By Neil Keefe
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The Yankees and Red Sox meet again this weekend at Fenway Park for the first time since the Blueshirts were clinching a postseason berth in the final game of the season. The AL East is tied up, but the Red Sox have won seven straight against the Yankees and eight of nine this season.
I know when I talk to Mike Hurley of NESN.com before every Yankees-Red Sox series, it usually doesn’t work out well for the Yankees. At least this year.
But not this time.
I’m going to change my luck by talking to him — and change the way the rivalry has gone this season — with this epic email discussion. When the Yankees win the series this weekend, you can thank me. And if they lose two or get swept, we can forget this email exchange ever took place.
Keefe: So, we meet again. I’m actually pretty scared about doing this email exchange with you. So far this season the Yankees are 1-8 against the Red Sox and we have talked in some form (either this way or podcast) prior to every series and look where it has gotten the Yankees. But I don’t believe in jinxes or curses. (I used to until seven years ago.) Instead I believe in the Yankees. At least I keep telling myself that.
Everyone is in love with the Red Sox and how great they have played since their 2-10 start, but the AL East is all tied up right now despite their horrible play against Boston, including seven straight losses. Yes, I’m nervous about the 2011 Yankees and what this team might do in October, however, at the same time, I know the Red Sox aren’t that much better (if at all) even with the entire world jumping on their bandwagon.
I know you probably feel differently. You probably think the Red Sox are invincible the same way you thought the Patriots were and laughed at me when I said I thought the Jets could beat the Patriots in the postseason. (Giants fans for Jets!) I’m not expecting you to admit to me that the Red Sox are as flawed as the Yankees since that’s not something you would do. And I know you still haven’t bought into Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia tandem in the rotation, but even with your constant criticism of the Yankees to me, do you really think the Red Sox are THAT much better?
Hurley: First of all, you love the Jets, and the way you refer to them with such pride is a little creepy for a Giants fan.
But we’re not talking about football. We’re talking about baseball. And to answer your question, I do think the Red Sox are a better team. With Buchholz out of the equation, and Daisuke off in some faraway land, they’re not as far ahead of the Yankees as they were in March, but they’re still a better team.
I make that claim based on two things:
1. CC Sabathia might be better than any pitcher on the Red Sox (he is), but Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are better than any two Yankees starters. That, obviously, is important.
2. The Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez on their team, and he might be the best hitter in the world. Ever.
Actually, let’s make it 3 things:
The last one’s just to get you unreasonably angry.
But point No. 1 is undeniable. Your readers are acutely aware of your feelings on A.J. Burnett. He can’t be relied upon to provide any sort of consistency. Garcia and Colon have really blown away all expectations, but at some point, don’t they have to pitch like a 35-year-old Freddy Garcia and a 38-year-old Bartolo Colon? I know we’ve all been saying that for months, but I still believe it has to happen at some point.
Point No. 2: I kid, obviously, but my goodness, has this man been a pleasure to watch play baseball. His approach is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and his ability to seemingly do whatever he wants in the batter’s box has been absolutely remarkable to watch on a daily basis. While one batter doesn’t make one team better than the other, he bats behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, who are both playing out of their minds, and in front of Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. The Yankees can pretty much match that firepower with Granderson-Teixeira-Cano in the middle, but given Ellsbury’s unbelievable numbers and Ortiz’s steadiness, I’d give the slight edge to Boston.
Point No. 3: Well, he is. Sorry. He’s going to retire soon and he won’t play baseball anymore. Do you want to talk about that?
Keefe: I don’t love the Jets. I hate them. But when it comes down to Jets-Patriots, I’m not going to want the Patriots to win. Ever.
Your claims are somewhat reasonable and somewhat insane. Yes, CC is the best pitcher and yes, the Red Sox have the better 1-2 punch. Adrian Gonzalez is good, but the best hitter ever? I know there’s some sarcasm in that, but then again, I wouldn’t be that surprised if you actually felt that way. And don’t you talk about Derek Jeter like that. I feel like Michael Scott telling Dwight “Don’t you dare” when Dwight tries to toss in a “That’s what she said” after visiting Jan and trying to take Michael’s job. Only Michael Scott can say, “That’s what she said,” and only I can call Derek Jeter old or determine when he is old.
