Tomase: Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is back on center stage, right where it belongs

John Tomase
June 28, 2018 - 11:39 pm
Jackie Bradley

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

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The last time Red Sox-Yankees mattered this much, David Ortiz was in uniform. The last time Red Sox-Yankees commanded the attention of the baseball universe, Derek Jeter bloodied his uniform. The last time Red Sox-Yankees qualified as a drop-everything-you're-doing-and-watch event, Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez got in each other's uniforms.

That drought has officially ended. When the two clubs square off in Yankee Stadium on Friday night to open a three-game series, baseball's signature rivalry will take center stage.

It has been a long time coming. Not since the glory days of 2003-04 have the two teams been this good simultaneously. They both began play Thursday on pace for 108 wins, one ahead of the Astros in the top-heavy American League. After beating the Astros 4-2 on Thursday, the Red Sox are officially on a 109-win pace.

"For everything we said that we don't pay attention, we do pay attention," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "I know they pay attention, too, and there's other teams that are paying attention."

They're evenly matched to an absurd degree. The Red Sox rank second in the AL in runs; the Yankees are third. The Yankees lead the AL in homers; the Red Sox are second. They're 2-3 in ERA and strikeouts, led by the Yankees. They're 1-2 in slugging and OPS, led by the Red Sox.

Rookie managers left the broadcast booth to make their marks in the dugout, with Cora bringing a looseness and swagger to the Red Sox and Aaron Boone surviving the beast that is New York.

Each added MVP-caliber mashers this winter, with Giancarlo Stanton earning all the headlines, but J.D. Martinez stealing them after a torrid start that has established him as one of the five best hitters in baseball.

Each returns a former MVP runner-up -- Aaron Judge for the Yankees and Mookie Betts for the Red Sox -- and both are making bids for the award again this year.

Both rely on youngsters who are only just beginning to blossom, whether it's Yankees infielders Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, or the Red Sox duo of Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Both feature Cy Young candidates at the top of their rotation (Chris Sale and Luis Severino) and Firemen of the Year candidates at the back of their bullpens (closers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman).

The Red Sox own a slightly better rotation. The Yankees are a little deeper in middle relief. The Red Sox have received more production from the top of their order. The Yankees do more at the bottom.

They've already traded punches, thanks to Joe Kelly and Tyler Austin. They've split their first six meetings, thanks to each club protecting its home field.

They've already ripped off 17-2 stretches, the Red Sox to open the season and the Yankees immediately thereafter. No more than two games have separated them in the standings every day for the last month. They've spent 11 days tied for first place.

"Just think about it," Cora said. "We were 17-2 and then they had their run, 17-2, and here we are. Both teams are good.

"I think both fan bases, they believe in their teams, they like what they see, and they're into it," Cora added. "They made that trade [for Stanton] in the offseason. We signed a few guys here and I think everybody was pleased about how the offseason went and I think the fanbases are pleased with the way the season is going, so everybody is having fun."

Now the real fun starts. These teams meet 13 more times the rest of the season, and one of them is going to end up hosting the wild card game, which would be a travesty to discuss on another day. They finish the season with six games in the final two weeks, including the last series of the year, at Fenway Park.

With both clubs destroying pretty much everyone in their path, tests have been hard to come by. That changes Friday. It's Red Sox-Yankees, just like it used to be.

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