NEW YORK -- Even the uninitiated know the significance of a series between the Red Sox and Yankees. They also understand the importance of keeping the rivalry in perspective, regardless of the enmity. Perhaps easier said than done before you experience it up close and personal, as Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez did the last time the teams met.
The Red Sox traveled to the Bronx for three games this weekend with four players participating in the rivalry for the first time. Reliever Mike Myers chose not to read all about it, staying away from the newspaper hype; shortstop Orlando Cabrera preferred to keep his focus on the division race; first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz devoted his energy to recovering from the flu; and outfielder Dave Roberts tried to put the games in historical perspective.
"Guys try to explain the rivalry and the intensity, but I'm looking forward to living it myself," said Roberts before last night's game. "Being part of a Dodgers-Giants rivalry was exciting, but obviously this is a step above. Just having this series and the series with the Yankees [at Fenway Park] after that have so much at stake is what makes it even more exciting. [Guys told me] every game seems like an ALCS game.
"It's exciting to be a part of it when you're living it, but even after you're done playing, to realize you're part of history, is pretty special. This is generation to generation."
All four figured they would look back at the series and the one next weekend in Boston and reminisce with their children. And not until the series at Yankee Stadium finishes tomorrow would they really know what the rivalry is all about, although Roberts got a good taste last night, scoring the tying run in the ninth as the Sox rallied for a 3-2 victory. But Myers, Cabrera, Mientkiewicz, and Roberts do understand what remains most important.
"We all know what's at stake here and this is a very important series for us because we're playing the team ahead of us," said Myers. "At the same time, we need to come in here and do well because, first, we want to win the division. Secondly, you want to go to the playoffs. We're not that far off the division and we're not that far ahead in the [wild card]. So, if we don't come in here and do well and Anaheim does well this weekend, then we're in trouble. It puts us more behind the 8-ball than we want to be.
"We know that this is going to be hyped big time, especially because there was the bench clearing this year. We know it's big, but also we're keeping it in check. It's not a do-or-die series like a playoff series right now."
Even though Cabrera last played for the Expos, who battled the apathy of hometown fans more than anything else, he offered the "one game at a time" standby, approaching the series in much the same way he does other games. He understands that investing all games with a great degree of importance got Boston back in the division race. The shortstop has hit safely in 27 of his last 31 games. And he is batting .290 with 15 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs in 44 games with Boston.
"With this series, there's a lot of intensity, and we're playing good right now," said Cabrera. "It's good for us. It's really a big opportunity for us to cut a lot of games from the Yankees.
"As a professional, we have to take one game at a time. We only think about tonight. Whatever happens tomorrow, happens tomorrow. I'm enjoying every minute. I just enjoy being on a winning team and playing for a reason besides your numbers."
Mientkiewicz sees the series as a chance to get himself back on track. Flu symptoms have sapped the first baseman of energy for the last week, but he expects to be back in the lineup today.
"I'm happy to actually get a chance to play in it," said Mientkiewicz. "As a baseball player, you've always wanted to play in this series. It's one of those things where you can hear all you want about it, but until you actually go through it, you don't know. I can explain the Olympics to somebody, but they're not going to get it. You understand what [Red Sox-Yankees] means to the game. You understand it's probably the best rivalry in sports. I'm looking forward to it."