By Jason Keidel
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Maybe the Yankees made the most noise around the July 31 trade deadline. But it has been the Red Sox who have done the most damage on the diamond since.
Indeed, the Sox are getting their Dodgers on, winning eight straight games, and nine of their last 10. And they have the one thing that the Yanks so desperately need — an ace. Or two. Chris Sale is starting to get a Usain Bolt-lead in the AL Cy Young race. As a result, Boston is streaking and sizzling at the right time.
The Red Sox have blown past the Yankees, who up until recently looked like the team to beat in the AL East. Indeed, on July 29, the Yanks were 56-46, and a half-game ahead of their arch-rivals. But they are now 4 1/2 games back of first-place Boston, thanks to seven losses in their last 11 games.
Though the Yanks don’t need to win the division to make the playoffs, they know how perilous and precarious the Wild Card Game can be. Last time they qualified using the back door, Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros hurled them out of the postseason with a shutout at Yankee Stadium. As things stand this moment, the Yankees lead the chase by 2 1/2 games.
The Yankees and Red Sox, who enjoy perhaps the oldest and most rancorous rivalry in American team sports, will renew acquaintances on Friday night with the opener of a pivotal weekend series. In fact, the Bombers and Sox will square off six times in the next 10 games. It’s particularly poignant and personal stretch for the Yanks, as the two Sox Series are sandwiched around a four-game set with the Mets.
Though the Mets games technically count just the same, but the games against the Red Sox will transcend the standings and the back pages, doubling as metaphors for manhood and courage and survival. Maybe there isn’t the abject fury each team felt for the other 15 years ago, when the Bambino’s hex still loomed from Fenway to River Avenue, but both teams are still contending for a pennant.
One of the twin aces the Yankees hope they picked up last month will kick-start the series, as Jaime Garcia will match up with Eduardo Rodriguez. Then their true ace this season, Luis Severino, faces surprising stalwart Drew Pomeranz. Sunday’s finale pits perhaps CC Sabathia (or whomever replaces him) against the best pitcher in the American League, Mr. Sale.
The Yanks can bid the Red Sox farewell right on their heels or 7 1/2 games back.
And it just feels right. While the Jets beat the Patriots, in the playoffs, in New England, they are in entirely different classes, in divergent historical and cultural orbits. The geography is right, and it ends there.
But Yanks and Sox are the peanut butter and jelly of baseball, the historical glue that keeps the sport so pertinent to so many natives. Baseball wouldn’t have the same historical heft sans this rivalry. Surely the Giants and Dodgers abhorred each other for decades when they shared the five boroughs, and perhaps some of that traveled 3,000 miles west, but it could not sustain the white heat or hatred that Boston and New York City feels for the other.
Is it sacrilege to suggest or hope for a plunked batter? For a poorly placed fastball to pound someone’s rib or thigh? For a few scowls between batter and pitcher? For a few foul words traded 60 feet and six inches? For a manager to storm out of the dugout, kick some dirt, and share some salty thoughts with an umpire while he heaves his arm toward the showers?
We’ve become so politically correct, so afraid of fury and violence, or even a wayward four-letter word, that we can’t even embrace the virtues and vices of sports, as we can no longer distinguish between the two.
You don’t root for stupidity, for a fan to dash naked across the outfield or some dolt to dump beer on a player. But it wouldn’t offend some of us if the Yankees and Red Sox weren’t perfectly genteel for a few days. Like the old days.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel