In the end, not even a distraction like Johnny Damon and the condescending “Tsk, tsk” Red Sox fans are getting today from some for daring to boo the idiot (egads!) can twist us from the game itself.
On the short list of candidates, what would you say has been the best game of the 2006 season thus far?
It’s safe to say many would offer up last night’s 7-3 win by Boston over New York, which not so coincidentally was the first chapter of Red Sox-Yankees this season. Just 18 more to go. Or, if you’re as confident as Boston manager Terry Francona, “probably more.”
This was, of course, to be Damon’s night, his grand entrance in pinstripes on the turf he once famously called his own. Instead, Damon was jeered heartily, couldn’t buy a hit, and was forced to watch David Ortiz do something he had seen so many times before: Take over, and carry his teammates to victory.
Who's bigger than Big Papi? If you listened these last few days, you might think Damon was in his time as a Red Sox icon, might have been led to believe the hairy dude actually did change water into wine. Sorry. Ortiz overwhelmed Damon in popularity when his former bearded self was here, and he continues to do the same with him on the enemy's sidelines. Damon was a nice player, then he grew the beard and morphed into a marketer's dream in addition to it all, a dreamboat for the ladies. But Ortiz doubles the population. He makes the guys swoon even more. If we had to rank most popular players from the 2004 team, there's no argument who's No. 1, the same guy who is No. 1 in 2006.
The Yankees, and Mike Myers, the man brought in to face Ortiz on a regular basis, learned again why last night.
Tonight, thanks to a schedule maker apparently on Red Bull, the Sox and Yanks wrap up this series before meeting three more times in New York next week, then three more times at Fenway Park in a fortnight. The news of gas prices being out of control apparently has yet to hit the front offices of Major League Baseball.
Josh Beckett, coming off his worst start of the season -- a superlative Sox fans hope remains at season's end for last week's disaster -- faces the Yankees tonight, conjuring nightmares for Joe Torre's boys. It was Beckett, not long after Aaron Boone broke the hearts of Red Sox fans everywhere three years ago, who tore them out of the Yankees, flummoxing them in the World Series and leading his Marlins to the title.
"As long as he is still healthy, with that great fastball," Jason Giambi said, "he's one of those guys who can go out there and be 20-1, 20-3. He's got that kind of potential."
Of course, some Sox fans had Beckett tabbed for such a lofty record after his first three outings, cruising to wins over Texas, Toronto, and Seattle. But ever since the seventh inning at Toronto a week and a half ago, trouble has plagued Beckett, injecting at least an ounce of concern.
In many ways, Beckett has a lot to prove tonight. He needs to show that last week was a hiccup. He needs to show that he can handle this rivalry -- which he can -- without getting too emotionally charged into it -- which is the question. He needs to show that 2003 wasn't a flash in the pan success at 23 against New York, that he really might have this team's number, in which case, all bets are off as far as who's the favorite in the AL East.
Beckett is one of the more promising young pitchers in the game, but let's not kid ourselves. At least part of the reason he's here is because of what he accomplished in 2003 against the Yankees. The history is there, and now he gets his first taste of New York within the confines of the rivalry, the likes of which he only experienced in Miami with that other team from Florida, the Devil Rays.
I'm thinking Beckett might find this a wee bit different.
Damon? He'll be in there tonight again, and will be booed once more by Red Sox Nation. But he'll take a back seat in the spotlight as Beckett tries to harness the aura of being the center of attention on one of the biggest stages in sports. If Red Sox fans enjoyed spoiling Damon's return, they'd like nothing better to present New York with another Yankee-killer, just one night after the most clutch player in the game re-introduced himself to a team that has all but thrown its hands up at getting him out.