuries and Jacoby Ellsbury got in seven games before he, too, got hurt. Bobby Jenks was finally released.

But Daniel Nava returned from oblivion and somehow Franklin Morales is the best starter on the team. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is playing like an All-Star, even if he didn’t make the All-Star team. There’s also a lot to like in rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

What there haven’t been are many games against the Yankees.

Thanks to a quirk in the schedule and one rainy day, the Red Sox have played the Yankees twice so far. The last of those games was April 21.

From Friday night through the final day of the season Oct. 3, the Sox and Yankees are scheduled to play 16 times, nine games in the Bronx. For the Sox, that means one out of every five games the rest of the season will be against their rivals.

The teams will play four games this weekend; a day-night doubleheader on Saturday was made necessary when the April 22 game was rained out.

The Sox were at their worst back then. They had a 9-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Yankees April 21 at Fenway Park only to lose, 15-9. Six relievers allowed 14 runs and owner John Henry called a meeting after the game to address the crisis.

“I think we’ve hit bottom. That’s what I told them after the game. You have to sometimes hit bottom,” manager Bobby Valentine said that day. “If this isn’t bottom, then we’ll find some new ends of the earth, I guess.”

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Vicente Padilla and the Red Sox hit “rock bottom,” according to Bobby Valentine, after this April 21 loss to the Yankees.

The Sox have played pretty well since, going 38-30 and looking somewhat like a contender for a playoff spot. But as the Yankees return to town after nearly 11 weeks away, the ends of the earth are suddenly growing closer.

A 2-5 road trip against Seattle and Oakland dropped the Sox 7 ½ games behind the Yankees in the American League East, matching their biggest deficit of the season.

The Red Sox scored 14 runs in those seven games, hitting .200 with only 12 extra-base hits. They watched the opposition celebrate a walkoff victory three times.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia reinjured his right thumb Tuesday and is headed to the disabled list. Middlebrooks, who had provided such a lift to the offense, has missed three games with a hamstring strain. Whether he can return this weekend is uncertain.

Adrian Gonzalez has a 15-game hit streak, the longest active streak in the majors. He is 22 for 63 (.349) during that stretch but 19 hits have been singles.

The pitching staff is stretched so thin that Morales, who will start the first game Saturday, got four outs in relief Wednesday.

Crawford and Ellsbury have started minor league rehabilitation assignments but aren’t expected back until after the All-Star break. However, outfielders Scott Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney could be back any day.

It’s hard keeping track of which players the Red Sox have available on a given day.

“I don’t really know who’s healthy and who’s not,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “I haven’t really been paying attention. I know they’ve been beat up, just like every team. Every team’s beat up. That’s the nature of baseball. But I know they’re going to give us a great effort.”

Cody Ross was candid Wednesday after the Sox were swept by Oakland, saying the offense has been terrible.

“We know what the future holds with the Yankees coming in with the four games. We have to forget about this,” he said. “We’ve played well at home of late. We’ll hopefully use that to our advantage. Those Yankees-Red Sox series are always fun. Hopefully we can use our fans to our advantage and get back in the race.”

Said Ortiz of the weekend series: “Hopefully it gets us going.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said this week that he believes the Red Sox will be there at the end of the season. With so many games between the teams, plenty can happen.

For now, the Sox would be happy with playing good baseball again. Beckett, who starts Friday, acknowledged the importance of the games.

“It’s the Yankees, we’re home, it’s right before the break. It’s a big series for us,” he said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.
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