If Clay Buchholz pitches as well against the New York Yankees as he did before getting hurt, the Boston Red Sox should have a good chance to further hinder their archrival's chances of reaching the postseason.
Hoping to build on a solid return, Buchholz looks to stay undefeated and dominate the Yankees again while helping the AL-best Red Sox complete a three-game sweep Sunday night in the teams' final regular-season meeting.
New York (79-70) totaled 18 runs in winning three straight at Baltimore before being held to five over the last two days at Fenway Park. Curtis Granderson had two of the three hits for the Yankees in Saturday's 5-1 defeat to Boston (91-59), which has won 16 of 20 and continues to make it hard for its rival to gain ground in the crowded wild-card race.
The Red Sox are 12-6 this season against New York, which likely needs to get the best of Buchholz (10-0, 1.61 ERA) to avoid being swept at Fenway for the first time since June 9-11, 2009.
"It's only a must-win when it's an elimination game, but I think it's a really important game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Buchholz had missed three months with a neck strain before rejoining Boston's rotation Tuesday at Tampa Bay. He allowed three hits and struck out six in five innings of a 2-0 victory in his first major league appearance since June 8.
"A healthy Clay Buchholz is going to be a great addition," manager John Farrell said about the right-hander, who has yielded three runs in 23 2-3 innings to win four straight starts.
Though Buchholz feels he's not quite as sharp as before the layoff, his teammates don't want him to rush anything.
"Part of that is just him easing himself into it, which is what we needed him to do," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He doesn't need to go out there and try to throw 100 percent."
Buchholz, whose last loss came at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, has given up only one run - a solo homer to Travis Hafner - and eight hits in 12 innings while going 2-0 versus New York in 2013.
Robinson Cano is a lifetime .414 hitter versus Buchholz but 0 for 4 this season. Cano was 14 for 28 with eight RBIs in the previous six games against the Red Sox before he went hitless with an RBI in four at-bats Saturday.
New York's Ivan Nova (8-4, 3.17) appears healthy enough to make this start after some triceps tightness forced him to leave Tuesday, when he allowed four runs over six innings while not factoring in the decision of a 7-5 victory at Baltimore.
Nova is 4-0 with a 2.87 ERA in his last eight starts.
"I just want to keep on pitching and finish my season," he told the Yankees' official website. "Hopefully we can make it to the playoffs and I can keep pitching."
The right-hander's only start against Boston this year came Sept. 5, when he gave up three runs and five hits while throwing 96 pitches in four innings of a 9-8, 10-inning loss.
Boston's Mike Napoli is 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against Nova, but he's 17 for his last 35 (.486) versus New York.
Shane Victorino has batted .375 with seven RBIs while hitting safely in seven straight games against the Yankees.
It's uncertain if New York's Alfonso Soriano will play after he was scratched Saturday with a sprained thumb.