As the 30 major-league teams prepare for the 2012 season, we are inching ever closer to renewing the greatest rivalry in baseball or, dare I say, the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
Few other teams have the history that the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have. It seems like every year, a layer is added to the rivalry that includes the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees and the ensuing 86-year World Series drought for the Red Sox, Bucky Dent’s game-winning home run for the Yankees in a 1978 one-game playoff, Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series and, of course, the Red Sox’s comeback from 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS.
With that in mind, here are nine reasons to believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will be taken to another level in 2012.
Bobby Valentine is not a shy person, and with him as the manager of the Red Sox, you just know things between the Red Sox and Yankees will get interesting.
He started on February 28 when he said that Derek Jeter was out of position on his famous “flip play” during the 2001 Division Series, that it was not a play that the Yankees had practiced and that Jeremy Giambi would have been out on the play whether Jeter had made the play or not.
He also pointed out that Jason Varitek was “able to beat up Alex [Rodriguez]” in a 2004 brawl at Fenway Park.
Expect more trash talk from Valentine, which could lead to tension on the field and maybe even another brawl.
Who doesn’t love a good pitching matchup?
This year, there’s potential for plenty of interesting ones.
For the last three years, matchups between the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and the Red Sox’ Josh Beckett/Jon Lester combination have been interesting.
With the Yankees’ additions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda and the Red Sox’s moving Daniel Bard from the bullpen to the rotation, even more potential good matchups are on the horizon.
It will be interesting to see Kuroda pitch against the Red Sox no matter who is on the hill for the Sox, because Boston actively pursued him during the offseason. In fact, at one point ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported that the Sox were “close” to adding Kuroda (Insider required).
Another interesting matchup would be Michael Pineda facing Daniel Bard. Pineda is the Yankees’ new young phenom, and Bard is the Red Sox’ current best hope to turn a newbie starter into a stud (he’s been in the bullpen since 2009).
Fans of either team have to be excited about the possibilities.
The Red Sox had a nine-game lead in the Wild Card race on September 3rd of last year, trailing the first-place Yankees by half a game. They went on to fall from 84-54 to 90-72.
The Red Sox missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and now Yankee fans have a Red Sox choke to yell and scream about.
Even though historically speaking, the Yankees' own 2004 ALCS collapse was worse than the Red Sox 2011 regular season collapse, the Red Sox choke somewhat balances the histories of the two teams since the early 2000s.
Both teams have now won two World Series in the new millennium, and now the teams each have one forgettable collapse that no one can actually forget.
New York and Boston have always had a rivalry when it comes to sports. In addition to the Yankees and Red Sox, there are serious rivalries between the New York football teams and the Patriots, betweem the Knicks/Celtics in the NBA and between the Rangers/Bruins in the NHL. The Giants also defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII to end the Pats’ undefeated season, and then beat them again this year in Super Bowl XLVI.
The cities’ rivalry had grown a bit stagnant during the last several years, with the Yankees and Red Sox not playing each other in the playoffs since 2003, the Patriots dominating the AFC East, and the Knicks’ and Rangers’ struggles.
But the rematch in the Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots renewed hostility between the two cities, and hopefully this will carry over into the baseball season.
It seems likely that Mariano Rivera will retire after the 2012 season. If that’s the case, every game he pitches this year will be a must-watch affair, especially games against the Red Sox.
Rivera is undoubtedly the best closer of all time, and it’s unlikely we’ll see someone so dominant in the ninth inning ever again.
I’m sure it is important to Mariano to end his career on a high note against the Red Sox. I’m also sure that the Red Sox would like nothing more to knock Mo around in their last chance to face him.
It’s entirely possible that Bobby Valentine made another comment about Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or another Yankee since you began reading this article.
Valentine has a history with the Yankees from the time he was the manager for the crosstown Mets, and it's hard to believe he'll be able to keep his mouth shut all season.
As long as Bobby V keeps opening his mouth (and there is no reason to suspect that he will not), this rivalry will be more interesting than it’s been for the past several years, even when the teams are not playing each other.
The Yankees and Red Sox are scheduled to play just one series in the first three months of the season (April 20-22, at Fenway Park).
They will then play 15 times from July 6 through the end of the season.
That means that they are likely to be playing each other when teams keep an eye on the standings and everyone is fighting for a playoff spot.
Nothing’s better than when the Yankees and Red Sox play important games against each other, and this year it looks like they will be playing a lot of them.
Among the 15 games the Yankees and Red Sox will play against each other after July 6, six will be in September and October.
The teams will meet at Fenway Park September 11-13 and again at Yankee Stadium October 1-3. This series will wrap up the regular season.
The October series at Yankee Stadium could be quite important, unlike end-of-season series between the teams in the past.
Because two Wild Card teams will play a one-game playoff against each other for the right to advance to the Division Series, teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will try much harder than in the past to win their divisions and avoid that playoff game.
Unlike past years, if there is a race for the division title, expect teams to go all out trying to win.
Also, if a team like the Tampa Bay Rays has already clinched the division and the Yankees and Red Sox are fighting for Wild Card spots, the two teams will be competing for one of the Wild Card spots or for the right to host the one-game playoff at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
Speaking of the new playoff format…
Bucky Dent was the star of the last one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox in 1978
The Yankees and Red Sox haven’t played each other in a one-game playoff since 1978. It could very well happen this year.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a great team and it would not be surprising at all if they won the AL East for the third time in five years.
If so, that would mean that the Yankees and Red Sox could play each other in a one-game playoff as the American League’s two Wild Card teams.
How dramatic would that be?
As a Yankee fan, part of me hopes that happens just to see such a game. (Of course, the rest of me wants the Yankees to win the division and the Red Sox to miss the division altogether.)
Get excited, Yankees and Red Sox fans. The rivalry is renewed in 39 days. See you at Fenway.