Sox In New York: Lacking Fire This Season?

Is this a meaningless series, or could it be a turning point for the season? It is time for Red Sox fans to panic or can they put the champagne in the fridge? Is it time for Boston journalists to lament and speculate in their quest to analyze the best rivalry in the Majors? Yes to all the above, I guess.

I remember sportscasters lamenting about how the Sox and Yankees play 12 of their 19 scheduled games before the end of May. But if you are a Sox fan, aren't you glad the schedule is so unbalanced this season? Four of the six season series will be over and it isn't even summer yet.

Eric Wilbur, in Monday's Boston Globe, addresses the minority of fans who see gloom and doom in August and September:

The jugular is not in play.

Or, so I’ve been told by members of a Red Sox fan base that is increasingly panicky the more their team's AL East lead grows.

It’s not over. You sound foolish.

You’re gonna curse them.

Now I know who to blame.

It’s only May!!!!

It’s true. While the word, "over" never graced this space in reference to anything other than praying it would apply to the disaster that is Jack Bauer’s latest adventure, perhaps we were too bold about this whole AL East deal. After all, the Red Sox continue to just pad their divisional lead, which is now up to 10½ games, and the only thing many of their loyal fans can do is wonder when the roof will come caving in. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been reeling much of the season, but last night's win over the Mets must mean the start of a big-time run, right?

Remember what happened in 1978

Right. What does it say about the state of Red Sox fans that during this 30-13 start to kick off what’s turning out to be a most enjoyable 2007, 1978 is the year most referenced and not 2004? Not to ignore a keen appreciation of local baseball history, but, and I apologize if this is a news flash, history doesn't repeat itself. Unless, of course, you are either Josh or Dr. Sam Beckett.
Surely, there are plenty of Red Sox fans who are enjoying the moment, looking forward to the dog days of the season in lieu of dreading their arrival. Why shouldn't they? Their team is an MLB-best 30-13 with a three-game series against the Yankees on tap for this week in the Bronx. And despite the Chicken Little attitude that filters into the ol' Inbox on a daily basis, it’s nice to think these folks are the majority of a fan base drowning in positivity.

That’s not to encourage everyone to bury the competition. Teams can come back from deficits like the Yankees have put themselves in, for sure. But when one team looks this good, and the other so poor, the odds dwindle.

I like Eric Wilbur. He, Nick Cafardo, and Gordon Edes covered the 2004 team better than anyone in the Boston press. I saved dozens of their articles over the last few years. But I was a little disappointed to see him write an article that shed light on what has to be a minority of Red Sox fans (right?). But then he gets to his point, and it is a good one:

To put it succinctly, if the Yankees do indeed eventually take over Boston’s lead at some point this season, it will likely equal the greatest collapse by a team in Red Sox history, the aforementioned 1978 squad, which choked down the stretch and found themselves the butt of a Bucky Dent pop fly for years to come. For some, this expectation remains the norm, and not the exception, which is, frankly, ludicrous.

If the Yankees can magically fix their pitching ailments and turn the Red Sox into the 2006 injury-riddled version, then sure, they have as much of a chance as the Blue Jays at catching Boston. We are, after all, just past the quarter-mark of the season, and, as we’ve learned time and again, [insert length of baseball season cliché here].

Which is why this week’s series means much of nothing in the grand ol’ scheme of things. With a sweep, the Yankees can at least consider themselves within striking distance, and spark instant panic in the streets of the Back Bay. With a Boston sweep, the Yankees would be 13½ games off the lead, and would watch their AL East record seep to 3-14. [As of Tuesday May 22nd, it is 4-14 as the Yankees won on Monday.]

Those are as astounding numbers as any.. The Yankees have beaten the Red Sox [twice]. The Orioles, once. The Devil Rays, once. By contrast, the Red Sox are 14-5 against their divisional brethren, which is a big part of the reason they enjoy a double-digit lead.

When Roger Clemens announced he was rejoining the Yankees, Boston’s lead was 5½ games. The Red Sox have gone 10-3 since losing out on their former ace, but the tailspin has continued for the Bombers (5-8). Clemens wanted us to believe one stipulation for signing with New York -- as if $28 million prorated weren't enough -- was that Joe Torre would be in the dugout once he got there. Well, if Boston invades New York this week and continues its recent run, will that indeed be the case come Thursday?

But here comes Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald to repeat what the fools at YES and WCBS have been saying: that suddenly this fierce rivalry doesn't seem so fierce. In my opinion, that's a narrative used by the Yankees media. When they are in first, the Boston fans get upset and obsess about them, and the rivalry heats-up. Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez start hunting for Yankees and start brawls. But when Boston is in first, the Yankees don't give two shits about the Red Sox. The rivalry doesn't matter when Boston is in first. I can't believe that. Tell that to the Bleacher Creatures at The Crack House this week.

Just not the same feeling: Sox-Yanks lacks pizzazz
By Steve Buckley
Boston Herald General Sports Columnist

Monday, May 21, 2007 - Update: 04:12 AM EST

...The Red Sox return to Yankee Stadium tonight to begin a three-game set against their historic and storied rivals, but, suddenly, it’s a series with all the magic of that pinch-me-I’m-dreaming Colorado Rockies-Kansas City Royals interleague showdown of this past weekend.

We’re grown accustomed to every Red Sox-Yankees game being riveting, stop-the-presses stuff. We assume the entire nation - the world, even - tunes in when these two go at it. It’s the Baseball Border War, with the whiz kids from ESPN and Fox being ever vigilant in their quest to make sure we see countless replays of Zimmer vs. Pedro, Fisk vs. Munson, A-Rod vs. Varitek, etc., as a setup to each game.

And then the voiceover guy says, “It’s the Red Sox. It’s the Yankees. When these two teams go at it . . . ”

Not this time. Not with the Red Sox, 6-3 winners over the Braves yesterday at Fenway Park [map], holding a double-digit lead over the rest of the pack in the American League East. Not with the Yankees so banged up that it’s just a matter of time before pitching coach Ron Guidry is asked if he can go an inning or two in middle relief.

But . . .

“We’ve got to focus on ourselves, and continue playing good baseball, no matter who we’re playing,” said captain Jason Varitek [stats]. “We’ve found ways to win, but we can’t control what happens outside of us. We just have to control ourselves.”

And . . .

“Distance doesn’t matter to me until we’re 10½ games ahead with 10 games left to play,” said Kevin Youkilis [stats], who went 3-for-3, including a home run, to raise his average to .340. “It’s still May. It’s a long season. We’ve got to play.”

OK. Fair enough, but is anybody, well, surprised that the Yankees are screaming, “Help! I’ve fallen! And I can’t get up!”

“Yeah, a little bit, to tell you the truth,” said infielder Alex Cora [stats]. “But I’m not surprised the way we’re playing baseball. I’ve been saying from the get-go, we’re a great baseball team. We’re a complete baseball team.”

Yes, the punditry business, too, is full of cautious hand-wringers who warn us that it’s early, that history has taught us that the Yankees have a way of getting hot right along with the summer weather. But that’s later on. This is now. And now - today, tomorrow, Wednesday - the Red Sox and Yankees are going to be engaging in a series that lacks its traditional testosterone.

To be sure, ESPN plans to televise two of the three games, but it won’t be the same.

This series needs some pop. Any chance the Yankees can void Jason Giambi’s contract while the Sox are in town? Can Roger Clemens make it back by Wednesday? Any new Joe Torre-gets-the-gate rumors?

It’s the Red Sox. It’s the Yankees.

And it’s missing the usual pizzazz.

Let's check the standings on Thursday morning.