Why Orioles, Not Yankees, Now Are Red Sox’s Biggest AL East Rivals

When the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees get together, it tends to be a tense, back-and-forth matchup no matter where the two teams are in the standings. There’s guaranteed to be a “Yankees suck” or “Red Sox suck” chant in the stands, depending on where they meet.

But nowadays, the Red Sox’s American League East rivalry with the Baltimore Orioles is the one that really brings the heat.

Division rivalries are nothing new, but you don’t have to go too far back to find where the drama between Boston and Baltimore was reignited. It was the season that Red Sox fans don’t like talking about, 2011, when the Orioles helped deliver the final blow to the squad that had a nine-game lead in the AL East at the beginning of September, only to miss the postseason during the final game. Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save, giving up a walk-off RBI single to then-Baltimore second baseman Robert Andino before the Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays to seal Boston’s fate.

It put a chip on the Orioles’ shoulder that only got bigger when they made the playoffs for the first time since 1997 the very next season, and they’ve been good since, winning more regular-season games since 2012 than any team in baseball. And with the Yankees being less of a threat before this season, it’s set the stage for some real hostility between Boston and Baltimore.

The rivalry reached a boiling point this week as things have gotten out of control during the clubs’ four-game series at Fenway Park. But tensions started to rise during their first meeting of the season before they even took the field.

On April 11, the Red Sox still were reeling from a flu bug that hit the team hard. The flu was spreading through other teams, too, but the Red Sox were losing regular starters and trotting out less-than-ideal lineups.

However, that didn’t stop Orioles manager Buck Showalter from suggesting that the Red Sox were making excuses for their 3-3 start.

“Some of them seem to be a little more noteworthy, it seems like, but our guys have fought their way through it,” Showalter said before that April 11 game. “I know we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t 100 percent with it, but so do a lot of clubs. So nobody really wants to hear somebody else complain about it. Our guys have done a good job not broadcasting it to the world.”

The Red Sox and Orioles split that two-game series at Fenway with little incident, but their next meeting in at Camden Yards stoked the fire once again. In the eighth inning of their series opener on April 21, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado injured Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia on a late slide. It obviously wasn’t intentional, and Pedroia and Machado made amends, but Boston reliever Matt Barnes threw at Machado’s head during the series finale anyway. Barnes was dealt a four-game suspension that he owned up to, but it still didn’t end there.

On Monday, the Orioles ruffled the Red Sox’s feathers again. Machado took a slow trip around the bases on a home run — the second-slowest home run trot of his career — in the sixth inning before Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy plunked right fielder Mookie Betts in the bottom half of the same inning. Bundy said the pitch wasn’t intentional, but it was evident that Boston wasn’t happy with either incident once Tuesday’s game rolled around.

Tensions grew before the game when the Red Sox apologized to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones after he revealed postgame Monday that he heard a fan call him a racial slur and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him. This seemed to squash the beef between the teams at least, and Tuesday’s starter Chris Sale even stepped off the mound when Fenway gave Jones a standing ovation in his first at-bat. But Sale ended the feel-good moment with the very next batter when he threw behind Machado. Machado responded with an expletive-laden rant against the Red Sox, which set the stage for another heated game.

The Orioles and Red Sox were able to get through just an inning and a half Wednesday before Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman hit shortstop Xander Bogaerts with a 76-mph curveball, earning him an immediate ejection despite the fact no formal warnings had been issued. Jones was ejected in the fifth for arguing a strike call, and the Orioles left the park with their blood boiling once again. You can only imagine what could happen during the series finale Thursday.

It’s a lot to take in over just three games, but it goes to show how this rivalry quickly is becoming the biggest in the AL East. And with the top three teams in the division remaining within spitting distance of first place — the Orioles and Red Sox are second and third, respectively — it doesn’t seem as though this is going to end anytime soon.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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