A popular sports radio topic in Boston this week has been where has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry gone? It’s true, when you think about it. The two teams set a standard from 2003 to 2004, when not only did the they meet in the Championship Series in consecutive years but also fought over off-season acquisitions (see Jose Contreras and Curt Schilling). What used to be the best rivalry in sports is no longer the most heated New York/Boston sports rivalry today (Jets/Patriots has taken precedent over Yankees/Red Sox in recent years—and in Boston, Bruins/Canadians might have it beat as well). The question is, why?
The Wild Card has eliminated pennant races from baseball. Do not misinterpret me, I am a proponent of the Wild Card because I think in many years the Wild card winner is better than at least one of the other division winners, but there is no arguing the fact that it waters-down intra-division races. If this weeks’ series were played prior to 1995—or if only one of the two teams could make the playoffs—this series would have all the fire and passion the regular season did in ’04.
The reality is that both teams will be playing in October and are more concerned with getting their starting lineups healthy (Jeter, Rodriguez, and Youkilis, to name a few) rather than extending themselves to win the division. Until there is some penalty for ‘winning’ the Wild Card, teams will continue to opt for setting up their pitching rotations for the Division Series—case and point: last year the Yankees had an opportunity to win the AL East on the last day of the season and sent Dustin Moseley to the mound vs Boston. Why? Having CC Sabathia for game 1 of the Division Series was more important.
Next year that might change; if MLB adopts their new postseason format, the two Wild Card teams will play a three-game series to decide who moves on to the Division Series. If that is the case, the pennant race will be back in baseball and late August series between the Yankees and Red Sox will mean much more.
The Wild Card does not tell the whole story though… Another reality is that these two teams do not hate each other like they did in the 1970s and early 2000s. David Ortiz’ love-affair with Robinson Cano at the Home Run Derby would have made me sick as a Red Sox fan. Additionally, in last night’s ballgame when Sabathia struck out Saltalamacchia to end the Red Sox fifth inning rally, stranding Ortiz at third, Ortiz patted Sabathia on the ass as he walked back to the dugout as if to say “nice job.” I know that is not what he was saying, but the fact remains, these two teams do not hate each other, and it is hard to have a rivalry when the two sides get along.
We might have seen a turn-around last night when Cervelli got hit by Lackey however. Regardless of who was right and wrong in the situation, Lackey was pissed-off enough to drill Cervelli in the back for showboating. Although both benches returned to the dugout peacefully after clearing, we saw a little bit of that fire that was lost in the past few years, and that’s a good thing.