With only a month-and-a-half to go in baseball’s regular season, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are still jockeying for position in the AL East with the Yanks now leading their rivals by a half-game. Since many believe that whichever teams loses the dicision, will get into the playoffs anyway via the wild card spot, given the nearest competitor is a full nine games back. So, with both teams most likely going to the playoffs, should the race for the AL East crown be all that hyped up?
I admit that since the advent of the wild card in 1995, life has been a little less stressful knowing that if the Red Sox couldn’t catch the Yankees, they’d have something else to fall back on. It’s not the pre-wild card era where if your team made it into the League Championship Series or, better yet, the World Series, then this was your team’s chance – go big or go home.
The wild card may seem to make any race in the AL East (or any division for that matter) somewhat anticlimactic. But let’s not forget that since 1995, the Red Sox and Yankees have made the playoffs in the same year eight different times, meeting each other three of those times, none of which lacked any excitement whatsoever.
If this season’s division race isn’t exciting enough for fans (considering how many lead changes there have been, why wouldn’t it?) then fans of both teams can only hope for a playoff meeting between the two hated rivals. The Yankees would love nothing more than to avenge their historical and infamous collapse in 2004 while the Red Sox just want to continue the momentum swing.
Remember October 1999 when Chuck Knoblauch of the Yankees made the phantom tag on Boston’s Jose Offerman and everyone in Fenway Park lost it by throwing beer bottles onto the field? It got so bad that the Yankees players had to hide in the dugout. Aside from that and shelling former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens in Game 3, the series was one to forget for the Red Sox as they lost in five games, being forced to ultimately watch the Yankees capture their second-straight World Series crown.
But then, there was 2003 when the age-old rivalry finally turned a corner and felt like a legitimate rivalry. The two teams battled it out for the full seven games (but not before a bench-clearing brawl in Game 3 in Boston) when an unlikely hero Aaron Boone hit a home run that sent the Yankees to the World Series. However, what I like to believe at least, the Yankees were so burnt out from the Red Sox series that they just ran out of gas, falling to the Florida Marlins.
Then, of course, there’s 2004, which clearly needs no explanation regardless which team you support. As exciting as the playoffs are between the rivals, the regular season certainly has its share of excitement. Let’s not forget during the 2004 season when, in July at a game at Fenway Park, Bronson Arroyo plunked Alex Rodriguez on the back, which led to some words and the intervention of catcher Jason Varitek and then the rest was history. Players were ejected, some blood was even shed and the Red Sox came back to win the game on a dramatic Bill Mueller home run off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth.
Although there haven’t been any bench-clearings between the two teams this season, the matchups are ideal nearing the final stretch of the regular season. However, besides determining home-field advantage, what does the AL East race when the second-place team, barring a major disaster, is certain to grab the wild card spot?
I guess we’ll have to wait until the playoffs, assuming both teams win their respective opening-round series to meet in the ALCS. The matchups are great and so hard to put one above the other. You have Gonzalez vs. Teixeira, Pedroia vs. Cano, Youkilis vs. A-Rod, the deep rotation of the Red Sox vs. the deep rotation of the Yankees. Something’s gotta give and I just want to see the Red Sox and Yankees battle it out in October not necessarily because it’s the best thing for baseball but because it’s just been way too long.