It’s Yankees-Red Sox in the Bronx in August, and it doesn’t get much better than this.

For anyone who thinks the rivalry has lost some of its luster over the last few seasons with the departure of some of the rivalry’s most important players, you’re sadly mistaken. Nothing is better than Yankees-Red Sox, especially with something on the line, and there is a lot on the line this weekend.

Either the Yankees will begin their sprint to the finish line by turning a three-team race into a two-team race in the East, or they will let the Red Sox creep their way back into the playoff picture.

It might be sad, but yes, I get a high off of making sure my Red Sox fan friends know where they stand and what’s at stake over this four-game series. There is no better person to rile up over the rivalry than good friend and writer Mike Hurley. He joined me to talk Yankees-Red Sox in what is the most important series of the season to this point.

Keefe: The last time we talked was before Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and I said to you, “We’ll have to do this again this summer if the Red Sox can stay in the race.”

Well, here we are. The Red Sox are kind of, sort of still in the postseason picture, and since you brought your city so much luck with the pre-Game 7 conversation, it only makes sense that we do this again.

One of my friends told me yesterday that the series this weekend won’t be as fun without Kevin Youkilis in the lineup, or Dustin Pedroia, but I laughed at that notion. It doesn’t bother me that Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia won’t be playing or that the Red Sox were without Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for extended periods of time.

People forget that the 2008 Yankees were decimated by injuries with the majority of the team landing on the disabled list at one point in the year. All anyone remembers is that the Yankees didn’t make the postseason in 2008 for the first time in 1993.

It sucks when a team or fan base has to go through an injury-plagued season, but hey, it couldn’t have happened to a better team.

Hurley: Decimated is a good way to begin to describe the situation. Consider that Terry Francona has had to pencil in a combination of J.D. Drew, Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, Eric Patterson, Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Cameron, Jonathan Van Every and Josh Reddick in his outfield every day, and you’ll get a better picture. Most Red Sox fans hadn’t even heard of half those guys a year ago.

The Youkilis one is by far the worst though, because he’s not coming back. It’s tough to lose Pedroia, or Victor, or Beckett, and so on, but when you know that your Gold Glove first baseman and cleanup hitter isn’t coming back, it’s a shot to the gut.

I’m one of the many who doesn’t have great memories of the injured 2008 Yankees, but consider it like this:

Curtis Granderson just started playing on Tuesday.

CC Sabathia basically just started pitching a couple of weeks ago.

Robinson Cano has been out since late June, just one day after he hit three home runs.

Nick Swisher has been the only reliable outfielder, but he’s only hitting .260 with 50 RBIs.

Mark Teixeira just went down for the season with a freak thumb injury that no doctor has seen before.

Now imagine all that happened and they’re still somehow still alive in a pennant race. It has to really catch up to them at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Keefe: I was going to say that I’m sure it will catch up to them this weekend, but hey, you said it for me. I’m not sure the Red Sox make it out of the Bronx alive, and I’d like to think we will see something along the lines of what we saw in 2006 and 2009 — two series that helped the Yankees go on to win the division.

Right now if the Yankees played .500 the rest of the way, which they won’t, (or as close to .500 as possible since they have an odd amount of games left in 55), they would finish the season at 95-67. For the Red Sox to match that record, they would have to go 35-20.

If the Yankees win this series or sweep this weekend, it’s lights out for you, and you will be waiting for Patriots-Bengals in Week 1. But even if the Yankees split the series with the Red Sox, they prevent the Red Sox from moving anywhere in either race and take four games off the schedule. It’s a bad, bad, bad situation for your boys.

Hurley: Well, if the Red Sox are counting on anybody to play .500 the rest of the way, it’s probably Tampa more than it is New York. David Price has already thrown 12 more innings than he ever has and Wade Davis is nearing 100 more than he ever has. So I think the more realistic hope would be that Tampa fades through August and September.

Of course, the 10 games left with the Yankees are still ridiculously important.

The one thing the Sox have going for them this weekend (it literally might just be the ONE thing) is the pitching matchups. If you’re the Red Sox, you take the Buchholz-Vazquez matchup, you hope CC forgets to hydrate Saturday afternoon, you make sure the ESPN banner is nice and visible for A.J. to see on Sunday night, and you trust that Jon Lester will snap out of his mini-skid on Monday afternoon.

Really, though, the only way the Sox could do some damage this weekend is to take all four games. That doesn’t happen anymore (that five-game series in 2006 never happened, as far as I’m concerned, because I wasn’t able to watch the first three games).

Keefe: We have had conversation in the past of athletes that make it hard to look at them. Josh Beckett is still No. 1 on my list, and just when he might start slipping from that post, he does something like he did against the Indians, running around the infield and getting held back like he is 17 drinks deep and in Faneuil Hall at 2:05 a.m.

