Perhaps you heard the Yankees go to Boston today. Here are my five keys to the series, featuring predictions.
In the meantime, this week's Friday Five was an easy call. Gotta recognize the first Yankees-Red Sox game of the year. If I'm not mistaken, they'll play each other 54 times this season, for one-third of the total schedule.
You can divide this rivalry into many eras, starting with Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams, and then moving forward to the late '70s and then the late '90s. And you'd of course include the Red Sox's sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, to round out the history.
Right now? I'd call this the Ownership/Front-Office Era. No, not very catchy. But since the John Henry group purchased the Red Sox in 2001, and then hired Theo Epstein for the 2003 season, this rivalry has been newly defined by the people making the decisions, rather than the people playing the games.
Henry. Epstein. Tom Werner. Larry Lucchino. George Steinbrenner. Brian Cashman. Randy Levine. Hank Steinbrenner (who doesn't make any decisions, but who does talk some). They all have spent time in the spotlight, and the players themselves have often been viewed through the prism of baseball operations.
For instance, George Steinbrenner used to rip into Cashman for not signing David Ortiz. For another instance, Alex Rodriguez nearly joined the Red Sox before Lucchino blew it by blasting the Players Association, and then of course became a Yankee.
So if we consider this current period of the rivalry to have commenced in the 2003 season - the Henry group was still settling in during '02 - let's look at the top five regular-season Yankees-Red Sox games from 2003 through 2010. We'll go in chronological order:
1) Yankees 2, Red Sox 1, July 7, 2003 at Yankee Stadium. Mike Mussina has said that he thought he pitched better in this game than he did in his 2001 near-perfect game. Why? Compare the Red Sox's lineups in the two games.
But this didn't just feature a Mussina gem. You also had the Yankees' first two hitters, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter, leaving the game for a nearby hospital after one plate appearance each, thanks to Pedro Martinez's inside pitching (Pedro hit Jeter, whereas the umpire ruled that Soriano swung at a pitch that hit him in the hand). Robin Ventura had to switch from third base to second base to help cover up for the absences.
And then after the Yankees won in the bottom of the ninth, The Boss publicly went after Pedro. He also cried while discussing his team's valiance, setting off some early alarms about his health.
2) Red Sox 11, Yankees 10, July 24, 2004 at Fenway Park. The craziest part of this game was that it nearly didn't happen. I remember standing outside the Yankees' clubhouse when one of the team's traveling security guards told reporters, "No game." Rain. The Yankees players started to put on their street clothes and prepared to enjoy a day off in Boston.
But nope - there was a miscommunication somewhere. They played a game, all right. There was the infamous brawl between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek. The Yankees had a 9-4 lead at one point, and 9-7 in the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound. That didn't get it done, however, as Bill Mueller hit a walkoff, two-run shot. What a crazy day.
Even though the Red Sox didn't really pick up their play for another couple of weeks, in the aftermath of their World Series title, they often pointed to this day as a spiritual turning point.
3) Yankees 8, Red Sox 6, July 14, 2005 at Fenway Park. This was the first game after the All-Star break, and Boston kicked off a most interesting experiment. The Sox needed a closer, and Curt Schilling wasn't healthy enough to start games. Voila! Schilling the closer.
This was his debut, and I can still remember the excitement at Fenway as Schilling trotted in from the bullpen to start the ninth inning, with the game tied. His first two batters: Gary Sheffield crushed a double, and Schilling's nemesis A-Rod blasted a homer over the Green Monster.
The '05 Yankees were trying to right themselves after a very trying first half, and this was an important first step. The defending champion Red Sox, meanwhile? Even though they made the playoffs, this game typified the hangover sensation that their whole season carried. Their pitching just wasn't very good.
4) Red Sox 7, Yankees 6, April 20, 2007 at Fenway Park. Joe Torre spent all of spring training in 2007 telling us, "We need to preserve Mariano. He won't enter a game before the ninth inning. And that pledge lasted...until this game. Game 15.
Torre's call to go to Rivera in the eighth inning screamed of the Yankees' desperation. The Red Sox's ability to erase a four-run deficit in the eighth reflected their excellent lineup. That Boston wound up winning the '07 World Series made this game more memorable.
5) Yankees 2, Red Sox 0 (15 innings), August 7, 2009 at Yankee Stadium. The 2009 Yankees lost their first eight games against the Red Sox. Remember that? All the "mental block" and "intimidated" discussion?
The Yankees broke that schneid on August 6, pummeling John Smoltz in his final appearance in a Red Sox uniform, but this, the second game of the series, still felt huge. The Yankees had A.J. Burnett, who had pitched poorly against the Red Sox, going against his old pal Josh Beckett.
Burnett pitched very well - he did walk six guys, but no one scored - as did Beckett, and as the game progressed into extra innings, you could feel the fatigue settling in. Until A-Rod, still not fully "proven" following his illegal PED confession and hip surgery, ripped a Junichi Tazawa offering for a walkoff, two-run homer in the 15th.
The Yankees shedded their "Can't beat the Red Sox" label, and A-Rod continued to shred his "not clutch" label.
And in more recent news . . .
--Nick Swisher's slide into second base resulted in Minnesota's Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his left fibula. Everyone involved seemed to think that Swisher's play was clean.
--Curtis Granderson has been playing more shallow in centerfield, Erik Boland writes.
--David Lennon takes a look at the good and the bad from the Mets' opening week, as they kick off their home schedule today at Citi Field. Lennon also wrote about the Mets' desire to be more aggressive on the bases.
--Matt Harvey recorded a strong professional debut.
--Have a great day. I'll be in Boston tomorrow and Sunday.