For the first 18 years of my life, I enjoyed the fact no Red Sox fan could say anything to me regarding the rivalry with the Yankees. Nothing. Not one word.
That all changed in October 2004 in a week, a series, a month, a season, a calendar year I wish I could permanently erase from my memory. The comical “Yankees suck” chants suddenly had meaning as the “1918” were gone forever. The world, not just the baseball world, felt weird, in a bad way.
I will never get over what happened nearly 15 years ago. Never. But I certainly didn’t want new a memory like that. I didn’t want the Yankees to play the Red Sox in the 2018 playoffs, for the fear of a new memory like the traumatizing old one to be created. I wrote about it prior to the start of the ALDS.
I won’t feel well walking into Fenway Park on Friday night. Even though I have been to countless Yankees-Red Sox games since it happened, this is different. It being Monday, Oct. 18, 2004.
Over the last nearly 14 years when I enter Fenway Park, I glance over toward the Pesky Pole, where I sat on that miserable night, and the memories come rushing back. I can still see Bernie Williams’ solo home run clearing the wall in right field and Derek Jeter’s bases-loaded, bases-clearing double rattle around in the corner. I see David Ortiz’s solo home run flying over the Green Monster and Dave Roberts tagging up to score on Jason Varitek’s sacrifice fly to center. I can see the old left-center field scoreboard to the right of the Green Monster at Fenway Park that would display both team’s lineups and it would place an asterisk next to the batter that was up in the game and I can see the asterisk changing places a sI counted how many names the asterisk had to go before reaching “Manny Ramirez” and “David Ortiz” in extra innings. I can see Tony Clark’s should-have-been go-ahead double bouncing over the fence right in front of me and Ruben Sierra being forced to hold up at third. And of course, I can see David Ortiz’s walk-off line drive floating in the air towards center field wondering if Williams will get to it in time.
Sometimes I like to think about what the baseball world would be like if Joe Torre had brought in Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save rather than waiting to use him until after Tom Gordon had already ruined the game. Would I enter Fenway Park and glance over toward the Pesky Pole and have memories of watching the Yankees celebrate the American League pennant on the field rather than the memories I do have? Would the Red Sox still be without a championship? Would “1918” T-shirts still be relevant? Would this October be the 100th anniversary of the Red Sox’ last World Series title?
After Alex Rodriguez’s retirement in 2016 and Ortiz’s in 2017, no one from either team remains from that game and that series. No one on either team has any connection to the worst collapse or greatest comeback, depending on how you look at it, in postseason history. No one but the fans. This is a new era of Yankees-Red Sox on the field. In the two cities and in homes around the Tri-State area and New England though, it’s a continuation of the storied rivalry and just the next chapter in a history that took a 14-year hiatus.
After Wednesday’s easy AL Wild-Card Game win, I’m unusually confident about the ALDS. I know it’s not wise to be, but I am. Since before the season started and all season long, I have felt that when both teams are healthy, the Yankees are better than the Red Sox.
Unfortunately, during the most important series of the season, the Yankees weren’t healthy. They were without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez for the four-game series in Boston in August and newly-acquired J.A. Happ, who the Yankees traded for mainly because of his AL East resume and his success against the Red Sox, was unavailable to pitch due to a rare illness. The Yankees were swept in four games, and the division race was over.
But now the Yankees are completely healthy with their full lineup, rotation and bullpen available. Judge is back, Sanchez is back (though really just physically present and not back as the best offensive catcher in baseball) and Happ is lined up to start Game 1 and a potential Game 5. The team is coming off their season-saving win on Wednesday, while the Red Sox haven’t played since Sunday and haven’t played a meaningful game in over a month. The Yankees couldn’t be better set up to not only steal a game in Boston this weekend, but to steal a series against a team that is trying to not be the latest regular-season success story to not get the job done.
The Yankees will see Chris Sale in Game 1 and David Price in Game 2, and those two pitchers will see a lineup that boasts eight right-handed hitters with Didi Gregorius being the lone lefty. The Red Sox traded for Sale to win games like Friday’s and they gave Price the biggest free-agent contract for a pitcher in history win games like Saturday’s. The two have combined for zero postseason wins despite their regular-season accomplishments. Last season, Sale lost as the team’s Game 1 starter and took the loss as a reliever in Game 4, responsible for his team’s elimination, while Price, wasn’t even a member of his team’s rotation, pitching out of the bullpen against the Astros. The amount of pressure on the two this weekend in Boston can’t be described. The team’s best pitcher and the team’s highest-paid player have to prevent the Yankees from winning one of the first two games in Boston.
I should be able to sit back, relax and enjoy this series knowing that the Yankees are the true underdog in the series, facing the best Red Sox team in regular-season history with their 107 wins. But because it’s Yankees-Red Sox, there is no sitting back or relaxing and the only enjoyment will be if the Yankees are still playing baseball next Saturday in either Houston or Cleveland.
When I enter Fenway Park on Friday and Saturday, I will glance over to the Pesky Pole and all the visions of 14 Octobers ago will come back. Next season, when I enter Fenway Park and look around I want to envision the moments from this October, from this series and I want the memories to be winning ones.
My worst fear came true. The Yankees were set up to win the series after stealing home-field advantage, and instead were run out of their own building, suffering the worst postseason loss in team history coupled with the worst two-game bullpen management performance baseball has ever seen.
The Yankees suck right now and so do the Red Sox. I keep hearing how the Yankees have an excuse with all their injuries, but the healthy Red Sox have no excuse. What?! The Red Sox have the biggest built-in excuse of all time. They won 108 games last year, won the division, embarrassed the Yankees in the ALDS, crushed the Astros in the ALCS and made everyone question if the National League should even get to play in the World Series after what they did to the Dodgers in five games. The Red Sox can suck all they want. They are the defending world champions.
The amount of laughter and sarcasm from Yankees fans at the Red Sox’ poor start to the season is sickening and the amount of mentions of the Red Sox’ record by YES is humiliating. The next time any Yankees fan, Yankees player or any person or entity associated with the team should comment on the state of the Red Sox is when the Yankees either beat them in the playoffs or win the World Series.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!