For all the redemptive Red Sox accomplished in 97 games before the All-Star break, they were unable to treat their fans to that most satisfying of Boston baseball experiences — seeing the New York Yankees suffer defeat at Fenway Park.
Don’t blame the Sox, blame the schedule makers. In an almost unforgivable quirk of the schedule, the Yankees grace the Fens for the first time this season on Friday. The Red Sox kick off baseball’s unofficial second half with a three-game set against their eternal enemies from the Bronx.
“It’s kind of late in the season for them to check in,” said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. “It’s always a good rivalry. If you appreciate baseball, you know it’s a good rivalry. It’s nice to have them come here. I think we’ve created a nice little hostile environment, a little home-field advantage. Hopefully, we can continue that as well.”
It seems fitting that in a baseball season strangely devoid of the usual buzz in these parts that the Yankees wouldn’t arrive until July 19. Red Sox-Yankees series used to be circle-the-calendar events. They sent a frisson not only through Fenway, but the entire city. They dictated plans and moods. They soaked up hours that could have been spent in the warm glow of the sun, instead of the television. But that feverish anticipation, like the Yankees, appears old and fading out.
The Red Sox and Yankees, who last met on June 2 in the Bronx, are teams going in opposite directions. The Sox have the most wins in baseball at 58-39 and are in first place in the American League East. The Yankees are in fourth place at 51-44, six games back. They’re closer to last than first, sitting 5½ games ahead of the Blue Jays.
The Yankees have never finished fourth or lower since baseball switched from a two-division format to a three-division format with the advent of the wild card in 1994. The last time the Yankees finished fourth, George Herbert Walker Bush was in the White House — 1992. That capped a six-season span starting in 1987 in which the Yankees finished fourth or lower every year in the then-seven-team AL East.
The Yankees are one of the few teams that do not put names on the backs of their road uniforms. That’s too bad because their current lineup is unrecognizable. The Yankees are in life-preserver mode, treading water and floating aimlessly until their stars come back.
The Bronx Bombers have been more shooting blanks. They’re only 20th in baseball in runs scored and 20th in home runs.
If the Yankees’ season needed a theme it could be Brittle in the Bronx. The Yankees have used 44 players this year. They used 45 all of last season. Joe Girardi’s team has been besieged by injuries, and they haven’t weathered them nearly as well as the Red Sox have.
The epitome of the Yankees’ season is that their one healthy star position player, Robinson Cano, got hurt at the All-Star Game. Cano was hit in the knee by a pitch from New York Mets ace Matt Harvey.
A team with a $228 million payroll has been rolling out a thrift-store lineup. Jayson Nix has started the most games at shortstop for the Yankees (40) and David Adams has started the most games at third base (29). That’s a far cry from a left side of the infield with Yankees icon Derek Jeter and pinstripe pariah Alex Rodriguez.
First baseman Mark Teixeira is out for the season with a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. Old friend Kevin Youkilis will be spared any Johnny Damon enmity for coming back to Fenway in a Yankees uniform. He had back surgery last month and probably won’t return until September, if at all. Outfielder Curtis Granderson started the season on the disabled list with a fractured forearm. He played eight games, then suffered a broken left pinkie that has sidelined him since May 24.
Last Thursday, the Yankees finally got their pulse back in Jeter, who hadn’t played since breaking his ankle in the American League Championship Series against Detroit last October. But the Captain promptly strained his quad. Jeter will join the Yankees in Boston, but it’s not clear if he’ll play.
Rodriguez, who was publicly and profanely rebuked by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman this season over the player’s rehabilitation, could join the team on Monday.
A-Rod is a perpetual lightning rod. His latest embarrassing episode is being one of the most prominent players being investigated in connection with Biogenesis, a Miami anti-aging clinic that is alleged to have provided performance-enhancing drugs to MLB players.
Rodriguez, who turns 38 on July 27, is the posterboy for a team that went from aging gracefully to just aging.
The only thing as enjoyable for Red Sox fans as seeing their team thrive is watching the Yankees stumble. It’s the type of schadenfreude that is reserved for the fiercest of rivals.
But whether the Yankees get healthy and become contenders or are relegated to the unfamiliar role of spoilers, they’re going to have a great deal of input into the outcome of the Red Sox’ season. The Sox have 65 games left, the fewest in the majors. A fifth of those games — 13 — will be against the Yankees.
The Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles all look more October-worthy than the Yankees. But you can never count out the Pinstripes. They still have Mariano Rivera, the apotheosis of grace under pressure. They’re like that horror movie villain who keeps rising repose. And this is the 35th anniversary of 1978 and Bucky “Bleepin’ ” Dent.
Red Sox-Yankees. Fenway Park. Summertime. It’s as good as it gets — at least until the Patriots start training camp next week.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.