But I will give you this … on Wednesday night when Jeter got his third hit of the game (he would go 5-for-6), I texted my dad and said, “Jeter 3 for 3. Up to .277.” My dad replied, “Yea he’s doing good.” The fact that I was excited about Jeter getting to .277 and the fact that my dad considered that “good” for Jeter is pretty terrible. Eighth-grade Neil would like to punch 24-year-old Neil in the face.
If you’re a Yankees fan and you don’t hate A.J. Burnett, I’m not sure how you don’t after his last two starts. The last time the Yankees lost was an A.J. Burnett start and on Wednesday night he did his best to give away a 13-1 lead (4.1 IP, 13 H, 7 ER). The man simply can’t be trusted. And the A.J. supporters (there aren’t many of them left) will turn to Game 2 of the 2009 World Series that he won, which was a must-win game. Here’s what I counter with: Burnett did win that game, but he beat the Ghost of Pedro. I’m not sure Michael Hurley couldn’t have outpitched 2009 Pedro in new Yankee Stadium. But Burnett made five starts in that postseason and that was his only win. Not only that, but in two potential series clinching starts (Games 5 against the Angels and Phillies), he gave up 12 earned runs in eight innings, and last only two innings in Game 5 of the World Series. So, I’m supposed to back him because he won Game 2 of the World Series? Umm, no. And the only reason he is still in the rotation and Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are battling it out for a spot is because he makes $16.5 million a year ($500,000 per start), and there’s this crazy idea that he has “great stuff.”
And how about last year? I wrote about whether I would want Burnett or Vazquez to start a playoff game since moving to France and becoming a tour guide and a soccer fan wasn’t a real option, and I chose Burnett because I didn’t really have a choice. Then in the ALCS, Girardi actually gave him the ball for a game, and what did he do? Lose, obviously, and put the Yankees in a 3-1 series hole. Phil Hughes didn’t exactly help out by battling Chien-Ming Wang’s 2007 ALDS for the two worst starts in a postseason series in Yankees history, but Burnett had a chance to change that series and blew it.
You’re right about Gonzalez. When the Red Sox traded (robbed/assaulted) with the Padres for him, I let out an “Oh, fuuuuuuudge!” like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Except I didn’t say, “fudge” either and there were some other expletives in there too. All I could see when I closed my eyes at night was Gonzalez hitting line drives home runs to the short porch at Yankee Stadium and peppering the Monster the opposite way at Fenway. He’s done both. I had a reason to lose sleep over him.
And no I won’t touch on Jeter again, and you should watch your mouth because the man is a saint. So, no I don’t want to talk about him. But what I do want to talk about is how dominant the Yankees have been in the second half of seasons, and especially against the Red Sox. This year has a 2009 feel to it, and I think the Yankees are primed to run off a streak against the Red Sox. Doesn’t history scare you a little?
Hurley: Eighth-grade Neil isn’t the only person who would like to punch 24-year-old Neil in the face. Fact.
Another fact: That you’re able to compare the 2011 season to the 2009 season means that you’re completely, 100 percent delusional. You could probably read Wikipedia for the full breakdown of the Red Sox’ 2009 season, but let me give you the Cliff Notes:
— Jason Bay starts the season by hitting something like 65 home runs in April, May and June. In July, the American League realizes he can’t hit a curveball. I think he batted .038 from July to September. I’d have to check that though.
— Mike Lowell, who was 53 years old, was playing through torn hips and busted fingers and all sorts of fun stuff. He was actually 35, but his body was almost wrecked, and he had to play in 119 games.
