Friday, April 24, 2009

Yankees and Red Sox ready to rumble

Here's my preview of this weekend's Yankees-Red Sox series for Baseball Digest.

Yankees and Red Sox Ready for Round 1

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox renew their long-time rivalry this weekend with a three game series/battle in Boston. Both teams are on winning streaks entering tonight’s fray. The Yankees pulled out a 14 inning affair with the A’s on Wednesday to run their string of successes to three straight. Meanwhile, the Red Sox swept the Twins in a Wednesday doubleheader to extend their current streak to 7 wins. Both teams enter the series with a 9-6 record, 2 games behind the first place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.

The first salvo has already been fired by David Ortiz at Joba Chamberlain, alluding to the right-hander’s “purpose pitches”:

“None of that, man — just play the game the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s about it,” Ortiz said, referring to Chamberlain.

“This is a guy, as good as he is, the next step for him will be to earn respect from everybody in the league. He’s not a bad guy, but when things like that happen, people get the wrong idea.” Source

There’s no question that Chamberlain shouldn’t go head hunting as he has when facing Kevin Youkilis. But Big Papi never seemed to have a problem when Pedro Martinez was sending Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter to the hospital for X-Rays, nor when Josh Beckett recently threw over the head of former Yankee Bobby Abreu. Pitching inside is part of the game and it’s time the Yankees did unto others. Translation: Big Papi needs to shut up and play baseball.

But for the most part, the players like and respect each other. Gone are antagonists Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Roger Clemens. Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jeter bonded during their time playing together for Team USA in February’s World Baseball Classic. The animosity of Yankees and Red Sox fans towards players and towards each other, however, is unparalleled in major league baseball. It has spilled over outside of the ballparks, where name calling, fights and more heinous crimes have taken place as a result of ill feelings between the fans/cities.

The Fenway faithful are sure to be loud and rude this weekend, just as Yankees fans will be when the teams meet at the Stadium on May 4 and 5. They won’t have Alex Rodriguez to boo, but Derek Jeter will be there, and Mark Teixeira will receive his share of hate for not choosing Boston as his free agent home.

Probable Pitchers

Friday (7:05 ET, YES): Joba Chamberlain vs. Jon Lester
Saturday (3:40 ET, FOX): A.J. Burnett vs. Josh Beckett
Sunday (8:00 ET, ESPN): Andy Pettitte vs. Justin Masterson


Boston: The Red Sox lost starting shortstop Julio Lugo to knee surgery during spring training. Replacement Jed Lowrie went down with a wrist injury after just five regular season games and underwent surgery on Tuesday- which will keep him out until the second half of the season. Former Yankee Nick Green has now stepped into the role.

Back up outfielder Rocco Baldelli was placed on the DL after straining a hamstring, and Red Sox’ second ace, Dice-K was put on the DL April 15 with arm fatigue.

Yankees: Other than Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees are relatively healthy. Hideki Matsui has his day-to-day knee issues, and the Yankees closely monitor Jorge Posada’s surgically-repaired shoulder.

The Yankees and Red Sox have had many incredible meetings, but here are arguably the 10 most memorable moments in the Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry:

10. 2003 ALCS - Game 3

There was plenty of pre-game hype before the third game of the 2003 ALCS. Fenway Park was ready to rock and roll with a pitching match up of Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. It was a rematch of Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS, when the Fenway faithful verbally abused Clemens while the Red Sox pounded him into submission by the 3rd inning. The Sox cruised to a 13-1 win. Clemens was more comfortable in his Yankees skin in ‘03, and Martinez was not the ace he had been four years earlier.

The trouble began in the fourth inning. Hideki Matsui had just delivered a go-ahead ground-rule double that scored Jorge Posada and moved Nick Johnson to third base. Leading 3-2, the Yankees looked for more with Karim Garcia at the plate. Garcia had produced an RBI single in the second inning off Martinez. Pedro would have none of it the second time around. He drilled Garcia in the upper back, inciting a near bench clearer between the two teams. Posada and Martinez in particular exchanged unpleasantries. Order was restored, but not for long.

