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DET@BOS: Lester strikes out nine over seven frames

Not even a vaunted rivalry matchup with the Yankees in September has been able to slow down the Red Sox, who boast the American League's best record.

Boston, winners of five straight, goes for a four-game sweep of the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox have already won each of their three series in the Bronx this year, just the third time they have done so in New York (also: 1912, '13, and 1975).

Boston -- with an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL East -- turns to left-hander Jon Lester on Sunday in hopes of sweeping New York, 2 1/2 games back of the second AL Wild Card spot.

Lester has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six straight games. One of the biggest reasons for that success has been improvement of his cutter, which is back to where it was a couple years.

"I'm in a better spot right now as far as going down the mound, which puts me in a better position for that pitch," Lester said after holding the vaunted Tigers' lineup to just one run over seven frames en route to this 13th win on Tuesday. "I think maybe taking a break from it for a little bit helped me, trying not to pound my head against the wall with it. It's been good the last three, four, five starts, so keep grinding it out."

Opposing Lester is Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has seen his ERA rise from 2.33 on Aug. 12 to 2.99, giving up 23 runs in his past 23 innings. He surrendered four runs in 6 1/3 innings in his last outing against the White Sox, which encouraged manager Joe Girardi.

"I thought his stuff was better tonight," Girardi said. "The top of the order has been tough on him, and they were tough on him again tonight. But I thought his stuff was better, and that's a good sign for me."

Red Sox: Ellsbury's foot ailing
• Red Sox center fielder Jacob Ellsbury returned to Boston on Saturday to undergo extensive tests on the navicular bone in his right foot, which is in a boot.

Ellsbury fouled a ball off the foot on Aug. 28 and aggravated it Thursday while stealing second base.

"Yeah, I don't think we're looking at something that's just day to day here," Farrell said. "But before we get into any kind of time frame, I think it's probably best to just -- for all involved here -- is to wait until we get more conclusive evidence and information that might also include a second opinion, which he has the right to and which we support."

• Daniel Nava has reached base safely in a career-high 41 consecutive starts.

• Closer Koji Uehara has retired 27 straight batters and has not allowed a run in his last 27 innings.

Yankees: Thin bullpen
• A trio of relievers -- David Robertson, Boone Logan and Shawn Kelley -- are suffering from injuries, leaving the Yankees bullpen thin for Sunday's series finale. Girardi said he's OK throwing inexperienced pitchers at the Red Sox.

"That's a little bit different of a feeling," Girardi said. "But I have confidence in the guys that they can go out and get the job done, or I don't think they would be here. … My belief is they can get it done."

• Third baseman Alex Rodriguez received a day off on Saturday and is expected to return to the lineup for Sunday's series finale.

• Shortstop Derek Jeter left Saturday's game because of an issue near his surgically repaired left ankle.

Worth noting
• Lester is averaging 9.22 strikeouts per nine innings in his career against New York, the third-highest rate against the club in Major League history.

• Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is batting. 478 during a six-game hitting streak.

• Nine of Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner's last 14 hits have gone for extra bases (seven doubles and two triples).

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