— The Red Sox’ starting shortstop for much of that year? That would be the immortal Nick Green, who in 2009 was almost as bad as Derek Jeter in 2011. Just kidding. He wasn’t that bad. However, after that season, when he played 104 games for the Boston Red Sox, Green played a grand total of 14 games in Major League Baseball. Say what you want about Marco Scutaro and/or Jed Lowrie (when healthy), but at least they’re major league ballplayers.
— Brad Penny.
— Paul Byrd.
— John Smoltz.
The 2009 Red Sox team was bad. They made the playoffs, but everybody knew they didn’t stand a chance against the Angels.
This year, there are no holes in the lineup or in the field, and while Wakefield and Miller and Bedard and Lackey may not be ideal, they can piece together a rotation better than one with Byrd, Smoltz and Penny.
The Yankees that year, meanwhile, won 103 games. For this year’s team to sniff 100, they have to win at a .680 clip the rest of the way. Over a full season, that’s a 110-win pace. Can a team with the aforementioned list of Garcia, Colon, Old Jeter and .250 Teixeira win for two months at a 110-win pace? No. Plus, if A-Rod is suspended for spending too much time in seedy basements with Spider-Man, it’s even less possible.
So no, I don’t see history playing too much of a role here. Five of the Red Sox’ starters weren’t even on the team back in ’09.
What does worry me about the Red Sox, more than how they play against the good teams like the Yankees, is how they play against the bad teams. If the Yankees are to win the AL East, it’ll be because the Red Sox lost too many series to sub-.500 clubs. It’s a bizarre thing to watch, but it’s happened too much this season.
Keefe: I guess I set myself up for that one. But let’s not pretend like 2009 and 2011 don’t have similar feels. To get to your points:
1. I wonder if Jason Bay wishes he just took that $60 million from the Red Sox instead of the $66 million from the Mets. And not to steal Fortune’s line from Rudy but I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t regret letting that $6 million get the best of him. (I think I was the first person to realize his curveball issues and I know you will agree with that.)
2. Oh, Mike Lowell. The Red Sox never wanted him and then they tried to get rid of him every year. All he did was win games for them and a World Series MVP. And only Boston fans wouldn’t appreciate that.
3. I don’t care for Nick Green. And that rotation, while bad is just about as bad as running John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield out there three of every five days.
The 2009 Yankees were better to this point than the 2011 Yankees, but the Red Sox were right there with them until … wait for it … wait for it … THE FIRST WEEKEND IN AUGUST! Guess what this weekend is? Yup. The only difference is that it’s a three-game series instead of four and it’s at Fenway Park instead of Yankee Stadium. So it’s kind of the same.
No I don’t feel confident about this weekend. Usually bad things happen at Fenway Park and they tend to happen when I’m in attendance. However since the second half of 2009, I have had some good luck at Fenway. But with the Yankees riding a seven-game winning streak heading into the weekend, I’m fully prepared to be letdown. This is me being nervous about this series and also my attempt a reverse jinx. I think.
I know that Sabathia-Lackey matchup is very intriguing, but Lackey will probably find a way to turn back the clock to 2007 and walk off the mound to a standing ovation. Well, he will walk off the mound to a standing ovation no matter what since the Fenway Faithful applauds any effort whether good or bad. It’s still one of the most remarkable things I have seen in pro sports. Standing ovations for three innings pitched and six earned runs? Only in Boston I guess.
Before we get to my predictions and how this weekend will play out give me your game-by-game breakdown of how the most important series of the season to date will unfold.
Hurley: You just say so many things — so few of them rooted in any factual reality — that it’s impossible to address all of them. I can’t let the Mike Lowell thing slide by though. Mike Lowell was a fan favorite, perhaps one of the most revered Red Sox of the past 20 years — which is incredible, considering he only played four years here. He had “Mike Lowell Day” on the field at Fenway and was honored by The Sports Museum at “The Tradition” this year. “The Tradition” honors some of the best and most loved athletes in Boston sports history. To say Mike Lowell wasn’t appreciated by Boston fans is akin to saying Yankee fans hated Tino.
Long story short, you’re a fool.
