For the first 51/2 innings on Opening Night, the Yankees appeared to be playing out a script written by Brian Cashman. The only missing element was Scott Boras taking to the Fenway Park public-address system to declare, "Blame me for Johnny Damon leaving town!"
Until . . . suddenly, the Red Sox bit back and turned the contest into a Theo Epstein revenge fantasy. A three-run seventh catapulted Boston over the defending World Series champs, 9-7, an instant wake-up call - whether the Yankees needed one or not. "It's not spring training anymore," Joe Girardi said. "It counts."
This rivalry might be wearing out some folks, yet the games usually justify the hype. Last night proved the rule.
Just think of how pleased the Yankees must have felt when the contest became official after five innings, with the visitors leading by a 5-2 count and looking younger, stronger and more athletic.
The Yankees' relentless lineup had knocked out Josh Beckett with two outs in the fifth, forcing him to expend 94 pitches for those 14 outs. Newbie Curtis Granderson crushed a homer to right-centerfield. Returnee Nick Johnson displayed his value, working Beckett for 14 pitches in three plate appearances.
Brett Gardner, the least experienced Yankees everyday player, started in leftfield and stroked two hard singles off the intimidating Beckett.
Alas, as Don Zimmer used to say to Joe Torre, back before Torre knew his way around Fenway, "Leads here can disappear very quickly." And by night's end, the new Yankee dominating the discussion was Chan Ho Park.
The Yankees stretched their budget to sign Park for $1.2 million, and Park left a poor first impression, surrendering a 7-5 lead in the seventh when he served up a two-run homer to Dustin Pedroia. Park wound up the losing pitcher when he gave up a double to Kevin Youkilis, who eventually scored on Jorge Posada's passed ball on a Damaso Marte pitch.
These Red Sox were supposed to be about pitching and defense. Climbing out of two holes - first 5-1 and then 7-5 - wasn't supposed to be easy, particularly against a pitching staff as accomplished as the Yankees'.
Girardi said, though: "We expected them to score runs. Some people talked about that. We didn't."
Boston even added an eighth-inning insurance run against reliever Joba Chamberlain, who appeared just as out of sorts as he did for the bulk of last season - when he started games.
Johnson, the all-time track great, accepted an invitation to Yankees camp last month to discuss complacency, defending your crown and building on your greatness. Girardi himself earned credit as one of the leaders of the 1999 Yankees, who successfully built on their phenomenal 1998 campaign.
The Yankees' skipper will do everything in his power to ensure that complacency doesn't even stop by for lunch. And we sure aren't going to say that the Yankees lost their opener because they were complacent. That's ridiculous.
Nevertheless, a smack in the face like last night's will splash cold water on anyone. If the Yankees do somehow wind up complacent, the Red Sox - and the Rays as well - will gladly sprint right by them.