Yanks, Sox have first meeting at Fenway Tonight

Once again, the greatest rivalry since the Union vs. the Confederacy gets showcased this weekend at Fenway Park in Boston as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox face off in a 3-game series between the longtime AL East rivals.

You can just hear it now.  The peacefulness of spring will be broken by the persistent chorus of “Yankees S**K,” ringing throughout the oldest venue in baseball.  The players over the years, on both sides, would often tell you they don’t get caught up in THE RIVALRY, but don’t believe it for a second.  Too many brawls between these two teams tell you otherwise.  It’s Munson vs. Fisk, Jeter vs. Garciaparra, Nettles vs. Spaceman Lee, Joltin’ Joe vs. the Splendid Splinter, A-Rod vs. Varitek and Zimmer vs. Martinez. The list is almost endless.  Let’s face it the guy wearing the interlocking midnight blue NY accompanied by pinstripes doesn’t much care for the guy adorned with a big red “B” on his cap or two dangling red socks on his uniform.

Since 1994, when Major League Baseball introduced the American League Divisional Series to allow the second place team with the best record (wild card) from any of the three divisions (Central, East, West) to compete in the playoffs, either the Yankees or  Red Sox were the division winner in the AL East or the wild card representative.  The only exception was in 1994 when the playoffs were canceled due to a strike organized by the player’s union.  The only times that neither team won the division crown was in 1997 when the Baltimore Orioles (98-64) came in first (Yankees were the wild card team) and last year when the Tampa Bay Rays surprised the baseball world by not only winning the division, but beating the defending World Series champion Red Sox (wild card) to advance to their first World Series.  Unfortunately for the Rays, they ran into a hot Philadelphia Philly team and pitcher Cole Hamels, losing the Series 4-1.

Now for the first time in what seems like forever the AL East isn’t just a two horse race anymore.  The Rays have invited themselves to the party.  They forced their way into the club once exclusively reserved for the Yankees and Sox alone.  In doing so the Rays kicked New York to the side of the road, causing them to miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.  Even with that embarrassment in the backs of their minds the Yankees haven’t forgotten about the Red Sox.  And, believe me; the fans of both teams haven’t forgotten each other either.

This story, as most of us who follow these two teams know, began in 1918 after the Red Sox had won their 5th World Series title since the modern era of baseball began in 1901.  It had been their third title in the past four years.  The Sox were on a roll due largely in part to a young phenomenon by the name of George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  Ruth was an atypical baseball player.  He was an unbelievable pitcher as his career stats show:

W   L   ERA   G    GS   CG   SHO SV     IP          H    R     ER   HR   HBP  BB   SO    WPct  WHIP   AVG   BB/9  K/9
94 46 2.28 163 148 107   17      4  1,221.1 974 400 309 10    29     441 488   .671    1.16    .220    3.25   3.60

Ruth was 89-46 with the Red Sox, 5-0 with the Yankees overall.

On top of that Ruth was an outstanding offensive threat.  After the 1917 season where Ruth hit .325 the Sox decided Ruth was more valuable to them as an everyday player and they moved him to the outfield where he split his time with pitching during the 1918 season.  In just 317 at bats Ruth gave a glimpse of what was to come during his remarkable career.  He led the league in home runs with eleven, while hitting .300.

In 1919 Ruth mainly played in the outfield where he set his first home run record with 29 round trippers.  He also batted .322, knocked in 114 runs and amassed an OPS of 1.114%.  Despite Ruth’s herculean season the Red Sox finished out of the money as the Chicago White (Black) Sox went to the World Series that year.

On December 16, 1919 the balance of power in the American League changed hands as Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the floundering New York Yankees for $125,000, plus a $350,000 loan so Frazee could finance a Broadway play called “No, No Nanette.”   Unbeknownst to Frazee on that day a rivalry was born.

For the next 86 years the Red Sox struggled against an invisible enemy that became known as the “Curse of the Bambino.”

Oh, the Red Sox played in some World Series, but weird and inexplicable things would happen to them.  Boston star, and arguably the most prolific hitter of all time, Ted Williams, batted just .200 with no home runs and one RBI against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1946 World Series.

