The Yankees are coming. And this time ... uh, well ...
It’s not exactly going out on a limb to suggest that the only reason we have the unbalanced schedule in Major League Baseball is to see the Red Sox and Yankees 19 times a season. Cubs-Cardinals, Dodgers-Giants, 19 games apiece, fine. But let’s not kid ourselves that the primary driving force behind this nuisance is the best rivalry in sports, and all the TV ratings and dollar signs that accompany it.
There is a deterrent, however, and I do not care how in support of the unbalanced slate you might be. I dare you to find any attraction in the Red Sox having to face the Orioles and Devil Rays a combined 38 times this season. That’s just about one-quarter of Boston’s schedule committed to teams that don’t exactly carry an intriguing reputation into Fenway Park.
Yes, they might be more potential layup wins than facing New York or Toronto, but there’s a reason we look forward to these Red Sox-Yankees games. They are inevitably always among the best handful of contests of the season. Win or lose. But 19? Unnecessary. Sometimes too much of a good thing is too much. Absence sometimes makes the heart grow fonder. Switching cliché machine to off.
I find it funny the very reason baseball argues why interleague play is so great, allowing fans the ability to see players they might not normally get the opportunity to, is the very same reason why the unbalanced schedule is such a nuisance. Fans in Boston get to see Bobby Abreu and the Phillies as many times this season as Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels, the exciting, upstart Tigers, and the defending World Champion White Sox, who don’t even invade Fenway until September.
But we do get the Devil Rays for four more starting Thursday. Are you psyched?
Even this week’s three-game set with the Yankees is lacking a certain bit of enticement, is it not? That, of course, is partly compounded by the fact that tonight will be the fifth time in the last 22 days they have gotten together.
"How many topics can you bring up?" Derek Jeter asked the New York Daily News yesterday. "We play them like 20 times (actually 19). Who do we face? I don't even know. It's lost its luster of stories going in, except for what happens in the games. Everybody's played there. Johnny (Damon) has been back. Everybody's pitched there. There's nothing left."
Anthony McCarron follows that quote from Jeter by reasoning, “Actually, the captain's not quite right about that. One story line that might bear watching is Melky Cabrera's return to Fenway, where he stumbled badly last season and the Yankees risked hurting his psyche.”
OK, Melky Cabrera? Seriously? Are we this desperate for hype?
Cabrera will play tonight with Gary Sheffield still nursing a sore right wrist, although the right fielder could return soon. Hideki Matsui might be gone for the year with a broken wrist. Shawn Chacon might be headed to the disabled list. Carl Pavano continues his best impersonation of Andy Ashby, a multimillionaire free agent who has thrown more pitches in rehab than in games. Randy Johnson looks like he’s 20 years younger. That, by the way, is not a good thing for the lefty, who as a youngster with the Expos and Mariners possessed less control than Rick Vaughn in spring training.
Are the Yankees a mess? No, and any premature burying of them in the past based on early season struggles has come back to haunt those (hello) who dared utter such a theory in May. If Johnson continues to struggle, there could be another Aaron Small down the road. The next Chacon is just a phone call away. Nobody is dead and buried in the latter half of May unless you’re from Kansas City, Florida, or Pittsburgh, which had their funerals back on the day pitchers and catchers reported.
But they are a bit vulnerable coming in, fresh off what should have been a three-game sweep by the New York Mets if Willie Randolph hadn’t turned in his best impersonation of Grady Little in refusing to lift a completely ineffective Billy Wagner in the ninth inning Saturday. Roger Rubin of the Daily News writes, “The next three days may be the Red Sox's best chance to put some distance between themselves and the Yankees in the AL East standings.”
True. But again, it’s May 22. The sky is falling angle just doesn’t work at this stage.
When the final out is recorded Wednesday night, it will mark the end of the seventh meeting between these two teams with another four more in the Bronx a fortnight away. There will likely be more than one story line created within that time, as Jeter points out, based on what happens in the games themselves. What a novel concept.
After all, the hype machine has gotten a wee bit out of control, wouldn’t you say? Hence why two weeks ago we had the rather innocent suggestion of a New York columnist that the Yanks pitch David Ortiz inside spiral out of control to the point of hysteria, with the headline screaming, “Drop Papi”. They get together so much these days that there’s the seemingly imminent need for a surrounding theme to each game.
David Damiani wrote recently in The American Enterprise, “Yankees/Red Sox coverage early in the season encapsulates almost everything that’s wrong with the mainstream baseball press: self-indulgence, hysteria, an inability to focus on more than a handful of talking points, and a contemptuous confidence that repetition will never fail to entertain its audience.”
There’s that unbalanced schedule for you. Let the Melky hype train commence.