Red Sox fans are getting their first glimpse of Jacoby Ellsbury in a Yankees uniform and it's almost enough to make them come down from their 2013 high. Credit: Getty Images
“This could be the year” was one of the more optimistic rallying cries for Red Sox fans every March for the 80-plus springs that preceded 2004. It was all about that elusive crown back then. But after three World Series championships in nine years, the tone has changed a tad and Sox fans are beginning to get greedy. Sure, they want their October cake each and every season, but now they want to eat it as well.
This window-dressing is “The Rivalry,” and it seems as though executives at ESPN, TBS and FOX aren’t the only ones clamoring for a “Red Sox-Yankees” rivalry revival today. Yes, the fatigue has finally worn off.
Let’s be honest, “Red Sox-Yankees” hasn’t been “Red Sox-Yankees” for quite some time, now. The back-and-forth banter between front offices has not been nearly as prevalent or relevant since George Steinbrenner passed away in 2010. The on-field hatred has been non-existent for nearly a decade – save for that minor incident last August when Ryan Dempster played a version of dunk tank with Alex Rodriguez’s torso. The problem there was that Dempster ‘s bean-ball marathon with A-Rod was celebrated by nearly as many Yankees fans as Red Sox fans at the time. Had it been El Capitan, Derek Jeter, or at the very least, Eduardo Nunez, then we could have had our “A-Rod-Varitek” or “Nettles-Lee” moment. Instead it was the universally despised A-Rod.
The 2013 Yankees never truly “rallied behind him” like some thought immediately following the incident as New York went an average 21-18 down the stretch and finished with 85 wins total, never really challenging the 97-win Sox.
For a rivalry to be a rivalry, it helps a great deal if both teams are good. In the late 1990s, Yankees fans used to scoff at the idea that their team was engaged in a “rivalry” with the Sox. No, the Red Sox couldn’t get over the hump back then, but they did win 90-plus games in back-to-back years to close out the century and at least pushed the loaded Yanks.
The 2009 season was perhaps the last time Sox-Yanks felt like “something.” Not coincidentally, the Yankees won the World Series that year and the Red Sox fielded a 95-win second place team. But the worn-down Sox were swept in the ALDS by the Angels and another ALCS between the bitter rivals never took place.
For a while a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS seemed like a given at the start of every season, but in fact, the two haven’t met in the playoffs since the epic 2004 affair and have only met in that round three times total (1999, 2003, 2004). Maybe it’s a testament to how classic those series were, but it sure seemed as though the rivalry almost always reached its peak post-Labor Day during the 2000s.
For my money, Sox-Yanks hasn’t truly felt like Sox-Yanks since 2006. That was the year the Yankees came into Fenway in August and completed a mega-sweep of the Sox, winning all five games of a five game series. Playing in that series for the Yankees were true hardball heels like Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Randy Johnson. Likewise, New York fans couldn’t stand the sight of Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling or Josh Beckett at the time.
Lately, when the Red Sox and Yankees meet, it’s been hatred in laundry only. Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Koji Uehara may get booed in The Bronx and Lyle Overbay, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda may have been jeered in Boston last year. But those types don’t exactly “move the needle,” as they say in the biz.
So, one could say that we are “due” for some solid Sox-Yanks storylines. Fortunately, 2014 will be filled with some legitimate subplots. Jacoby Ellsbury turned his back on Boston and landed in New York. The Yankees, after saying they weren’t going to spend big, returned to their roots and spent big. Red Sox fans will be able to walk into Yankee Stadium all summer, saying that they are the defending champions and the Yankees are the ones with a title drought. Jeter is retiring and his last regular season game is scheduled for Sept. 28 at Fenway. Yankees president Randy Levine and Sox CEO Larry Lucchino are even bickering again, with Levine recently saying that Lucchino is “spooked by the Yankees.”
All is good. But most important, both teams are expected to be good this year. VegasInsider.com has the Yankees at 12/1 odds to win it all. Immediately behind them are the defending champs at 15/1.
It’s been 10 years since the last Boston-New York ALCS and it’s high time we run it back. Finally, this could be the year.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter@BurkeMetroBOS