Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
This should be getting old by now, but it's not.
It should be neatly placed on the normal to-do list and handled accordingly.
But whenever the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees - no matter fame or function - it's an event that makes the baseball world stop to witness the regional tussle.
The Red Sox travel to the Bronx this week for the third meeting of the 2004 regular season along with the testing eyes of a New England collective that never quiets the boom of anticipation. How will the Sox perform at the unholy ground of Yankee Stadium? Will the pitching staff do it's job and keep us in games? Will the bats continue to crank out hits or fall flat and silent?
And more importantly: Are there any signs that we can finally best this team when it counts in October?
"Itís going to be a crazy week," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
For another regular season the attention is well worthy of the event and the familiar pairing. The Sox have already beaten New York six times so far this year, going 6-1 in the two series back in April. Since then the Yanks have been busy playing playoff baseball, while Boston has been busy playing with tubes of Ben Gay.
Injuries to key players and inconsistency by healthy ones eventually cost the Sox their typical early lead in the American League East, as the Yanks were still introducing themselves in the ever-changing clubhouse of big names. New York began to hit the ball with the proficiency expected after the offseason additions of Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, and the wins came in flood action.
The bombers have gone 39-15 since the April encounters, moving out to a lead of five and a half games in the AL East.
Boston, however, hasn't necessarily slumped, but treadmilled of late at 27-26 since an encouraging 15-6 start. After taking two out of three from the Phillies last weekend, featuring productive performances from top starters Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, and aided by mega run support, the Sox should be ready for another showdown and subconscious measuring stick.
"We need to go in there and close the gap," Schilling said purposefully on Sunday.
Previous circumstances often are nill when Boston meets New York in this particular arena. The Sox have been known to stumble into the series only to recieve the jolt of competition and play high-quality baseball for a spell against these partners. The Sox went a very respectable 9-10 in the regular season against the eventual division champion the past two years, and took the Yanks to seven games in the 2003 American League Series before...Well, we all know what happened.
Still, the Sox played up to elite standards and never resembled the club with the bitter history of losing these affairs on almost every occasion.
But as we all know, this is supposed to be the year when the spell is broken - tossed into forgotten memory on the arms of Schilling and Keith Foulke, and in a lot of ways, the finality that this group will look very different in 2005 for money's sake.
The core group from last year believe that they were good enough to beat the '03 Yanks, and though they will never say so publically, were robbed of that opportunity by a misguided manager's decision.
That fact provides a form of energy for the Sox as well as the burden to do it all again this year and finish things as they should have been completed 12 months before. Certainly one cannot fast-forward to Game 7 of the ALCS and execute a do-over, but if used correctly the experience can be a desired beacon through perseverence.
For now Boston will have to settle for beating the Yanks whenever they see them with topping the AL East standings quite theraputic as well. Seven of the 19 allotted games have already been played, garnering encouraging results. The next three are this week with much more meaning than your typical late June ho-hum division series.
We all know better than that by now, regardless of what sound bites chime from either clubhouse in this wine-aged rivalry.
"We think we match up very well against them," said Johnny Damon. "They're going to need to play very well against us. We're not scared by any means. We're going to have to play good and they're going to have to be good to beat us. We know how good a team we are. Unfortunately, we're just not showing it of late."
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.