OK, back to business. Friday night, I love the Red Sox’ chances against Bartolo Colon (surprise, surprise), particularly with Jon Lester going for Boston. Of course, saying that, you know Colon’s throwing a perfect game. I actually covered one of Colon’s rehab starts in Pawtucket back in ’08. If you told me that same guy could have a 3.30 ERA through 16 starts that year, I wouldn’t have believed you. But three years later? That’s some sick joke.
I obviously fear CC on Saturday against Lackey, who’s been trouble this year. Reason to be optimistic: The Yankees are 18-3 when Sabathia pitches against teams from anywhere other than Boston this year, but he’s 0-3 against the Sox. He’s given up six runs in two of those starts (I’m sure you remember every pitch of those games, you freak). Now, the other side says that, well, is he really going to throw three stinkers against the same team? Possible, I suppose, but my money would be on him having a classic CC game where he just rolls right through everyone.
Then Sunday night, forget about it. Josh Beckett loves national television. He eats it up. Baseball-Reference needs to add “Fox or ESPN Game” to its split page. I guarantee Beckett might be the all-time leader. Maybe I made all that up, but I’m just trying to keep up with the way you do business.
I have the Sox taking two of three. I said that when I talked with you on your podcast earlier this year for the first series, and the Red Sox did just that.
I do have one question for you, though. Are you sure you’re not a Red Sox fan? All this jinx stuff, the way you’re convinced that your presence at Fenway has an effect on the game, it all sounds like the nonsense you’d hear around here from nutjobs like myself pre-2004. A lot of superstition up here that’s gone away since then has apparently all been transferred to you. Have you always been that way, or are you just seriously, seriously damaged from attending Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS?
Keefe: Did Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS scar me forever? Yes. I was 18, withdrew nearly all the money I had for first semester freshman year of college and rode the T with it from Park Street to Kenmore hoping that I wouldn’t lose it on the way before meeting some sketchy guy in an old Ford Explorer down a side street near Fenway for the tickets. Then I sat through 14 innings and six-plus hours of a game in which I kept my eyes fixated on the Red Sox lineup board in left-center to count how many more hitters until Ortiz and Manny would be up and I had to watch that stupid ground-rule double that bounced over the three-foot wall in right that would have won the ALCS for the Yankees.
But that’s just the beginning. I was there for Bay’s bomb off Rivera and then in the same game the Youkilis homer over the Mass. Pike off Marte that still hasn’t landed. I was there for the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs off Chase Wright, Ellsbury’s steal of home, Ortiz’s bomb off Myers, the time Sheffield tried to fight a fan and so on. My luck at Fenway has only changed recently.
But about Mike Lowell … I was at Fenway for the last weekend of the regular season last year when they had Mike Lowell Day. The Green Monster said, “Thank you, Mike” for one day. The organization didn’t care enough about him to keep it up for the whole series. It should have read, “Thank you, Mike. It’s too bad we never wanted you and unsuccessfully tried to trade you to the Rangers before the season. No hard feelings?” It was disgusting. Yeah, you might be right that the fans loved him and it’s the organization that didn’t, but how many times did I hear Bostonians complain that he was worthless in the lineup during his recent three-year deal? A million. And some of those were probably coming from you.
Lester scares me more than any other pitcher in the league, but I don’t think you have seen enough Colon this year. I think you’re thinking of the guy that was with the Red Sox a few years ago. Maybe you haven’t heard what stem cells can do?
If CC can’t beat Lackey on Saturday I will let you dump a beer over my head and then punch me in the face.
You’re right about Josh Beckett and national TV. I was there on that Sunday night in April when he struck out everyone nine times and made Jorge Posada look so bad that I thought Posada was going to retire in the middle of the game.
The key to the series is the first game. I think it’s obvious who has the edge on Saturday and Sunday, so that’s why Friday night is so important.
I’m going with the Yankees taking two this weekend, but if they get swept again, you might want to call or text or email me to make sure I’m OK.
Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe
What’s your prediction for the Yankees-Red Sox? Let Keefe know below…