Yankees’ Sweep of Red Sox Brings Buzz Back to Recently Tepid Rivalry

hanley ramirez sox yankees.jpg

Hanley Ramirez has some words for Yankees catcher Brian McCann after Ramirez was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning of the Red Sox’ 8-5 loss to the Yankees on Sunday. Getty Images/Jim Rogash

COMMENTARY

I guess we have to get back to giving a damn about the Yankees again.

Not that we ever totally have ducked into the dugout and ignored the Red Sox’ longstanding and — sigh — unprecedentedly successful enemy, of course. Generations of contentiousness guarantee that our disdain for the pinstriped posers won’t remain dormant for long.

Acknowledging that it has been relatively dormant lately does not take any luster off the history and passion of the rivalry. It’s merely the truth, rendered by the circumstances of the sport and the recent condition of each franchise.

The tension peaks when both teams are contenders and there are real stakes. That hasn’t happened in a surprising number of years.

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The Red Sox and Yankees haven’t finished the regular season within a dozen games of each other in the standings since 2011.

They haven’t finished within six games of each other in the American League East since 2007, when the 97-win eventual-champ Red Sox — perhaps the most unheralded great team in their lore — edged the Yankees by two games for the division title.

They haven’t both made the playoffs in the same season since 2009, which is remarkable given their mutual payroll advantages and the addition of the second wild card in ’12.

If I had to bet my own loot right now, I’d say that streak continues in 2014. The AL East has turned into what the AL Central was a decade ago — a pile-up of fairly interesting and obviously flawed teams.

Fangraphs’ playoffs odds projector remains fairly confident in the Red Sox. I do, too, though the acquisition of a pitcher who actually deserves an “I’m The Ace” t-shirt is imperative for that to happen.

The division race won’t be a slug-fest. It will be a slog-fest, a plodding quest among those five flawed teams to get to the magic victory number — I’m guessing about 90 — that secures the division title and the AL East’s lone playoff berth this year.

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The Orioles will be in it — does anyone remember that they actually won the division by a dozen games last year? Still, the Red Sox should win it, pending the arrival of Cole Hamels or his ilk. But they’re going to have to beat the Yankees in some meaningful games along the way — because they’re probably going to be in it too.

The Yankees are receiving production from older and injury-prone players such as Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, a surprise that is unlikely to be prolonged deep into the season. (Prediction: A-Rod doesn’t make it to 670 homers. Something will derail his strange redemption.)

Their starting rotation is decent, but their real strength is the lights-out Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances combo in the bullpen. And Joe Girardi does have a knack for getting a little more out of his team than the runs scored/runs allowed Pythagorean method suggests.

The Sox? You know the deal. The offense, currently averaging 4.9 runs per game right now, will mash as the weather warms up the bats. (Goodness, Hanley has become Manny, hasn’t he? The fierce swing, the GPS-on-the-fritz defense, the overreaction to inside pitches.) They need to get Mike Napoli going and slide Rusney Castillo into right field. And a Dustin Pedroa hit with runners in scoring position is long overdue. But those are temporary frets. The offense won’t be an issue.

The starting rotation? OK, now there’s an issue. It has been brutal (a collective 5.56 ERA, worst in the majors), and a cynic might note that the season is one-sixth over and the Red Sox still have one-fifth of a rotation (Rick Porcello is fine).

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Or we can look at it this way, my fellow straggling glass-half-fullers. These guys aren’t projected to be awful. They’re projected to be mediocre. And based on the All Things Even Out theory, they’re going to have to have a pretty damn good stretch soon just to get to mediocre.

There was little buzz entering this past weekend’s three-game set between the Sox and Yankees. Some of that was due to a sports weekend that delivered a smorgasbord of appealing options. But some was also due to early-season insouciance regarding the Red Sox’ sputtering start and the relative apathy for the rivalry at the moment.

Sunday night’s game at Fenway drew the smallest crowd of the season. I suspect a significant number of ESPN viewers switched over AMC right around 10 p.m., you know, since there are just two episodes left before the Mad Men finale, if I have that right.

Indifference won’t be a problem the next time the teams meet, a far-off three-game series at Fenway July 10 through 12. After what happened in this series, there is certain to be an anticipatory buzz then. The unnecessary eye-for-an-eye (actually, it was a different body part ) drillings of Ramirez and Jacoby Ellsbury brought a spark of contentiousness to Sunday’s proceedings.

What matters more is that the Yankees’ sweep — their first at Fenway since the famous five-game wipeout of the Red Sox in August 2006 — gave them a four-game advantage in the division over the Red Sox. The Yankees have won 10 of 12. The Red Sox have lost 8 of 11.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go, though the twist in this plot has exhumed an old familiar narrative. The Yankees, for the first time in awhile, have regained our attention — and our full disdain, too.

But please, give those leathery lungs a break if you could, and withhold all “Yankees Suck” chants for the time being. Twenty-five games into the season, there’s little evidence to support such a case. Time might be better spent coming up with a way for the Red Sox to beat a similar charge.

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