By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
Perhaps inadvertently, Francisco Cervelli's over-exuberance has given the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry a bit of a spark.
Until Tuesday night, the games between the rivals had been relatively uninteresting, with many of the first dozen games somewhat one-sided.
There's a lot of to live up to for these two teams when they meet. Beyond the expectations of their respective fan bases and the epic clashes in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS are the flashpoints that the rivalry has already boasted -- Lee-Nettles, Munson-Fisk, Zimmer-Martinez, Varitek-Rodriguez, etc.
In 2011, mere quality baseball does not successfully feed the hungry beast -- not when there are 18 games between the teams, with the potential (likelihood?) of seven more to come in October. There have to be subplots, villains, and ultimately, bench-clearings, to make the games compelling.
Even by baseball standards, Tuesday night's half-hearted trots out from the dugout and in from the bullpen were lackluster.
The closest we got to tempers truly flaring came when Jarrod Saltalamacchia stepped in between Cervelli and the path to the pitcher's mound after Cervelli got plunked.
The two catchers stood toe-to-toe and unloaded a few verbal unpleasantires before being separated by home plate umpire Ed Rapuano. As home plate confrontations go in this rivalry, it fell way short of Varitek's face-wash on Rodriguez.
But the Yankees were using the issue for all it was worth -- and then some. Sabathia menacingly yelled out to Lackey from the third-base foul line. Coach Tony Pena was fuming and manager Joe Girardi wasn't far behind.
For the Red Sox part, there was a strict adherence to the line that, no, the pitch from Lackey wasn't intentional and straight-faced professions that, see, the scouting report said to keep Cervelli off the plate.
But every once in a while, the Red Sox deviated from the script, sarcastically noting that the homer was Cervelli's second of the season and third of his career, and hey, if that gets you excited enough to act like you just belted a walk-off homer in the World Series, then, good for you.
It is perhaps a sad commentary that the rivalry needs this kind of juice, but perhaps the unbalanced schedule really has left us with a "more is less'' approach.
No matter how much we might wish otherwise, not every one of 18 regular season meetings is headed for Instant Classic status. Some are going to be downright mundane.
That's a by-product of over-exposure, and, just maybe, the disappearance of personalities. The 2003-04 rivalry featured plenty of those.
By 2004, the Yankees had a villain straight out of central casting, Alex Rodriguez, who had a bullseye attached to him for 1) being the game's highest-paid player ever and 2) not doing enough -- in the minds of Red Sox' fans, at least -- to facilitate a deal between the Red Sox and Texas Rangers.
Sure enough, Rodriguez only needed to be wound up and fitted for pinstripes for fireworks to ensue, which they surely did, in the ALCS 2004, i.e. The Rematch.
There were counterparts in the Red Sox dugout, too, including Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, with Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar waiting on deck. They could be counted on for an outrageous quote or an emotional on-field reaction which could light the fuse at any point.
Now? Only a handful of players remain on both teams, mostly in reduced roles.
Where once Martinez and Ramirez represented the Red Sox, now it's Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees have become a team led by Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Try getting a fire started with that quartet.
That doesn't mean that there can't be good baseball between the Red Sox and Yankees in 2011. Last month, Josh Reddick's walk-off heroics in the 10th inning capped a thrilling -- if over-long -- game and the prospect of more this post-season is enough to whet a baseball appetite.
But along the way, we may have to deal with games like Tuesday night, when the emotion seemed forced and the over-reaction appeared manufactured.