I bring this up only because I know of your love for A-Rod, and after seeing him hit No. 600 on Wednesday, I assume you were almost as disgusted as you were when Jay Alford busted through the offensive line like the Kool-Aid man through a wall to sack Tom Brady in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLII.

Thoughts on the latest A-Bomb from A-Rod that put him into the elite 600 club?

Hurley: Jay Alford … Jay Alford … nope. Not ringing a bell. Oh, he was that good defensive lineman who had a nice stretch with the Giants through the playoffs but unfortunately didn’t get to play in the Super Bowl that year because it was canceled. Too bad — I bet he could have made an impact.

Through the beginning of the 600 hype, I thought it was pretty silly. Then I took a closer look at the active home run list. Basically, Jim Thome (577) has a shot, but nothing’s guaranteed when you’re that old and not playing full time. I don’t think Manny has a chance (554) with the way his body’s been breaking down without his fertility treatments, and beyond that, we really might not see this again. For Albert Pujols (393 at age 30) to get there, he’ll need at least seven years of near-perfect health, which is no guarantee, either.

So at least there’s historical significance, but really, it was just more disappointing than anything else. Forever, A-Rod was a ninny, but at least he was undeniably a beast. Thanks to his cousin though, there’s really nothing to celebrate there.

The worst part of it all — and Yankee fans have to agree — was to read his quote after he missed the team picture, when he referred to his teammates as “the boys.”

Keefe: Since the Red Sox are close to beginning to think about next season (let’s hope this isn’t a jinx), let’s talk about 2011.

David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon have been two of the franchise’s faces during the rise of the Red Sox in the 2000s. Now, neither of them might be with the team after Game 162 this season.

Ortiz thinks he deserves to have his $12.5 million club option picked up for 2011, though I’m sure Theo Epstein thinks otherwise. And as for Papelbon, a lot of Red Sox fans want him out of town and those one-year deals might just come back to bite him if he ends up closing out games in Milwaukee or Seattle next season.

What happens to Ortiz and Papelbon for 2011?

Hurley: Ortiz actually doesn’t want the $12.5 million option picked up — he wants an extension. That is just crazy talk.

Ortiz has been the Ortiz of old this season (sort of), with his 27 homers, but an extension? No. He’ll be 35 in November, and he’s hitting .217 with one homer against lefties this year. He’ll be back on the $12.5 million option, and he’ll be happy about it. If he’s not, he’ll finally hear what a boo at Fenway Park sounds like.

The Papelbon case is more interesting. We know that there’s no way he gets Mariano money, which he’s said was his goal all along. He will, though, be due for a raise, because thanks to nights like Thursday against the Indians, the save tally continues to climb. I think Papelbon, who do loves those one-year deals, is back for one more year, and he might just pitch the season of his life as he tries to hit the jackpot after the 2011 season.

Everyone around here has been ready to hand Daniel Bard the closer’s role since last summer, but it’s not that easy. Bard’s stuff is sick (his slider makes big league hitters look like Little Leaguers bailing on the first curveball they ever see) but he’s got a lot to learn before he can step into that role. People think that because Papelbon made it look so easy, it is. But it isn’t. And the Red Sox know that.

Keefe: OK, so now that I have you completely worried about this weekend and wondering what day the sellout streak at Fenway will end (I have Friday, September 3 against the White Sox in my pool), what happens this weekend in the Bronx? You are right that the pitching matchups favor the Red Sox, but I am going with recent August history.

Whenever “experts” predict postseason series, they always go safe and usually pick the series to go six games. No one ever picks a sweep. And if those “experts” had to predict this weekend they would probably go with a split. But I’m not here to play it safe, and even though it’s a risky prediction and could be ruined with a loss tonight, and even though a simple series win will do, I’m going with the sweep: Boston Massacre 2010.

On Monday, August 9 at around 5:30 p.m. EST, the 2010 Boston Red Sox’ season will be over.

Hurley: That’s a lot of confidence in the Lester-Moseley matchup right there. God bless your heart.

With the Red Sox lately, every single game has seemed like “the game.” A couple of walk-off wins over the Tigers felt like they might have saved the season. A couple of bad losses to the awful Indians made it seem like the season was over. If it seemed that way against a couple of AL Central teams, the 18 hours of baseball coming up in New York is going to be either agonizing or amazing.

What will happen? Well, a sweep isn’t happening either way. I think the pitching matchups are huge, and Mike Lowell, who hits the current Yankees really well, can be a serviceable Kevin Youkilis for a few days. I really think the Sox take three, with Saturday’s game taking five hours to complete. If they can take three against the Yanks, and the Rays drop a couple, this story remains interesting at least for another couple of weeks. I’m not ready for it to end.

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