(Photo credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports)
Having the New York Yankees come to town for a series that starts Friday might not be quite the thrill it could be for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After all, one of baseball's marquee teams is not having one of its legendary seasons.
Even the Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry series that just endeddidn't have its normal hype with those clubs sitting in the last two spots of the American League East.
But the Yankees (74-73) and Pirates (69-78) are making a run at a strong finish.
New York has won four of its past five games, 12 of its past 17, and split a doubleheader Thursday against Boston.
The Yankees won the nightcap 8-5 behind Aaron Judge's grand slam.
"He's all about winning at the end of the day," New York manager Aaron Boone said of Judge.
Pittsburgh has won 10 of its past 15 games.
"I think we just continue to do what we do -- just keep playing ball the right way, hard and with a lot of effort, the same way that we've been playing good team ball," Pirates outfielder Jack Suwinski, who hit his 25th homer Thursday in a 2-0 win over Washington, told ATT Sportsnet.
Pittsburgh won the final three games of a four-game series against the Nationals.
"It shows who we are as a team, kind of relentless. Lose the first one, and so what? We've got three more," infielder Alfonso Rivas, who also homered Thursday, told ATT Sportsnet.
In the opener, New York right-hander Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.79 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Pittsburgh right-hander Johan Oviedo (8-14, 4.34).
Cole, a former Pirates starter, has been one of the top performers for the Yankees and is undoubtedly a Cy Young Award candidate. Before Thursday's games, he had the best ERA in the American League.
"Just a great pitcher," Boone said. "And it's just fun to watch him at the craft."
On Sunday, Cole allowed three baserunners in seven scoreless innings but did not get a decision against Milwaukee. He struck out nine to eclipse 200 this season.
"That's a cool number. I like that," Cole said. "I've got some more work to do, but it's something that I'm proud of."
Cole has faced the Pirates once, June 25, 2019, while he was with Houston. He got the win, giving up one run and seven hits in six innings.
Oviedo, who has never faced the Yankees, is 5-3 with a 3.40 ERA over his past nine starts.
After twirling a two-hit shutout with a career-high 112 pitches Aug. 28 against Kansas City, Oviedo lasted just 3 2/3 innings in each of his last two starts, allowing a total of six runs.
In Saturday's start against the Atlanta Braves, Oviedo helped initiate a brief benches-clearing incident.
He threw inside on Atlanta star Ronald Acuna Jr., who showed a great deal of displeasure. Oviedo barked back and afterward didn't back down.
"You never wait for a fight, but you have a man right in front of you, 'Why are you looking at me?'" Oviedo said. "If you do that, you're trying to get something out of it. I'm not going to be provoked by what you're doing, because I'm trying to be locked in on my game. I'm trying to be smart about it."
--Field Level Media