The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry could use a little this.
[Less the career-crushing injury to Bill Lee.]
[Less Pedro's takedown of the late Don Zimmer.]
Or, better yet, this.
Red Sox vs. Yankees. Three games this weekend. Do you feel the fever? It's registering at a blistering 98.7.
It's simply way too early in the season to get amped up about any season series, even one between the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Red Sox ended 2014 with in last place with a whimper. In the past calendar year, Boston has spent a combined $365.9 million on Rick Porcello, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and two Cuban ballplayers who began the season in the minors. There were flashes of malcontent during spring training, but there is much optimism Boston will win the A.L. East by default.
We'll know the Apocalypse is nigh when New York is ready to #FORGIV13 Bill Belichick for leaving the Jets after one day, and tormenting the franchise ever since.
The mere presence of A-Rod used to be fuel enough to rile the masses in both New England and New York heading into a weekend series between the Red Sox and Yankees in the Big Apple. A series much like the one that begins at Yankee Stadium Friday night.
Not this time.
This rivalry needs a little punch. A couple of haymakers would be even better.
It's been more than 10 years since A-Rod got face-planted by Jason Varitek and three months later swatted the ball out of Arroyo's hand with his metaphorical purse. That's a long time, even for baseball.
A-Rod's post-PED suspension return to New York this season has the potential to provide some serious comic relief as the season progresses. It will intensify as the Yankees pitching staff regresses, along with the team, in the A.L. East standings. A-Rod is one outburst, one slump, one failed drug test from becoming back-page fodder in both the New York Daily News and with the Spygate/Deflategate News Service.
If we're not allowed to extrapolate anything from Rick Porcello's first start of 2015, we're not even going to bother checking A-Rod's stats on this young season. Porcello, the guy who's going to make more guaranteed money on this deal than Tom Brady has seen in his last 650 restructured contracts, pitched just well enough to lose on Wednesday.
But it doesn't matter. It's sort of like spring training. It only matters when things are good. After all, Porcello only made, er got away with, one bad pitch.
Porcello and his millions won't be pitching against the Yankees this weekend. Rather, he'll be making his first-ever Fenway Park start for the Red Sox on home Opening Day Monday afternoon. As of post time, the Red Sox probables for this weekend in New York were Wade Miley on Friday, Steven Wright on Saturday, and To Be Determined [aka Clace Buchholz] Sunday night on ESPN.
The Yankees were one of those A.L. East teams projected to finish behind Boston due to the fact that their rotation and lineup appears thinner than the Patriots' 2015 secondary. Toss in the velocity trouble exhibited by Masahiro Tanaka in his opening day loss, and you've got lots of early trouble brewin' in the Bronx.
Still not excited?
There's Jacoby Ellsbury. He used to play in Boston. We all won free tacos when he stole second base in the 2007 World Series. Ellsbury jumped ship to the Yankees in 2014 after they were foolish enough to drop $153 million over seven years into his checking account.
If the value of Porcello's deal wasn't a strong enough argument to convince your kids to put down their football and pick up a baseball glove. remember that Ellsbury will earn more than $21 million guaranteed, injured or not/playing or not, when he's 37 years old. This past season, the 37-year-old Brady made $19 million. And he's Tom Freaking Brady.
There's plenty of legitimate baseball to get excited about this weekend. The Red Sox will playing an American League/East team for the first time this season.
Ortiz might even have an RBI by then.
This weekend has far more downside potential for the hosts than it does the visitors. The Hammer of Thor is primed to smite this $217 million payroll into oblivion. There will be far less patience in New York if/when the Yankees struggle. There's no post-Super Bowl Duck Boat parade euphoria to placate the masses. Winning a title with Darrelle Revis is a lot more fun than signing him after he wins a title. The Knicks and Rangers will be watching the playoffs on TV. If the Mets do contend, you'll see millions of Mets fans suddenly appear out of thin air on Twitter. They've been time-sharing in Kimmy Schmidt's bunker since Bobby Valentine's team lost the Subway Series in 2000.
A sweep of the Red Sox will likely be quickly swept under the rug by State Run Media as a result of bad weather, or early-season rust, or Global Warming. Heck, by the time Sunday night's tilt on ESPN is finished, you'll be rushing the kids off to school Monday morning. No matter what happens this weekend, the crowd at the Cask will begins its pregame lubrication at 11 a.m. on Monday with a big smile.
The biggest reason why the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has cooled in the past 10 years is because the teams have not met in the postseason since that wondrous Game 7 inside old Yankee Stadium in October of 2004. No wonder George Steinbrenner demolished the place. He had to watch the Red Sox celebrate on the field after they completed the greatest comeback since Nixon in 1968.
In spite of what you've been told, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry wasn't always registering at a fever pitch back in the day. During the 1980s and early-1990s, the teams rarely played substantive game in September when both were contending for the division. In 1990, for instance, the Red Sox won the A.L. East. The Yankees finished in last place, 21 games out. Even in pre-Wild Card 1986, the A.L. East champion Red Sox beat the Yankees by a comfortable 5.5 games.
The rivalry that your parents and I loved during the 1970s was re-born following the 1994 baseball strike. The Yankees finished either first or second in the division every year from that strike-shortened season through 2007. During that span, the Red Sox finished second in the division to New York every year from 1998-2005. And from 1998-13, either the Red Sox or Yankees won the division.
Last year was either an enormous anomaly, or a historic shift. The Red Sox and Yankees finished a combine 37 games out of first place. Compare that to the fact for 20 years ending with the 2012 season, the Yankees finished a total combined 25 games out of first place.
Where once Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson routinely shared profane unpleasantries, and where once the legendary Lee referred to the Yankees as "Billy Martin's Brownshirts," players like Ortiz are now writing for Derek Jeter's website, and [until a rift that began in early 2014] yukking it up with opponents like A-Rod on a routine basis.
This weekend's series is also a victim of poor scheduling when it comes to driving the hype machine. The Bruins are battling for Claude Julien's job this weekend in Florida. The Celtics are on the verge of stealing the seventh-seed in the East. Tiger Woods shot a +1 Thursday and should make the cut at Augusta. And Brady can post another Instagram video at any moment.
As we've noted before, the biggest challenge facing the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and baseball in general, is the fact that there are so many choices when it comes to our leisure time. The proliferation of high-speed Wi-Fi, smartphones, social media, on-line gaming, and endless video streaming has conspired to push baseball out of our collective minds. All summer, the Red Sox are competing with Netflix, HBO On Demand, and the fact that you can build your own fantasy league team each night.
[But it's not gambling.]
The Red Sox proved in 2013 they can exceed expectations when coming off a last-place season. This weekend's series in New York offers a good early look on how they match up with their oldest divisional foes. If we're lucky, both teams will be as good, and bad, as advertised.
If that doesn't work, maybe Ortiz and A-Rod can swap some love taps.
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