Red Sox-Yankees: Major League Baseball’s Oldest Rivalry Is Suddenly Important Again

The Alex Rodriguez/Jason Varitek scuffle is just one of the moments that highlight the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Photo: Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Rivalries are an important part of any major sport.

Lakers-Celtics, Carolina-Duke, Ohio State-Michigan, Patriots-Jets, Dodgers-Giants, Bruins-Canadians. The list of famous rivalries is quite long but if you were going to fashion a list and rank those rivalries, Red Sox-Yankees would sit right at the very top.

After all, you’re talking about a rivalry born out of a transaction in which one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Babe Ruth, was sold  between the two franchises. The Yankees acquired Ruth following the 1919 season and went on to become the dominant sports franchise of the 20th century.

The Red Sox famously parted ways with Ruth and in-spite of superstars, great seasons, and one of the most famous ball parks in the Nation, they became known not for winning, but for the spectacularly heartbreaking ways they found to lose.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has gone through several ups-and-downs. In the mid to late 1970’s the two teams literally fought for AL East supremacy. The Red Sox won arguably the greatest World Series game ever played, Game 6 of the 1975 Fall Classic, but it was the Yankees that actually won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.

The battles of the late 1970’s faded into the 1980’s. The Yankees started the decade strong, while the Red Sox floundered. The Red Sox nearly broke their World Series losing streak in 1986, but fell in heartbreaking fashion to another New York City baseball franchise.

From the mid 1980’s into the early 1990’s the Red Sox were good, the Yankees were not, the rivalry still existed, but it wasn’t “The Rivalry.”

The mid-1990’s saw the New York Yankees rise once again to the very top of the sports world.

New York won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The Red Sox were also growing stronger, even offering up a slight challenge to the Yankees supremacy in the 1999 playoffs, but in the end the Yankees were still the “winners,” while the Red Sox were relegated to their second-place, and second-class status.

Then came 2003 and 2004, or what will go down in history as the peak of what has become known as sports’ greatest rivalry.

One could make an argument that the two best teams in Major League Baseball in 2003 and 2004 were the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. As divisional rivals, only one team could win a division, only one team could make it to the World Series, and of course only one of them could actually win the World Series.

In 2003 the Yankees played the cruelest of tricks on the Red Sox and their long-suffering fanbase. Game 7 of the ALCS was played in the Bronx and the Red Sox took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning before losing in heartbreaking walk-off fashion in the bottom of the eleventh.

One year later the Red Sox made history by overcoming an 0-3 ALCS deficit to come all the way back and beat the Yankees four straight, including back-to-back walk off wins at Fenway Park in Games 4 and 5. It was all too good to be true, the rivalry had peaked, it would never be the same again.

That’s held true for nearly 12 years.

The Red Sox and Yankees came close to squaring off in the 2007 ALCS, but the Cleveland Indians upset the apple cart, and knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs in the divisional series.

Two years later, the Los Angeles Angels knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in the divisional series, and thus prevented the Red Sox from facing off with the eventual World Series Champion Yankees in the 2009 ALCS.

The Red Sox and Yankees have not qualified for postseason play in the same season since 2009.

Thursday night, the Yankees arrive in Fenway Park for the first of a four-game series. If the playoffs started today, the Red Sox would be in, as AL East Champs, while the Yankees would be staying home, close to, but not quite good enough to qualify for the postseason.

The season doesn’t end today of course, and when the Yankees take the field tonight, they’ll be just four games back of the Red Sox for first place in the AL East, and only two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays to qualify for one of the American League’s two wild card playoff berths.

With over two weeks remaining in the season, and with seven head-to-head match-ups left on the schedule, all of a sudden baseball’s oldest and most famous rivalry has the potential to be reignited.

As painful as it might be to imagine, if the Yankees are able to win three or even four games this weekend, they’d leave Boston either close to the AL East lead, and they’d almost certainly be able to qualify for one of those wild card berths.

On the flip side, the Red Sox have a chance to make the Yankees remaining two plus weeks very difficult. If the Red Sox are able to win either three or all four of this weekend’s games they’d push the Yankees further back in the divisional race and up the degree of difficulty for a Yankees squad with eyes on a wild card.

These are not just meaningful September baseball games between divisional rivals. These are meaningful September baseball games between age-old rivals.

Most of the names have changed. David Ortiz is still there, but that’s really about it.

No ARod, no Jeter, Mariano, Clemens, Wells, Bernie or Posada.

No Milar, Pedro, Schilling, Varitek,  Damon or Manny.

Torre and Tito are gone, replaced by Girardi and Farrell.

The young players will get their first taste of what this rivalry can be.

The Red Sox have a young corp of emerging stars in Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Andrew Benintendi. The Yankees will counter with Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro and Delin Betances.

New York is 25-16 since August 1st. The Red Sox are 24-18.

Both teams have flaws and weaknesses, but both teams have legitimate postseason aspirations. The Yankees have jettisoned veterans Andrew Miller, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Aroldis Chapman.

Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury remain as experienced veteran players.

The Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Clay Buchholz and of course, David Ortiz. David Price and Craig Kimbrel have been stars but both are in their first seasons with the Red Sox and this is their first really meaningful Red Sox-Yankees series.

The names on the back of the uniforms have and will continue to change. The rivalry has had its ups, but it has been a number of years since the two teams were really fighting for the playoffs this late in the season.

That all changes at Fenway Park at 7:10pm on Thursday night, September 15, 2016.

Red Sox-Yankees, the playoffs are at steak, both franchises have some veterans, but both are also in the midst of infusions of very talented young players.

Those young players will grow-up a bit this weekend.

Baseball’s oldest rivalry is about to start a new chapter. Fans of both the Red Sox and Yankees will be eagerly watching not just to see how this chapter plays out but how it compares to the long list of past and now legendary showdowns between the two franchises.

About the Author

Ben Shapiro

Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog.

I’ve previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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