“It’s a big plus for marketing, fan interest and TV ratings in Boston,” Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette told the Globe on Jan. 17, 1996, the day before Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously to begin interleague play in the 1997 season. “It gives an opportunity for the fans in Boston to see the top players in the NL East.”
That was a big deal then, back when Boston.com answered questions like “What’s a ‘Keyword?’” and ran an online betting parlor. As we begin a 23rd season of interleague play at Fenway Park, it simply isn’t, though Colorado offers a matchup with more intrigue than the average one.
For those of us without a Yanks-Mets, a Dodgers-Angels, a Giants-A’s, or a Sox-Cubs, interleague’s lacking for intrigue these days, though around here it’s at least a boon for the Red Sox — they’re 60-23 (.723!) the last four-plus years. We can argue about the point when the novelty truly wore off, but it seems pretty clear to me: 2013, when Houston shifted to the AL to give both leagues 15 teams and force interleague series to be interspersed throughout the year.
Yet despite that, there have been a number of Red Sox moments that stick in my brain, at least in part, because they were interleague games. The Trot Nixon grand slam in Philadelphia, when the Sox scored six in the ninth to win in the midst of one of Manny Ramirez’s “questionable absences.” The 14-run first inning and 25-8 win against the 2003 Marlins, who’d somewhat inexplicably win the World Series that year. (That clip’s got Sean McDonough and the Coke bottles on the Monster … what a time it was to be alive.)
Rick Porcello’s 3-run double off Max Scherzer. Daniel Nava’s debut pitch grand slam. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s near no-hitter. Two Josh Beckett home runs. (An alarming number of these in Philadelphia, as it happens.)
And, in a topical turn, the greatest Dustin Pedroia night we ever got. June 24, 2010: A 5-for-5, 3-homer (including a 10th-inning game winner) masterpiece against the Rockies at Coors Field. The next night, Pedroia broke his foot, the first extended injury absence in a career that will ultimately be defined by them.
There’ve been two triennial meetings with Colorado since then, but this will be the first since 2007 where Colorado poses a threat. The Rockies’ season mirrors Boston’s in a lot of ways. Coming off a playoff berth, Colorado opened 3-12, the Mile High club averaging fewer than three runs per game to open the year. All-World third baseman Nolan Arenado finally homered the next day, in which young ace German Marquez nearly no-hit San Francisco, and the climb was underway.
The Rox have won 16 of 25, with Arenado (1.171 OPS, 10 homers during the run), Charlie Blackmon (1.135, 20 extra-base hits), and Trevor Story (.904) doing exactly what you’d expect from the top of the Colorado lineup. David Dahl is building off a hot September as well, making hard contact when he finds it and striking out in close to a third of his plate appearances when he doesn’t. Watching the resurgent Chris Sale take them on Tuesday night for the first time in any of their careers figures to be must-see TV, with Colorado lefty Kyle Freeland — who has an 8.47 ERA in his last three starts, allowing six homers — perhaps a remedy both for Boston’s problems with southpaws and Sale’s continued lack of run support.
The Colorado pitching staff, while we’re on the subject, is also what you’d expect. Outside of the on-the-rise Marquez, whom the Sox get on Wednesday and who only has a 5.30 ERA (23 hits in 18 2/3 innings) in his last three starts, the numbers are ugly — the fifth-worst batting average and slugging allowed this season, fourth-worst ERA at 5.06, third-worst hard-hit rate, second-worst reliever strikeout rate.
They don’t figure to be near the test that the Astros will pose this weekend, especially considering the baggage Houston carries from October’s ALCS, but Colorado features multiple superstars making a rare appearance in Boston.
It’s the sort of midweek matchup that’d get 1996 Dan Duquette’s blood pumping, at the very least.