In 1967 the Red Sox finally returned to the Series to face the Cardinals once again.  Boston had an ace by the name of Jim Lonborg pitching Game 7.  Regrettably, the Cardinals had a better one named Bob Gibson.  The Red Birds won the game, walked away with the trophy and owned a two-love score against the Sox in World Series play.

Their next entry into the Fall Classic came in 1975 as Boston faced off against the Big Red Machine, otherwise known as the Cincinnati Reds.  The Sox were loaded with talent.  They had Rookie-of-the-year and AL MVP Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski.   The Reds countered with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., and George Foster.

The highlight of the ’75 Series was Carlton Fisk’s home run off the left field foul pole in Game 6 at Fenway to give the Sox a 7-6 victory and another chance to exorcize the “Curse.”  It didn’t happen as the Reds came from behind in Game 7 to nip the Sox 4-3 to take home the first of their back-to-back World Series trophies.

1986 brought the biggest disappointment of all.  The Red Sox climbed back into the World Series to face New York’s other team, the Mets.  Once again disaster struck.  The Sox went into Shea Stadium for Game 6 leading the Series 3-2; Roger Clemens vs. Bobby Ojeda.  Clemens pitched 7 strong innings and gave the ball and a 3-2 lead to Calvin Schiraldi.  Going into the 9th Schiraldi owned a 5-3 lead.

With two outs catcher Gary Carter singled and pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell moved him to second with a single.  Ray Knight singled scoring Carter and moving Mitchell to third.  Sox manager John McNamara had seen enough and replaced Schiraldi with Bob Stanley.

Still holding onto a 5-4 lead with Mitchell standing on third and Knight at first Stanley uncorked a wild pitch scoring Mitchell.  Knight moved to second as Mookie Wilson stepped into the batter’s box.  After dueling Stanley Wilson hit a roller down the first baseline toward first baseman Bill Buckner.  It should have been the third out.  Unbelievably, the ball went between Buckner’s legs and into right field.  Knight scored as the Mets tied the Series, and then went on to win Game 7 to take it all.

The worst slap?  How about when the Shea scoreboard operator pushed the wrong button and put up a message that read, “CONGRATULATIONS BOSTON RED SOX!?”

Sadly, Buckner, who played his heart and ankles out for the Sox, was unmercifully crucified for years over that one play.  The real culprit was McNamara who should taken Billy Bucks out for a defensive replacement instead of letting his gimpy first baseman stand out on the field with two badly sprained ankles.

Adding to Boston’s frustration was looking down the I-95 and into the Bronx to watch their hated rivals winning World Series after World Series.  In the same time frame the Yankees after acquiring Ruth won the Series in 1923, 1927-28, 1932, 1936-39, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949-53, 1956, 1958, and 1961-62.  The Yankees also went to another nine World Series where they lost to various teams like the NY Giants, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves and the Cardinals.

After the 1964 World Series loss to the Cardinals the Yankees went into the basement and didn’t play in the Fall Classic until they met the Cincinnati Reds in the 1976 World Series, losing in four games.  However, the Yankees were back and they won the following two World Series in 1977-78 against the Dodgers.  They played again in 1981 Series losing to the Dodgers in six games.

Once again the Yankees went into the basement while other teams made their presence known.

Starting in 1995 the Yankees reemerged in the playoff picture.  For the next 13 seasons the Yankees made it to the post season, winning four World Series championships (1996, 1998-2000), six AL championships, 10 AL East Division championships and 3 wild card appearances.

What about the head-to-head meetings with the Red Sox for playoff glory?

1978 – In a one-game playoff the Yankees and Sox go at it to determine who’s going to the American League Championship to face the Kansas City Royals.  With 2 on and 2 out in the 7th inning Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent hit a 3-run shot off Mike Torrez to put New York in the lead 3-2.  The Yankees eventually won the game 5-4.

1999 – Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 in the AL Championship round.

