And so it re-starts the same way it began. The same way it will end, in fact.
The Red Sox and Yankees opened the 2005 baseball season at Yankee Stadium in April. They will close it together the first weekend in October. And they meet again tonight for the fourth series this season, the 10th time overall, both still searching for answers and direction that might lead them both to yet another showdown in the burnt kaleidoscope hue of a Northeastern fall.
The Newark Star Ledger's Ed Price whips out his calculator and concludes that by the end of play in this four-game set Sunday night, a special 6 p.m. start time (ESPYs, people, ESPYs), the Yankees could be in first place, or have fallen 6 1/2 games behind Boston. Either all the bravado and sway that's supposed to come with a $200 million payroll finally achieves its final landing spot, or it hits another low point in a season full of embarrassment.
If you had to bet, go for the latter.
If the Red Sox bring their A-game to Fenway this weekend (and now that Keith Foulke is disabled, that's entirely possible), it will begin their stranglehold on the division and solidify their postseason run. A sweep is entirely possible. Three out of four should be expected out of the Olde Towne Team.
And if that happens, start clearing the calendar for October. You're going to be busy.
Yes, the Yankees come into the series 7-3 in their last 10 games, and the Red Sox are coming off an embarrassing weekend in Baltimore, but the Sox simply have too much more going for them heading into the second half than the Yankees. For all the talk about how what we're seeing right now from the Yankees is what we should have expected out of them all year (over/under on Jason Giambi hits this weekend: four), they are still a ridiculous group of underachievers. Their younger players, not the veterans, are the only reason for their recent resurgence. If not for Ming Wang, where then? If not for Robinson Cano, who then? Tony Womack? Jaret Wright? Recipes for disaster.
Fortunately for New York fans, Wright got hurt, Womack's deficiencies were realized, and Giambi started doing ... something again to fuel his recent resurgence. Unfortunately for New York fans, the last two weeks are as good as it's going to get.
This is Boston's division. The Sox will begin to convince you of that starting tonight in the Fens.
Not coincidentally, this surge will begin with seven at home, where the Sox are 24-14 in 2005 (numbers in the right column inflated by Foulke.) That's just 38 out of 87 games (44 percent) played thus far this year in the confines of the Monster seats, Pesky Pole, and the Ghost of Chris House. Of the remaining 75 games, 43 will be played at Fenway, including a magnificently timed stretch when they play 24 of their final 36 games at home. For a team playing .632 ball in front of the hometown crowd, that screams playoff berth one way or another.
The last time these two teams met head-to-head, the Red Sox did a number on the Yankees, and not just because they took two out of three from them. Going into that series, the Yanks had won 15 of their last 17 games, and turned an eight-game-under-.500 mark into a five-game-over record, just like that. What everyone expected. Michael Kay was at his most obnoxious, and all of Manhattan readied for the Memorial Day weekend massacre.
The Yankees took Game 1 behind Randy Johnson, then suffered an embarrassing 17-1 loss at the hands of Matt Clement and Edgar Renteria, then lost to former teammate David Wells, in one of the five or six times the lefty has decided to show up this season.
Then, perhaps with a hangover of sorts, the Yankees, who had just finished off a tremendous run, lost nine of their next 12 games.
Then they won six in a row.
Then lost six of nine.
Now they are on a 7-3 streak, which if the early returns tell us anything this season, means they're due for a rough stretch. Cue the Boston Red Sox.
Mr. Hyde has nothing on Joe Torre's crew, but it's not like the Red Sox are consistency personified either. There are problems, namely in the bullpen, where Chad Bradford, and -- whether or not it's against the wishes of Johnny Damon -- Curt Schilling have been added to improve an obvious cavity. Soon enough Manny Delcarmen and Jon Papelbon might become young saviors for a Nation that can no longer bear the lefty-lefty combo of John Halama and Alan Embree.
For all the moaning over Kevin Millar (who if not shipped out of town, would do well to get some bench time), Edgar Renteria and Mark Bellhorn, the Sox boast the majors' most dangerous offense, thanks to Manny Ramirez (remember he was "slumping?"), David Ortiz, and Damon. Once Schilling is ready to move from the 'pen, he steps into the rotation. You name a better addition to your team this month than that.
The key to how far the Red Sox can go in the playoffs is obviously Foulke, and whether he can transform disaster into dominance once again. Time will tell on that one.
The key to the Red Sox getting there though is hearing Sheraton, Hilton, and Adam's Mark a whole lot less these next 2 1/2 months. Considering what they have done so far sans Schilling and with a combustible closer, that's a virtual guarantee that we'll see baseball mixed into our October rituals for a third straight year.
We'll be live blogging tonight's game starting some time late this afternoon, right up until the end, so come back and check us out periodically.