Red Sox-Yankees. Still special? Are you not entertained?
Folks in these parts were laughing at the Yanks when the Sox swept three from the Bronx Bombers in New York in the first weekend in June. The big payroll, preseason-favorite Yankees were on their way to falling nine games out of first place and there was smug satisfaction seeing them eat the dust of Alex Cora’s upstart nine.
A lot of that momentum had shifted by the time the Yankees got to Fenway on Friday. New York was a mere 3½ games behind the Red Sox, three in the loss column. The Yankees came to Boston winners of seven of nine, victorious in each of their previous three series.
But the Red Sox made everything right again with a 5-3 victory, their fourth straight over the Yankees.
“I am always looking over my shoulder at the New York Yankees,’' Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said as he stood outside the first base dugout Friday afternoon. “Even if they are 25 games out. they are a good team and they are playing better and our whole division is going to be really competitive.”
The Yankees are built on righthanded power and, like a lot of teams, New York enjoyed a surge of offense after MLB leaked word that pitchers should stop using sticky stuff for enhanced spin rate. New York scored 89 runs in 18 games leading into this Boston weekend. They pounded 29 homers in 14 games before they got to Fenway. The absence of Spider Tack could help New York more than most teams.
We all know this rivalry doesn’t have the same juice it had in 2003-2004 when Jason Varitek was stuffing his mitt into A-Rod’s face and Pedro Martinez was chucking Don Zimmer to the ground. As of mid-afternoon, Friday’s game was still not sold out — a somewhat stunning development in this ancient rivalry. (In the final tally, all 36,869 seats were sold.)
“We’re at 35,500 and trending toward a sellout,’' said Kennedy. “We know there’s still some COVID hesitancy, but we’ll eventually get back to where we were. We’ve come a long way from no fans and the 12 percent we had early in the season.”
Despite the Sox dazzling start, Boston baseball fans have been hesitant to go all in on the 2021 Townies. The Sox went into the weekend leading the majors with 25 come-from-behind wins and were 20-12 in games decided by one or two runs, but it’s hard to tell if this success is sustainable. Cora’s starting rotation overachieved in the first two months, but has crashed back to earth in June. And the defense is atrocious. The Sox led the majors with 57 errors and gave up 10 unearned runs (11 errors) in the eight games leading into Friday. Xander Bogaerts booted a routine grounder in the second Friday, which opened the gates for three more unearned runs.
It was Dustin Pedroia Night at Fenway and the Sox honored their former American League MVP second baseman with a touching pregame ceremony that moved Pedroia to tears. The biggest shocker of the tribute was the appearance of teammate Jacoby Ellsbury, who left Boston for a bag of Yankee money after the 2013 season. Pedroia often lockered next to Ellsbury when they were teammates and they got along well. Ever sharp with the needle, Pedroia was fond of telling reporters, “Jacoby’s out back putting on spray tan,” when we couldn’t find Ellsbury at his locker.
Martin Perez retired the Yanks in order in the first, striking out Gary Sanchez to end the inning, and was inspected by home plate umpire Mark Carlson when he came off the field. The first “Yankees suck!” chants broke out after Michael Chavis singled to lead off the bottom of the inning. The chants got louder when Bogaerts doubled home Chavis and Alex Verdugo to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. Hunter Renfroe’s RBI double made it 3-0 and brought a Yankee coach and trainer out of the dugout to check on Domingo Germain. At times like that, Sox fans like to think they own the Yankees.
It’s evident that MLB and its national networks still believe in the rivalry. The Sox and Yankees are back at it Saturday night in a game that’ll be televised on Fox, and TBS is here for the Sunday afternoon series finale featuring Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Yankee ace Gerrit Cole (8-3, 2.33).