Sox, Yankees rivalry still has plenty of juice

Sox, Yankees rivalry still has plenty of juice
September 6, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Eight games separated the Red Sox and Yankees before the series opener Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel that much separated the two teams on the field.
One of the hoariest cliches in sports is: when these two teams get together, you can throw out the standings.
Except, in the case of the Red Sox and Yankees, it's actually true.
The Sox entered the game with their biggest lead in the division standings all season, 5 1/2 games over second-place Tampa Bay. The Yankees, defying odds and everything else, were on the periphery of the wild card chase, 2 1/2 games back of Tampa.
According to CoolStandings, the Red Sox's chances of making the playoffs before Thursday night stood at 99.5 percent; for the Yankees, the number was 16.5 percent.
One team was a lock, the other a distinct longshot.
And yet.
The teams played without regard to their positioning in a terrific, 10-inning game that featured three lead changes, two ties and, ultimately, a thrilling 9-8 Red Sox win.
It's easy to make the argument that The Rivalry isn't what it used to be. In fact, it's virtually impossible to say otherwise.
Blame it on the fact the the teams haven't met in the post-season since their epic 2004 ALCS showdown. Blame it on baseball's unbalanced schedule, which has the teams playing 18 times each regular season, creating a sense
of over-familiarity.
Let's face it: it would have been unthinkable for the teams to maintain the white-hot intensity that existed between, say, 2003-2005. The decades-old rivalry was at its height, eclipsing even the 1970s when the teams were as likely to fight on the field as not, and when outsized personalities -- Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Bill Lee -- sparked the meetings.
In recent years, the Red Sox haven't done their part. They made a cameo appearance in the 2009 post-season, then missed out altogether in 2010, 2011 and last season. When one team isn't much of a threat to the other, it's only natural that the intensity takes a dip.
But even though this year, the Yankees aren't a candidate to overtake the Red Sox in the standings, the heat has returned.
Maybe it has something to do with the Yankees valiantly playing over their heads in the wake of a slew of injuries, remaining in the running long after they should have been. Maybe the spark was lit a few weeks ago when Ryan Dempster tried and tried again until he succeeded in plunking Alex Rodriguez.
That seemed to ignite the Yanks, who went on a 12-5 run.
"I'm not saying it changed things for us," said Joe Girardi, measuring his response carefully. "But we've played really well since then."
It's not likely that a similar scenario with, say, Toronto, would have awoken the Yankees in a similar fashion.
But the Red Sox? That's different story.
And so, with 20 or so games to go and one team virtually assured of a spot in the post-season and the other fighting uphill to claim one, they began again.
The Red Sox scored twice in the second. The Yankees countered with two of their own in the bottom of the inning.
The Red Sox inched ahead again in third with a run, then tacked on three more in the fifth and another in the seventh.
With nine outs to go and the Red Sox comfortably ahead 7-2, there seemed little doubt that the Red Sox would waltz away with the opener.
But then Jake Peavy fizzled and two Red Sox relievers stumbled and, there you had it, the Yankees had forged ahead 9-8.
The Sox, however, scratched out a run in the ninth off Mariano Rivera. The Yankees had the potential winning run in scoring position in the bottom of the inning before the Red Sox went ahead for good in the 10th.
Along the way, there were strange decisions, like Vernon Wells's decision to steal third base with no out in the seventh. There was a disputed check swing by Shane Victorino a pitch before the outfielder delivered the game-
winning single.
David Ortiz and Mariano Rivera, who were around in 2003, played pivotal roles. Derek Jeter, as always, was involved.
The game lasted more than four and a half hours and no one seemed to mind. In the end, the Red Sox added to their division lead and moved a step closer to clinching a spot. The Yankees fell back and saw their already slim post-season hopes ebb some more.
Didn't matter. Never does.
The teams play three more times this weekend, and three more next.
Odds are there'll be some great games mixed in.
Bet on it.