2003 – With the ALCS tied 3-3, and leading Game 7 in the 8th inning 5-2 Sox manager Grady Little goes to the mound to take his weary pitcher, ace Pedro Martinez, out of the game.  Martinez convinces Little he can pitch so Martinez is left on the hill to face Derek Jeter.   With one out Jeter doubled and came home on a single by Bernie Williams.  Hideki Matsui followed up with a double to put runners at second and third.  Catcher Jorge Posada hit a bloop double into center scoring both Williams and Matsui and tying the score 5-5.  Martinez got yanked, but the Sox were able to get out of the inning with no further damage done.

The Yankees and Sox traded zeroes in the 9th and 10th innings.  The Sox were unable to score in the top half of the 11th, setting up one of the most dramatic highlights in Yankee Stadium history.

Third baseman Aaron Boone went to plate to face Game 1 and Game 4 winner Tim Wakefield.  Boone, who had a miserable ALCS, carried with him a .125 BA as he stood in against Wakefield.  On Wakefield’s first pitch Boone swung and sent the ball into the left field seats to win the game for the Yankees, sending them to the World Series and the Red Sox home.

Talk about tearing your heart out.  The Curse of the Babe struck once again and the Red Sox fans were forced to watch another October from the comforts of their living rooms while the Yankees went into another World Series.

However, that all changed over the winter between 2003 and 2004.  Led by center fielder Johnny Damon the Red Sox took on a different persona.  They called themselves “a bunch of idiots,” and had slogans like, “why not us?”  The season didn’t end any different.  The Yankees won the division and the Sox took the wild card.  Following ALDS victories the two teams met again in the AL Championship Series.

The Yankees took it to the Sox and built up a 3-0 lead going into Game 4.  There was no tomorrow for Boston.  In fact, the Yankees put a pounding on the Sox in Game 3 winning 19-8 at Fenway.  New York collected 22 hits in the rout.  However, what went unnoticed was the fact that Boston scored 9 runs of their own and knocked out 15 hits.  It wasn’t like their guys weren’t hitting.  However, to the Sox fans it was déjà vu all over again.

Like the common lament among Red Sox fans says, “they give you hope and then tear your heart out.”

Ever the victim the Sox fans didn’t hold out any hope of overcoming a 3-0 deficit.  Why should they have?  No team in any sport had ever done that.

Well, like another saying goes, “this isn’t your grandfather’s Red Sox.”

Starting with Game 4 the Sox tied the game in the 9th inning.  Mariano Rivera, who had shut down Boston in the 8th, walked Kevin Millar to open the inning.  Millar was replaced by Dave Roberts who stole second and then scored the tying run on a single by Bill Mueller.  The steal by Roberts turned around 86 years of frustration.

Boston went on to take Game 4 by a score of 6-4 in 12 innings.  They also beat the Yankees in Games 5, 6 and 7 to become the first team in sporting history to dig themselves out of a 3-0 hole to win a 7-game championship.

The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series in 86 years by sweeping another past antagonist, the Cardinals, in four games.

Since the Yankees collapse in 2004 the Red Sox have gone on to win a second title in 2007 and make it to the playoffs as a wild card.  Meanwhile, the Yankees and their fans in 2008 watched the playoffs from their living room sofas.

Over the past four seasons the rivalry has risen to a whole new level.  After nearly of century of subordination the Red Sox and their fans are no longer hearing the chants of “1918! 1918! 1918!”  It is now the Yankees and their fans that are looking up, not only at the Red Sox, but the Tampa Bay Rays as well.

Some players like Johnny Damon have changed sides.  He’s not the only one who’s done it.  Wade Boggs, David Cone, Mike Stanley and Ramiro Mendoza to name a few have switched uniforms too.

That is an added wrinkle to a world class rivalry that doesn’t need another wrinkle.

Most of the teams in Baseball reloaded over the winter with the hope that the baseball gods will smile down on their franchises to give them good fortune and a clear run at the World Series trophy.

So, get ready and settle in to watch the greatest rivalry on earth.  The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox; it doesn’t get any better than that.

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