When this year’s schedule was released, there were a number of dates to circle on the calendar. Opening Day – a rematch of the ALCS at Fenway Park – was the first. The Red Sox’ inaugural visit to the Yankees’ new digs in the Bronx came shortly after, with Nomar Garciaparra’s return to Boston following in early July.
Now, as the season heads into the first full weekend in August, it’s time to get ready for a pivotal four-game series between the Sox and Yankees in New York. Though the season isn’t exactly on the line with two months to play, the outcome of this weekend’s activities could go a long way in determining supremacy in the AL East.
With that in mind, what better time than now to review why the Red Sox and Yankees still have the greatest rivalry in sports.
10. Steroid saga
Yankee fans celebrated the news that came out last week, which said that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were on the list of players who failed a drug test in 2003. That excitement was matched only by Red Sox fans in February, when it was discovered that Alex Rodriguez was on that very same list.
Needless to say, the fans in the Bronx will be foaming at the mouth in preparation for the hooting/hollering to be directed at Mr. Ortiz. Will it be as straightforward as the “You do steroids!” chant directed at A-Rod in June? We’ll have to wait and see.
9. Jonathan Papelbon
The 28-year-old from Louisiana has driven a stake through the hearts of Yankee fans in his brief career. So much so, in fact, that he even said he’d be willing to switch sides. Though he later said those comments were taken out of context, the closer has found himself at the center of as much controversy in New York as anyone. Now, with Papelbon not having his best year, he could be called upon to throw some crucial pitches over the weekend. Will he add to his record of three saves in as many opportunities, or will Yankee fans rejoice with cries of “PAPELBUM!”?
8. Yankees Universe vs. Red Sox Nation
In a wild scenario similar to something out of the WWE, John Henry and Red Sox Nation have gone toe-to-toe (Twitter-ly speaking, of course) with Yankees Universe. Henry wrote on his Twitter page:
News from Yankees' Universe. Big upsurge in membership. Apparently coming mostly from Pluto. Not doing nearly as well on Mars.
Henry, who inducted Hank Steinbrenner into Red Sox Nation in March of 2008, used his Twitter earlier in the year to suggest there was a curse of Mark Teixeira. The technological wrinkle just adds a new platform for the rivalry to grow.
7. Joba Chamberlain
Joba Chamberlain and the Red Sox go together like orange juice and toothpaste. He first welcomed the Red Sox into his life by throwing two pitches over the head of Kevin Youkilis, and he hasn’t done much to cordially welcome himself into the lives of those in Red Sox Nation since.
This season, Chamberlain’s shown he still gets a thrill out of riling up the Red Sox. Facing the Sox on a night he showed brilliant control and recorded 12 strikeouts, the 23-year-old plunked Jason Bay.
He’ll get the start in the series opener Thursday, likely equipped with an arsenal of fastball, curveball and beanball.
6. Three-team race
In the past, the Red Sox and Yankees were the only real contenders in the East. That changed considerably last year, when the “Don’t Call Me Devil” Rays blasted past the Yanks in the regular season and outlasted the Sox in the ALCS. Because three’s company and only two teams in the division can make the playoffs, the games between the Sox and Yankees take on added importance.
The playoff picture would look vastly different right now if it weren’t for the fact that the Yankees have yet to beat the Red Sox this season. In the first eight games, the Red Sox outscored the Yankees 55-31, winning three one-run games and another two-run game. Reverse those roles, and it’s a different story on Aug. 6.
But while the Yankees can’t go back and win any of those games, they’ll have to make up some ground in the remaining 10 games against the Sox to even have a chance to come out on top of the East.
4. Spending spree
The Red Sox have money, yes. They exhibited as much by releasing deadweight shortstop Julio Lugo and agreeing to pay him to play in St. Louis.
However, no team has ever flexed its financial muscles as much as the Bombers did in the offseason, signing CC Sabatha, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett for a combined $423 million. Add the fact that A-Rod will make $216 million over the next eight seasons, and it’s hard for anyone who didn’t learn to walk wearing pinstripe diapers to actually like the Evil Empire.
3. The launching pad
Red Sox fans weren’t sad to see the final game at the old Yankee Stadium as a meaningless regular-season game against the Baltimore Orioles. Now, it seems like the House That Ruth Built has become the local Wiffle Ball park.
Home run balls have been flying out of the Yanks’ new home at an alarming pace, with a major league-high average of 3.10 balls heading over the fence per game. The Sox and Yanks were above that mark in the two games at the new stadium this year, with Boston hitting three long balls while the Yankees hit four.
2. Stealing Mark Teixeira
The addition of Victor Martinez to the Red Sox’ lineup is without doubt a good one. However, it wasn’t long ago that the roads were covered in salt and snow and it appeared to be just a matter of time before Mark Teixeira would become a member of the Red Sox.
That changed suddenly when the Yanks swooped in out of nowhere to sign the first baseman to a mega-contract of eight years at $180 million.
Teixeira, 29, has been excellent for the Yanks, and he’ll likely get even better. With each swing for New York, he’ll only continue to fan the flames of the rivalry.
1. It matters again
The rivalry, in earnest, has not been heated as of late. In 2008, the Yankees finished eight games back, and the September showdown at Fenway looked more like a Pawtucket-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre matchup.
In 2006, the Yanks’ five-game sweep in mid-August all but ended the season for the Red Sox, rendering the September series meaningless.
This year, it’s back to the way it used to be.
Despite the eight-game lead in the head-to-head matchup this year, the Red Sox sit 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the standings.
A four-game sweep by either team this weekend will have an impact on the standings, but the race will still be far from over come Monday morning. The four-game set will be just a tease to the remaining six head-to-head games on the schedule.
So regardless of who’s in first place in August, the rivalry is alive and well.