As I contemplated my favorite moment in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, my most compelling memories centered around a collection of highlights from the mid-2000s: the most recent Golden Age in a long, storied rivalry. The excitement of Boone’s walk-off home run in 2003 and the fervor of summer afternoon games where altercations like A-Rod vs. Varitek and Pedro vs. Zimmer erupted is still palpable to me today. To me there is something nostalgic about the heat amplifying the intensity of the rivalry. Reminiscing over this era, a serious absence becomes salient: Yankee championships.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007: bookending an era of unrivaled bellicosity and enveloping my memories of the time with the miasma of unfulfilled promise. My favorite moment in Yankees-Red Sox history cannot have a bitter aftertaste. Luckily, the current and future Yankees have the uncommon opportunity to right the wrongs of the past.
I was 6 years old when the Yankees won the World Series in ‘98 and those are my first memories of the team. I remember watching the 1998 Championship video on the VHS player in the backseat of my mom’s Chevy Suburban over and over and over. They won again in ‘99, and then again in 2000. I remember watching the Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off single to end the 2001 WS with utter disbelief. In my then-brief career as a Yankee fan, they had always found a way to win. This couldn’t have just happened. There’s gotta be a redo or something, they can’t lose. They did.
That first taste of defeat set me as a young Yankee fan up for something even sweeter than the three championships I expected them to win: redemption. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in the years following that 2001 loss was fraught with absurdity (Madonna-masked Sox fans), vitriol ("Who is Karim Garcia?"), violence, momentary victory, and ultimate defeat. As fans, we had to endure not one, but two Red Sox WS championships. The first of these put an end to the amazing "1918" chant Yankee fans had been able to taunt Red Sox fans with for millennia and ushered in the strange reality in which Sox fans’ poorly-cadenced "2000" retort was able live out its sad, short existence. When we won the World Series in 2009, as much as I loved that team and the memories it produced, that championship was lacking a signature Yankees-Sox moment. Yes, logistically, the Yankees can never beat the Sox in the World Series, but they can deal the Sox a crushing blow on their way to a championship. How much sweeter would the memory of Aaron Boone’s home run in 2003 be if the Yankees had gone on to win the World Series? I believe the current group of Yankees have the potential to help us answer that question.
While the Red Sox have established themselves as the more successful team of late, winning three championships in the last fifteen years to our one; Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorious, Gleyber Torres, and Giancarlo Stanton have the potential to win more championships than the teams I grew up watching expecting to win. The overall talent, youth, and depth of this current roster would have been inconceivable five years ago when the ghost of Kevin Youkilis was batting cleanup in our opening day lineup (that really hurt to watch).
The Red Sox have certainly taken notice, as evidenced by their testiness over Tyler Austin’s innocuous slide into second earlier this year. They know it, we know it: the Yankees are built to contend for the title every year. The burgeoning vehemence between the two squads as well as their talent levels have them set on a collision course for the foreseeable future. Hopefully the great moments ahead will be punctuated by Yankee World Series victories.