Here we go, everybody. All together now:
Red Sox vs. Yankees . . . Can you feel it?!?
Wait a second. Is this thing on?
OK, lets try it again: Red SoxYankees, yall . . . CAN. YOU. FEEEEL IT!?!?
Damn it. Still nothing.
And you know what? I dont blame you. As the Yankees make their way to Fenway this weekend to cap off the first half of the 2012 season, theres no question that one of the most storied rivalries in sports has seen better days. And you dont need to dig too deep for reasons why:
First of all, it was (and is) much harder for Boston to hate the Yankees and I mean REALLY, with every ounce of your soul, HATE the Yankees after the Sox exorcised the demons in 2004. It's been equally difficult to regenerate that hatred when the two teams haven't played in the postseason since 2004, and instead have given us 135 regular season games that have lasted roughly 17 million hours, 16 million of which were spent waiting on pitching changes and watching batters adjust their junk with one foot out of the batter's box.
More recently, the rivalry's suffered because the Sox have too much crap going in their own house to care about the Yankees. Who's got time to hate anyone else when you're so busy hating yourself? Not to mention, whether we like it or not, the times, the names and the faces have changed. And while Red SoxYankees has always been more about the uniforms than the men wearing them, it's the players and personalities that have consistently taken things to that next level of awesomeness.
But here's the reality of this weekend's series: Mariano Riveras done for the season. Dustin Pedroia's finally (and all things considered, thankfully) headed to the DL. Sabathia's hurt. Pettitte's hurt. Ellsbury's hurt. Crawford's hurt. Instead of inciting riots out of the bullpen, Joba Chamberlain's rehabbing from a trampoline accident, and his biggest antagonizer (Kevin Youkilis) is now the most popular man in Chicago. Instead of Johnny Damon signing with the Yankees and returning home as a traitor, we have Darnell McDonald getting picked up off waivers and returning home to tepid applause. Alex Rodriguez is a few weeks from his 37th birthday, and looks every bit the part. Derek Jeter's 38 and beyond drawing the genuine ire of Sox fans. At this point, Jeter doesn't make you mad. More than anything, he makes you nostalgic.
Speaking of which, David Ortiz, one of the Red SoxYankees giants, is now a professional Debbie Downer, and he's literally the only guy in the Sox line-up with a connection to the rivalry. If tonight's batting order is the same as Wednesday's, then every Sox position player will be in either his first or second year with the team. How that's for history?
And pitching? You want pitching? You want ClemensMartinez? SchillingMussina?
How's Beckett vs. Kuroda, Morales vs. Hughes, Doubront vs. Garcia and Lester vs. Nova?
OK, you get it. And you feel it. Or more, you don't feel it. There's an enormous weekend on the horizon but it doesn't feel like Red SoxYankees. Maybe it's for all the reasons I just listed. Maybe it's because we're now 82 games into the season and these two teams have only played twice. Not two series, but two games. Maybe in this case, absence has made the heart grow indifferent and after this weekend, the rivalry will be renewed and this column will be a joke. We'll see. But either way, I'm not sure it matters.
If there was anything positive to come from last year's collapse, it's that it reminded us of just how long the season is, and how much can change in August and September. That if a team can just tread water for the first few months and get healthy down the stretch, anything is possible. And at this point, that's the only thing keeping hope alive for the 2012 Red Sox.
So on that note, take the jerseys out of the equation for a second, and consider the opportunity at hand. The Sox are hosting the AL East's first place team on the last weekend before the All-Star break. They can go in down four and a half games, they can go in down 10.5 games. In terms of treading water, the Sox have a chance to either scrape their way into the kiddie pool or cast themselves into the deep blue sea.
Bottom line: The Sox don't need a rivalry right now. They need a few wins.
Sure, if those wins come against the Yankees it will be a little bit sweeter. But with all this team has gone through, and the rivalry's currently somber state, who they beat takes a back seat to just winning in the first place, and heading into the break with "first place" within reach.