Yankees cherish rivalry with Red Sox, playing at Fenway

September 16, 2013 - 8:53 am
The Yankees won't always admit it, but the bad guys from New York relish their trips to Fenway Park. In the midst of a 162-game, seemingly never-ending season, Fenway Park provides endless intensity from its 37,400 rabid fans. "What makes it so special?" asked Derek Jeter. "It's a good atmosphere. It's fun to play here. We played a lot games here over the years, so it's something as a player you look forward to because the fans get into it." Even Boston's -- and these days, baseball's -- resident villian, Alex Rodriguez, is enamored with the Hub. "I love competing against the Red Sox," said Rodriguez. "A lot of people forget that I almost came here. I conceded a lot to come here, but the [players' association] took it down. Fenway is a great stadium. I visited Harvard again last year, too, and took my two daughters. I love Boston, it's a great town." "Just being able to play here at Fenway is amazing," said Mariano Rivera. "I love it. I've been playing here for so many years and I look forward to coming here to play." Even players no longer sporting the Yankee pinstripes still recall their favorite Fenway memories. "It's the best rivalry in any sport," said former Yankee and current Indian Jason Giambi. "You feel like you're in a heavyweight fight every time you play. You're mentally, physically exhausted after every game. Not only is it important to the team, but it's important to the fans and media, too. It's got a lot of hype to it. It's fun to be part of, and it challenges you as a baseball player. I definitely miss it." A NIGHTMARE AND A DREAM COME TRUE While there are four Yankees still on the roster from the 2003 team, the Sox only feature David Ortiz from their 2004 roster. "Papi is the heart and soul of that team," said Rodriguez. "I've known Papi 20 years. He's an amazing story. He's got better with age." The relationship between Ortiz and Rodriguez dates back to their time coming up with the Mariners, the original franchise for both players. A-Rod marveled at the way Ortiz led the Sox to the team's first World Series, as well as how he has continued to improve every season. "Always," said Rodriguez. "He's always been a hard worker. I'm really proud of the way he keeps getting better." The Yankees and Sox have met three times in the postseason, with unforgettable matchups in 2003 and 2004. "2003 was just unbelievable," said Giambi, "and the next year they came back to beat us. Those will always go down as two incredible series in baseball history." Aaron Boone hit the game-winning home run to clinch the pennant in 2003, a devastating end to what looked to be the year the Sox would win their first World Series since 1918. "That very well may have been the height of the rivalry," said Boone. "To have a small place in its history is humbling." For the longest time, Boone says he did not want to be associated with his series-winning homer off Tim Wakefield. "I tried to distance myself from that hit," admitted Boone. "Part of that was because my lasting memory of that year was not winning the World Series. That's when I went home with the disappointment, the frustration of coming so close but not being able to win. Obviously, I got hurt in the offseason. Then, going to new teams, that's what everyone wanted to talk about, so I wanted to distance myself from it." Giambi recalled that he wasn't surprised that the Sox were able to recover and defeat the Yanks the following year. "You know, that's baseball," said Giambi. "That's what makes it so great. You can never count yourself out. Once you win one game, then you've just got to win the next day. It sounds so daunting when you're down 3-0, it seems impossible. But that's the resiliency of that Red Sox team." Alfonso Soriano, who was traded in February of 2004 in the deal that netted A-Rod, could not believe what he was watching. "It was hard to believe," said Soriano. "It's hard to believe they lose, especially when the Yankees, they go up 3-0." Giambi understood that the inevitable was inevitably due to occur. "You knew it was going to take something special like that for the Red Sox to win the World Series." A REMARKABLE TURNAROUND Count the reigning AL East-champion Yankees among those who are especially impressed with Boston's escape from the bottom of the division to the best team in the American League. In just one season, after sitting at 69 wins only a year ago, the Sox have performed one of the game's greatest single-season turnarounds. '€œThey'€™re healthy,'€ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. '€œThat'€™s the biggest difference. They had to deal with a lot of injuries last year to all parts of their club. And it wasn'€™t like, when you looked at them offensively, you had guys who had forgotten how to hit. It was that you had guys who were not in the lineup.'€ Beyond the injury woes, last year'€™s Sox unraveled in front of overmatched manager Bobby Valentine. '€œWhen you look at what happened last year, when you have a lot of negatives, it can build,'€ Vernon Wells said. '€œYour focus becomes more about the bad things that are going on and not the team. That translates into bad baseball.'€ '€œTheir clubhouse has changed,'€ said Wells. '€œThey'€™re relaxed and having a good time, and when you do that, you'€™re able to play good baseball. I definitely think Jonny Gomes helps. Watching him over the years and getting to know him a little bit, he'€™s a vibrant personality. Mike Napoli'€™s the same way. You bring in some added pieces and you bring in a new breath. Last year, with all the drama that went on with that ball club, starting on top with the manager, it became a toxic environment. A change needed to be made, and it'€™s worked out.'€ Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay spent time with the Red Sox this season during spring training. He immediately noticed he was part of a positive, winning environment. '€œI don'€™t think it'€™s even a similar team from last year,'€ said Overbay. '€œThe biggest thing is John Farrell. Being there for spring training and talking about what they went through last year, it'€™s now completely different.'€ A-Rod is not at all surprised that the Sox are the best team in baseball and an early favorite to win the World Series. "Let me tell you something," said Rodriguez. "They've got a very good team over there. They're a team that the most important pitch is strike one. They don't chase, they're extremely disciplined. They make pitchers work very hard, and they don't make any easy outs. They're a handful right now." DESTINED TO MEET AGAIN The Red Sox and Yankees haven't met in the postseason since 2004, a fact that could change if New York captures the final wild card and wins the play-in game. "There's so many different rounds," Jeter explained. "Before it was you couldn't play a team from your division in the first round. A lot of factors go into it, and it's a little different now, so you never know what's going to happen. It's not surprising, it's just too difficult for two teams in the same division to actually play in the playoffs. "Both teams have been pretty competitive since my time here," Jeter continued. "I've played a lot of games here, and outside of that cramped clubhouse, we always look forward to coming here." The Sox recognized Rivera for his contributions to baseball in a ceremony before Sunday's game. "When I think of Mariano [at Fenway]," said Rodriguez, "I think of Magic [Johnson] at the Garden. I think of Larry [Bird] at the Forum." There is a mutual respect between Rivera and the Red Sox fans, even if he and his teammates are often showered in boos from the Fenway faithful. "When [the fans] come here to boo us," said Rivera, "we don't expect nothing better than that. We come here to play the game that we love and we come here to play hard, but the respect that I have been getting, that's what I appreciate." Rivera admitted, as such a proud Yankee and favorite of the late George Steinbrenner, he feels uncomfortable to be recognized at Fenway Park by his team's rival. "It's different," said Rivera, pausing before answering. "It's different, let's put it that way. But again, I'm humbled and honored, and appreciate what they do." Though the greatest closer in the history of baseball appreciated the gifts, he didn't need an award to share his soft spot for Boston. "Not one moment sticks out," said Rivera. "It's just everything. The victories, the defeats, everything. To me, playing here is a blessing."