It’s been nearly a month since the Yankees and Red Sox reignited their storied rivalry with a thrilling benches-clearing brawl on a frigid April night at Fenway Park. The entire melee was chronicled — tempers flared, suckerpunches were thrown, and suspensions were issued. The bad blood between the teams boiled once again, and there was a refreshing October energy to the series in Boston.
So, considering the theatrics, how could the Yankees and Red Sox possibly top the excitement generated last month — especially when the regular season is still relatively young?
Well, it shouldn’t be too difficult, since the clubs will soon meet at Yankee Stadium with the two best records in baseball.
Tuesday night’s game will mark the first time that the Yankees (24-10) and Red Sox (25-9) square off with the two best records in MLB since June 2, 2002. New York entered that game at 37-19, with Boston at 36-16. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the teams’ winning percentages (.721 combined) haven’t been this high with less than 60 games in the books since June 1946. That stands for something, right?
But, that’s not all. The Red Sox opened their year with 17 wins in 19 games, and the Yankees are currently the hottest team in baseball with 15 wins in their last 16 games. Consider these streaks as exceptional dominance. And the calendar won’t hit Memorial Day for another three weeks.
In summation, this upcoming series in the Bronx should have plenty of juice.
Make that 100-percent juice.
“Red Sox-Yankees: always big. And obviously, they’re a great team, so we understand there will be a lot of excitement around it,” Aaron Boone told NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty on Sunday. “We understand all that goes with it from the outside, that there will be more eyes on this one. And that’s what you love about being a part of this.
“Look, I think we talked about it before, I think one of the exciting things is all the different ways we’ve been able to win games. Tonight, or today, the offense being held down, really kept at bay by a great performance from [Mike] Clevinger but us being able to hang around enough, chip away, chip away, get to the back end of the bullpen. I know those guys are really excited in there. … Just, I’m so proud of the way those guys compete, night in and night out, no matter the situation, whether we’re up big, down, those guys continue to grind away and it’s a great attribute to have for a team that goes about their business and competes the way they do night in and night out. Those guys are pros.”
Since April 20, the Yankees have made up six and half games on the Red Sox, and it’s been 38 years since the Yankees last won 15 games in a 16-game stretch (it happened in 1961, too). New York has also won nine consecutive games at home, and they still have six games remaining on the home stand (three vs. Boston, three vs. Oakland).
It’s a historically hot start. And at 24-10, the Yankees have their best 34-game start to a season since going 25-9 to begin the 2003 campaign.
“I just expect it to be a good series,” Tyler Austin told NJ.com. “That’s what I’m expecting. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just expecting it to be a good series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. That’s all I’m expecting.”
It was Austin and Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly who prompted the brawl in April, when Kelly drilled Austin with a 97 mph fastball to the left elbow. The incident picked up steam when Austin slammed down his bat in frustration and charged the pitcher’s mound to confront Kelly. In a matter of seconds, both players were exchanging right and left hooks, and the teams rushed out onto the field to join in and break up the chaos.
However, all of that was due to Austin’s hard slide into Boston’s second baseman Brock Holt a few innings earlier.
Will Austin seek payback in some fashion? No signs point to it.
“If I face [Kelly], I expect it to be a normal at-bat,” Austin said. “I don’t expect any more controversy, I should say. So I think it should be business as usual.”
But, if Yankees-Red Sox is business as usual, perhaps some extracurricular activities will transpire. After all, that’s what truly fuels the rivalry’s fire.
“I think more than anything, we know we’re playing good baseball,” Neil Walker told NJ.com. “We’re getting good starting pitching, good relief pitching, and some timely hitting. It’s exciting any time you play a division rival, but more than that, we’re happy we’re playing really good baseball and we hope it continues.”
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.