NEW YORK — The star power is considerably diminished and last year marked the first season since 1993 that neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees qualified for the playoffs. Didi Gregorius stands where Derek Jeter once stood and the Red Sox have the Five Guys Rotation instead of a staff anchored by the likes of a Rocket, a Pedro, or a Schill. The Sox are coming off a last-place finish and the 2015 Yanks look like the Sons of Horace Clarke. King George has been dead for almost five years.
And so we gathered in the Bronx this weekend to write the obituary for the great rivalry. At best, it appeared that the hostilities would be on hiatus for this year.
But no. Red Sox-Yankees may never again reach the heights of 2003-04 and there is nothing close to a Teddy Ballgame vs. Joe D argument, no Bucky Dent, no Aaron Boone, no Bambino, but sometimes there is still magic when they meet.
And it happened over the weekend. On a busy sports stretch that features the Masters, the Frozen Four, and season wrapups for the NHL and NBA, the Sox and Yankees once again managed to grab some headlines and sacred space on “SportsCenter”.
They did it by playing a Friday night/Saturday morning 19-inning game that lasted six hours and 49 minutes and ended when Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia turned a nifty double play at 2:13 a.m. Despite blowing one-run leads in the bottom of the ninth, 16th, and 18th, the Red Sox won it, 6-5. The first-place Sox beat the moribund Yankees again Saturday, 8-4. It is going to be a long year in The House That Jeter Built.
The Death of the Rivalry was a dominant theme when the teams first gathered at the Stadium Friday afternoon. A cover story in the New York Times Weekend Arts section featured two veteran scribes, one from each fan base, waxing poetic on the days of yore. The package was headlined, “Take Me Back to the Rivalry’’ and insisted, “Things have changed.’’ The vaunted Daily News weighed in with, “Rivalry Losing Some Punch.’’
Indeed. Things have changed. It looks like the Yankees are going to be really bad this year, but that didn’t stop national networks from trekking to 161st Street to beam all three of these weekend games across the country.
The MLB Network televised Friday’s marathon (hello, Bob Costas), Fox carried Saturday’s sloppy Sox slaughter, and tonight it’ll be “Sunday Night Baseball” on ESPN. Tune in to hear Curt Schilling backpedal on Clay Buchholz.
Meanwhile, back in the Nation, folks are watching. NESN, which also televised Friday night’s game, says the average audience for Friday’s game was 495,000 viewers. According to the network, the numbers held pretty well when the game went into extra innings. NESN claims 176,000 viewers were still tuned in to its postgame show, which aired between 2 and 3 a.m. Maybe those were folks who fell asleep with the TV still on. Maybe it was a lot of young moms of infant children, or restless folks who’d just been sent home from closing bars.
Whatever. They are impressive numbers. Evidently, folks still want to see the Red Sox play the Yankees. Even if they get Anthony Varvaro and Esmil Rogers on the mound in the late innings. It can’t always be Dick Radatz or Mariano Rivera.
David Ortiz is the only guy left who remembers Pedro Martinez shucking Don Zimmer to the ground during the “Who is Karim Garcia?” playoff game in 2003. Big Papi on Friday admitted, “The rivalry, I think the whole game in general has changed,’’ but added, “We want to beat up each other — the professional way.”
And that’s what we saw Friday night/Saturday morning. The Sox struck. The Yankees answered. On and on it went. Ortiz’s 16th-inning homer was answered by Mark Teixeira in the bottom of the inning. Teixeira was 34 years old when the game started. He was 35 when it ended.
Ortiz has hit 50 career home runs against the Yankees. Saturday he hit a bunch of ground balls and studiously avoiding any interaction with Alex Rodriguez, who was playing first base for the first time in his big league career.
That’s the last shred of the old rivalry, right there. Ortiz loathes A-Rod because he always had Rodriguez’s back — right up until he heard A-Rod’s lawyer suggesting that there are some hardball gods in Boston who have their own PED issues to confront.
The late night/early morning special took its toll Saturday. The Yankees appeared to be in need of a few extra Red Bulls, committing three errors and two passed balls and allowing four unearned runs. Sox righthander Joe Kelly, who hadn’t faced big league hitters in a month because of a biceps issue, looked like Pedro, circa 1999.
They do it one more time Sunday night, then say goodbye until May 1, when the Yankees come to Fenway. That’ll be A-Rod’s first game in Boston in two years. And it’ll be Game On for the rivalry that never dies.