Manny Ramirez took exception to an inside pitch thrown by Clemens in the bottom half of the inning. As the two barked at each other, the benches emptied. There was some pushing and shoving to go along with the trash talking, but not much else. That is… until Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer went after Martinez, who was standing to the side of the fray. Martinez grabbed Zimmer near the ears and tossed him to the ground like a rag doll, further fueling the incident. David Ortiz quickly got his big body between Martinez and the charging Yankees, and order was restored a second time. Zimmer was contrite afterwards and was sent to the hospital for a check up.

When play resumed, Clemens struck out Ramirez and the Yankees went on to a 4-3 victory and a 2-1 advantage in the series.

9. Carlton Fisk Night at the Fights

The 2003 incident was far from being the first time the two teams had mixed it up. Long time rivals Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson were at the center of a fight on August 1, 1973. The two never liked each other and were very competitive as the top two catchers in the American League. Munson was on third base with Gene Michael in the batter’s box and Fisk behind the plate. Manager Ralph Houk put the squeeze sign on and Munson came charging home. Michael missed the bunt, but Munson never stopped and smashed into Fisk, who held on to the baseball for an out.

Fisk shoved Munson back and the Yankees’ captain retaliated with a punch to the face. Soon all players, managers, and coaches were on the field in the middle of a melee. Both catchers were ejected from the game, which the Red Sox won 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning.

There was never any love lost from the Yankees towards Fisk, and on May 20, 1976 the Red Sox catcher was involved in another play-at-the-plate induced fight. Fisk took exception to a hard slide into home by the Yankees’ resident hot head, Lou Piniella. But Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee would get the worst of the fight. Tired of his mouthing off, Yankees’ third baseman Graig Nettles picked up Lee and slammed him to the ground. Lee wound up with a separated shoulder and the Red Sox’ division hopes were all but done.

8. Jeter makes like Superman

The Red Sox and Yankees have played a number of highly entertaining games during the regular season and the game played on the night of July 1, 2004 was one of them. Young rookie Brad Halsey had the task of taking on Pedro Martinez in front of 55,000+ at the Stadium. Halsey left in the sixth with a 3-2 lead, but the Yankees pen couldn’t hold it. The game would go on until the 13th inning when, down by a run, the Yankees rallied to win it 5-4 on John Flaherty’s RBI single. But the outcome of the game isn’t what people will remember.

The Red Sox had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the 12th inning and Trot Nixon at the plate. Nixon hit a pop up behind third base and Derek Jeter raced over from his position and grabbed it on his back hand. With momentum still carrying him, Jeter dove into the stands, bashing up his face on some seats. He emerged dazed, a bit bloody, and still holding on to the baseball.

7. The House that Ruth Built

The Yankees had played their home games at the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, since 1913. But the Giants’ owners wanted the Yankees out, and the Yankees wanted a place to showcase their star player, Babe Ruth. August 18, 1923 was the day the Yankees finally had a home they could call their own.

60,000 people (originally stated as 74,000), packed the city’s newest architectural phenomenon to see the Bambino face his former team. Yankee Stadium quickly became the “House that Ruth built” when the slugger hit the first home run in the new stadium. The Yankees won 4-1 and went on to win their first World Series in their new home.

6. The Boston Massacre

The summer of 1978 was a miserable one for the Yankees. The season after winning the World Series found the Bombers falling apart as the weather got warmer. A 2-9 stretch in July left the Yankees just five games over .500 and 14.5 games behind the first place Red Sox. A five game winning streak couldn’t help save Billy Martin’s job, and Bob Lemon was soon named the new Yankees skipper. (Dick Howser had a one game interim gig.)

Lemon was the antithesis of Martin; a calm June day compared to an angry April storm. He was just what the doctor- or in this case George Steinbrenner- ordered. The Yankees fought their way back into the race, leading to a showdown in Fenway Park from September 7 to September 10. Just four games separated the two teams.

The Yankees came out throwing haymakers in round one and crushed the Red Sox 15-3. Starter Catfish Hunter had to leave the game after three innings, but Ken Clay may have thrown the game of his life, going the rest of the way for the win.

The second game of the series looked like a mirror image of the first. Reggie Jackson’s 3-run home run in a six run second inning blew the game open early and the Yankees cruised to a 13-2 win. Jim Beattie came within one out of a complete game shutout.

