These are the games the Red Sox and Yankees have had circled on their calendars since the beginning of the season, or maybe the beginning of their careers – no, make that since they were born. The series is an epic and pivotal – no, make that epically pivotal – clash worthy of Ali-Frazier III, the Spanish Civil War, or two helmets colliding before a Monday Night Football game.
That might be how fans view things, and it’s probably (OK, in a lot cases, definitely) how the media presents them. But the hyping of Red Sox-Yankees never applies to the players on the field or managers in the dugout.
Before the Red Sox played the Rays last night, a New York reporter asked Terry Francona about how the upcoming series would affect the way he used his bullpen.
“We’re just going to try to win the game tonight,” Francona said. “I would never in my life sacrifice a game in another town so we could beat the Yankees. I promise you.”
Meanwhile, as Tyler Kepner explains, Joe Girardi went all out last night in Toronto. He used his top bullpen arms to secure critical outs, playing for today and worrying about tomorrow later, even if today is 20,000 empty seats in Toronto and tomorrow is Sox-Yanks. In Kepner’s game story, Girardi makes his case.
“It’s business; you can’t get higher for one game than another,” he said. “You have to win that night because you never know what’s going to happen the next day.”
After the Sox lost last night, a reporter asked Mike Lowell about how the Rays sometimes talk about circling Sox games on the calendar, if he senses a heightened competitiveness from Tampa Bay. Lowell took the notion almost as insult.
“They should circle all of them, then,” Lowell said. “You shouldn’t be circling dates to get yourself ready. What are you doing, un-circling the ones for the teams that are bad? I don’t think you should play up to your competition.”
(To be fair to the Rays, the reporter’s characterization may have been putting words in their mouth. Then again, after he beat the Sox last night, David Price did say, “There’s a different feel in our locker room when we play the Red Sox or Yankees.”)
The point isn’t that the teams overlook these games. If the Sox get swept, they’ll be 6 ½ games back. The Red Sox and Yankees know what these games mean, and they’re going to try to win them with every drop of effort they have.
The point is, they’re smart enough to know that sacrificing some games in an effort to win others against rivals in the division is a good way to not contend for the division at all.