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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Red Sox-Yankees 'Rivalry' is D.O.A

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AP Photo

All right. Red Sox-Yankees this weekend.

(Checks Boston schedule for the next time the Rays are in town.)

Like all historic conflicts throughout sports history, the rivalry isn’t dead, only dormant, more marketing tool than truth these days. But even that department has to be troubled having to sell this weekend’s series between the third-place Yankees and fourth-place Red Sox in the Bronx.

Oh, wait, Jeter turned 40. Never mind.

As far as the rivalry is concerned, there’s nothing here, only glimmering reminders of the intensity and dislike that was not so long ago, the last time it rose from its hibernation and matured into appointment viewing every time the two teams met. “If only the Yankees could trade for David Price, pronto, and have him renew hostilities with David Ortiz, in the name of creating some intrigue for The Rivalry,” writes the Daily News’ John Harper.

Even in New York, where the rivalry was the darling of back pages throughout Manhattan, there’s acknowledgement that it is sleeping and that the real clash in the AL East is between the Red Sox and Rays, not the Red Sox and Yankees, even if Boston and Tampa may be holding the load in the division basement.

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"I think there'll be a pretty good buzz," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told New York reporters. "[It's] unusual only playing them a few times to this point. We haven't seen them in a while. I always think there's a buzz when they come in."

But the only "buzz" worth even mentioning between the two teams this season, in which Boston has lost five of seven to New York, came when Yankees starter Michael Pineda was ejected - and summarily suspended - for his blatant use of pine tar at Fenway on April 23, less than two weeks after the Red Sox suspected - but never accused - the Yankee righty of using the substance during a strong performance (six innings, one earned run, seven strikeouts) at Yankee Stadium. Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Boston with his new New York mates, and the moment remains as memorable as last Tuesday's lunch. The sometimes-suffocating atmosphere of this matchup had indeed been relived, an indiscernible air of complacency in its place.

The standings play a part; New York is three games in back of the Blue Jays, the Sox five games behind the Yankees, as does the fact that the Red Sox lead the Yankees 3-1 in recent World Series victories. A turnover factor is also in play, with the emerging characters not quite yet having made their marks on the rivalry. But as the middling Yankees find themselves in the mix, one game out of a wild card spot, the 36-43 Red Sox are seemingly already looking ahead to 2015, with deadline trades and the summon of youth on the horizon.

Most of all, the rest of the AL East finally got better. First the Rays during the latter part of last decade; now the Blue Jays and Orioles, first and second in the division, respectively. The East is no longer dominated by two big-market clubs, but what’s better for baseball is asphyxiating the Red Sox-Yankees storyline.

"With the parity in the division, [whenever] two teams are playing in our division, it takes on huge importance, where maybe it wasn't always that way," Girardi said.

Saturday night’s Jon Lester (8-7)-Masahiro Tanaka (11-2) showdown will be a highlight, no doubt. But Brandon Workman (1-0) vs. Vidal Nuno (1-4) on Friday, and John Lackey (8-5) vs. Chase Whitley (3-1) doesn’t exactly scream “aces” from a Yankees perspective, though the way the Red Sox bats have carried themselves this season, Nuno and Whitley will probably inducted into Monument Park by the end of the weekend. In seven games, the Red Sox are hitting only .215 against Yankee pitching, though they have hit seven home runs in those games, 11 percent of their total season output (59).

With people immersed in the World Cup, the Celtics draft, Wimbledon (raises hand), and, admittedly to a much lesser extent, the Bruins’ approach to the NHL Draft, the Sox and Yanks have been put on the back burner of our collective sports psyches. With the Patriots opening training camp in just about a month, the Red Sox’ time in the spotlight is waning, an afterthought team escaping wrath thanks to the results of a year ago. Heck, there isn’t even Pineda’s shenanigans to look forward to, with the righty on the shelf until at least August. Forget waking up the damned Bambino, let the poor man sleep until there’s something to look forward to.

The Red Sox and Yankees are playing this weekend? Great.

Sox are in Tampa starting July 25.


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