It was 12:14 in the morning on a school night. Like any cool high school freshman, I was sitting in my basement with my best friend, dressed in full Yankee uniforms, watching what was about to be the most exciting sports moment of our young lives. Blinded by brawls, Pedro Martinez, and the “Boston Sucks” shirts our dads let us buy outside the stadium a few months back, nothing was more important than finishing this off.
Back from commercial and before the cameramen had a chance to get their bearings, the pitch was swung on, and Joe Buck was yelling into the night, “THAT MIGHT SEND THE YANKEES TO THE WORLD SERIES!” He was right. It seems silly considering 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009, and all the memorable moments of the 2017 postseason, but that home run by Aaron Boone stands head and shoulders above all other October moments. The rivalry was never as strong as it was that night and it was hard to imagine it ever would be again.
The image of Boone’s home run is pretty familiar now that he’s the new Yankee skipper. Much has been made of that moment and it makes sense, given that it’s hard to detach the two. Boone was by no means the center of the rivalry back in the early 2000s, but a simple utterance of his name still evokes strong emotion on both sides. Now, this icon of Boston ire is coming in to lead the team at a time when the reigning American League East Champion Red Sox and the dark-horse-turned-front-runner Yankees are ready to reignite the spark in their dormant disdain.
After 2003, things certainly cooled off in the northeast, save for a brawl between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek and an ALCS that we won’t mention from a year that doesn’t exist. There were successes on both sides with the Yankees winning one pennant and the Red Sox winning a few of their own. There were moments of tension between Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis, and then with A-Rod again. Nothing lived up to the hype or the spectacle.
When the Yankees signed Johnny Damon, then Youkilis, and then catcher’s interference master, Jacoby Ellsbury, it effectively demystified the resentment between the teams. Factor in a couple successful seasons and newfound competitive spirit from the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rays, and the New York-Boston legend seemed to fade into somewhat comparative obscurity. But that changed in 2017.
Entering last season, the Red Sox were the talk of the AL East. They were favored to win the division and were set at 12-1 odds to win the World Series. Boston’s young talent in Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi coupled with the experienced hitting of Hanley Ramirez made for a potent lineup. Then, the addition of Chris Sale to a rotation that already boasted David Price and Rick Porcello caused Brian Cashman to dub them the “Golden State Warriors of baseball.”
The Yankees out-kicked their coverage in 2017, coming in as young underdogs and leaving as certified contenders, one win from a World Series berth. After landing National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees put themselves back into superpower territory and Brian Cashman wasn’t bashful about it:
I need another ring. I’ve got rings, but there’s other guys in there that don’t have a ring. Some have rings somewhere else; they want a Yankee ring. I think having a ring with an ‘NY’ on it means more than any of the other ones out there, in my opinion. So ultimately and collectively, we’re going to try and find a way to get that done.
The Red Sox made their own moves in the offseason, picking up slugger J.D. Martinez to round out their already formidable offense. These acquisitions led to Cashman and Red Sox chairman, Tom Werner, trading respectful compliments. Cashman claimed that as defending AL East Champions, Boston was still the team to beat in the division, while Werner acknowledged that the pickup of Stanton was good for the rivalry. Hanley Ramirez took a different route, showing obvious frustration with all the talk of New York, claiming, “We’re going to treat everybody the same way. It’s a big league and anybody can beat you. So we just gotta go out on the field and step on everybody’s neck.”
Now, here we are. Entering the 2018 season, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has New York’s odds to win the World Series at 6-1 and Boston at 10-1. Despite this gap, the Yankees are only projected to take the division by two games with the teams looking at 94.5 and 92.5 wins respectively. On paper, this promises to be a season for the ages in the northeast corridor. It all starts today, as the teams square off in the Grapefruit League at Fenway South.
It’s been 100 years since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and officially kicked off America’s greatest rivalry. There have been ebbs and flows in its intensity, but even on a down-year, the match up still gets circled on the calendar. With big personalities, generational talent, and some early season chatter setting the stage, both fanbases are hoping that 2018 brings that intensity back with the first October showdown between the two in 14 years.