Red Sox fans must have been relieved when game 3 was scoreless after three innings, but the Yankees hammered Dennis Eckersley for seven runs in the fourth inning. Ron Guidry’s incredible season continued with a 2-hit complete game shutout.

The Red Sox looked to rookie Bobby Sprowl to salvage the final game of the series. The Yankees countered with Ed Figueroa, who was having the best season of his career. Sprowl wouldn’t make it out of the first inning. He walked four batters and was charged with three runs in just two-thirds of an inning. The Yankees banged out 18 hits and swept the series with a 7-4 victory.

The Yankees outscored the Red Sox 42-9, outhit them 67-21, and moved into a tie for first place.

5. Dave Righetti’s No-Hitter

David Righetti was having a fine season for the Yankees in 1983 and was disappointed about not being named to the American League All-Star team. 41,077 fans, as well as the birthday boy George Steinbrenner, sat in sweltering heat as Righetti took the mound against the Red Sox on July 4. Disappointment aside, Righetti would pitch the game of his life.

Leading 4-0 in the ninth inning, Righetti walked the leadoff hitter before retiring two straight batters on ground outs. It set up a showdown between Righetti and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. Righetti struck out Boggs swinging to complete the no-hitter and exhaustedly collapsed into catcher Butch Wynegar’s arms. With no All-Star game to attend the next day, Righetti headed to Atlantic City with teammate Graig Nettles for some R & R.

4. Joe D.’s Timely Return

Joe DiMaggio had injured his heel during the 1948 season and it kept him out the following year until the last three games in June. He returned for a three game series with the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The Sox trailed the Yankees by five games for the American League lead. It would be eight games by the time the Yankees left town.

DiMaggio looked like he hadn’t missed any time at all. He hit four home runs and drove in nine runs to lead the Yankees to 5-4, 9-7, and 6-3 victories. The wins were crucial as the Yankees would beat Boston out for the pennant by merely one game.

3. Aaron “Bleepin’” Boone

The Yankees were badly in need of a third baseman midway through the 2003 season. So they traded prospects Brandon Claussen and Charlie Manning plus cash to the Cincinnati Reds for Aaron Boone. The returns were decent. 6 home runs and 31 RBI in 54 regular season games. But Boone fell into a 6-31 slump in the post-season. But all of that would change with one swing of the bat.

The Yankees and Red Sox were in the Bronx for the 7th and final game of the 2003 ALCS. Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens were once again matched up. With so much on the line, there would be no repeat of the game 3 antics. The Sox jumped on Clemens early and knocked him out of the game in the fourth inning. Trailing 4-0, the Yankees chipped away as Mike Mussina held the Red Sox in check.

Jason Giambi hit solo home runs off Martinez in the 5th and 7th innings to cut the lead in half. But in the top of the eighth, new pitcher David
was greeted with a seemingly back breaking solo home run off the bat of David Ortiz. The Yankees were down 5-2 with just six outs to go.

Martinez retired the leadoff hitter to start the bottom of the eighth, but Derek Jeter doubled and scored on Bernie Williams’ single to cut the lead to 5-3. With the Red Sox bullpen ready to go, Hideki Matsui ripped a ground-rule double to right to move Williams to third. Manager Grady Little came out and had a conversation that would later be hotly debated. Despite having Alan Embree and Mike Timlin ready in the pen, Little felt Martinez was still his best pitcher. Jorge Posada’s bloop 2-run double to center tied the game and provided months of talk radio fodder for second guessers. Timlin would eventually get Alfonso Soriano to ground out with the bases loaded and push the game into extra innings.

Mariano Rivera made 2 or 3-inning appearances the norm as a set up man back in 1996, but the Yankees tried not to use their closer for much more than five-out saves in 2003. Rivera would go above and beyond in game 7 though, throwing three scoreless innings. The Yankees knew they couldn’t send Mo out there for a fourth inning. A hero was needed. It would only take one pitch.

Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield delivered to Boone, who went from series afterthought to series hero with one swing. The ball landed in the left field seats as Boone trotted towards first base, his arms extended at his sides. The Curse of the Bambino continued.

