It is said that the human brain tends to retain bad memories longer than good ones. That would certainly explain why I still can’t shake memories of the 2013-2016 Yankees, despite a deep playoff run in 2017 and a 100-win season this year. (Or maybe it’s because Greg touched on that era in his post appreciating the 2018 Yankees, but why let facts ruin a perfectly serviceable opening paragraph?)
What I hated most about that era wasn’t those teams’ win-loss records per se; I mean, the 2013-2016 Yankees actually all finished with winning records, with the 2015 edition somehow sneaking into the Wild Card Game. It was the complete lack of hope surrounding the team, backed up by every possible piece of statistical evidence pointing to the Yankees’ utter mediocrity.
That lack of hope was most exacerbated in the two years bookending that four-year period, 2013 and 2016, as it was in those two seasons that the Yankees looked the worst in contrast to the Red Sox.
The 2013 Yankees were built on the hope that signing veterans like Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki to short-term deals to supplant their 2009-2012 core would be enough to keep their window of contention open. It was a dumb plan and it failed miserably.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox - well, actually, I don’t know that Boston’s basic strategy was all that different, but seemingly all of their additions overachieved, and the team enjoyed a 97-win regular season and their third World Series title since the turn of the millennium. I remember comparing the two teams that season and thinking to myself, “some rivalry”. It was even more painful to watch them play each other, as it was clear as Brett Gardner’s scalp as to which was the better club.
The 2014 and 2015 seasons were more bearable, in that the Yankees actually had a modicum of preseason buzz surrounding them (especially following that crazy 2013-2014 offseason spending spree), and also in that the Red Sox’ fortunes came down hard after their 2013 high, finishing with back-to-back sub-.500 seasons. They were still ‘meh’ seasons, however, as the Yankees were considered to be World Series contenders by absolutely nobody. And what pleasure is to be derived from the Yankees beating the Red Sox if they’re in the midst of a 4th-5th place season and the Yankees aren’t so hot themselves?
In 2016, it felt like the gap between the Yankees and the Red Sox grew wider again. Sure, it was nice that the Yankees’ “rebuild” commenced that year, with Gary Sanchez making the best first impression a rookie could make. However, the Red Sox has already completed their retooling phase and were ascending to “the team to beat” status in the AL East, with Mookie Betts leading an emergent young core and assuming the “franchise player” role. In short, the Red Sox returned to relevancy a year earlier than the Yankees, making it yet another year in which the rivalry was in name only.
I wish I could say that 2017 was extremely satisfying in this regard, as the Yankees made it to within one win of the pennant while Boston suffered a Division Series exit. While it was a ton of fun, I would have liked the chance to have disposed of the Sox with our own hands. A year later, the Yankees’ chance has finally come.
This is a matchup deserving of the attention and prestige often forced upon the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry by ESPN’s broadcasting schedules and sportswriters too fond of cliche. This is a truly great Yankee team, taking on a truly great Red Sox team. This is must-see, gripping, terrifying, fun baseball. This is what I dreamed of in 2013-2016, and I love it.
What’s more, this is far from the last time that these two teams will meet in October in the years to come. The Yankees and Red Sox both have young cores and the financial resources to build and maintain stellar rosters. They should contend for the division for the next decade. And while the Wild Card Game might prove traumatic to one of these teams in one of these years, it’s just as likely that these two teams will meet in the ALDS or the ALCS repeatedly.
Rivalries make for good baseball. Contrived rivalries, however, like the Yankees and Red Sox in 2013-2016, are just sad. Rivalries can’t be sustained on memories of past clashes. They have to be rekindled anew by real, meaningful bouts between two great and evenly matched teams. It’s time for the newest chapter of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry to begin.