2. Reverse the Curse

It was hard to imagine, but the Yankees and Red Sox met in 2004 for the second straight year with a World Series trip on the line. But unlike the prior year, this series seemed to be over before it began. The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead in games, with a 19-8 blowout in game 3 that appeared to crush the Red Sox. But not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

The Yankees had a 4-3 lead in the 9th inning of game 4, but Mariano Rivera walked leadoff hitter Kevin Millar. Pinch-runner Dave Roberts quickly stole second and scored the tying run on a Bill Mueller single. The Red Sox would win in 12 on a walkoff 2-run home run by David Ortiz off of Paul Quantrill.

A bad bounce would help the Red Sox win game 5. The Red Sox rallied against Tom Gordon and Rivera in the eighth to tie the game at 4-4. In the 9th with Ruben Sierra aboard, Tony Clark hit a drive to deep center field that could have changed the course of the game. But, Clark’s ball bounced over the outfield fence for a ground-rule double and Sierra had to stop at third. Keith Foulke retired light hitting Miguel Cairo on a pop-up to end the threat.

With the game in the 14th inning, Estaban Loaiza was in for his third inning of work. It was an up and down inning. He struck out Mark Bellhorn, then walked Johnny Damon. He struck out Orlando Cabrera, but walked Manny Ramirez. Despite having walked two in the inning already, perhaps Loaiza should have walked the next batter, too. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Loaiza pitched to David Ortiz, who delivered a game-winning single to center field. The ALCS lead was suddenly 3 games to 2.

Game 6 was back in Yankee Stadium and was the infamous bloody sock (or ketchup, depending on whom you believe) game. Curt Schilling hobbled his way through seven innings and outpitched Jon Lieber in a 4-2 Red Sox win. The series was all tied up with game 7 in NY, just like in 2003. That’s where the similarity ended.

Kevin Brown told Joe Torre he was ready to go in the series finale, but Brown was lying through his teeth. He got pounded and didn’t make it past the second inning. The Red Sox finished off the humiliation with a 10-3 pasting in front of a stunned crowd. They would sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, ending The Curse of the Bambino forever.

1. Bucky “F*ckin’” Dent

The Yankees’ remarkable 1978 comeback wasn’t quite enough to get the job done. A 163rd game had to be played between the Yankees and Red Sox to determine the AL East winner. The Yankees sent ace Ron Guidry to the Fenway mound against Mike Torrez, a hero on the 1977 Yankees. Torrez breezed through the first six innings and the Yankees trailed 2-0 entering the 7th.

Chris Chambliss and Roy White opened the 7th with back-to-back singles. Bucky Dent was due up. The Yankees shortstop was hitting just .243 and had been pinch-hit for many times in big situations. But with no infielders left on the bench, manager Bob Lemon had no choice but to stick with him. Dent nearly caused Lemon to changed his mind when he fouled a ball off his foot and was severely hobbled.

During the time out, on-deck hitter Mickey Rivers noticed a crack in Dent’s bat and gave him one of his own. Destiny was then ready to intervene. Back in the box, Dent swung at Torrez’s next delivery, sending it into the netting along the top of the Green Monster. Left fielder Carl Yastrzemski’s knees buckled and his body slumped against the Monster as he saw his dreams begin to fade.

The Yankees would add to add to their lead with an RBI double by Thurman Munson, and a Reggie Jackson home run in the eighth. Leading 5-2, it was up to Goose Gossage to close it out. But as any Yankee fan old enough to remember knows, Gossage made nothing easy in 1978. He allowed two runs in the eighth, and if not for an incredible play by Lou Piniella, he might have put the Yankees back in a hole.

Up 5-4 in the 9th, Gossage issued a one-out walk to Rick Burleson. Second baseman Jerry Remy lined a pitch to right field that Piniella lost in the sun. He extended his arms out in a defensive/”where’s the ball?” posture and found it at the last moment. It dropped in for a single, but Burleson held up thinking Piniella might catch the ball, and could only advance to second base. Had he gone right off the bat, the Red Sox probably would have tied the score when Jim Rice flied to left field for the second out. Instead, Burleson moved to third and set up a showdown between Gossage and Yaz.

The 39-year-old outfielder couldn’t catch up with a Gossage fastball and popped the ball up near third base. Graig Nettles settled under it and put it away with an on-the-shoulder catch to seal the victory. The Yankees would go on to capture their 22nd World Series title.

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