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Jacobsen: Sox-Yankees rivalry rekindles

| Monday, April 14, 2014

It’s always sad to see the spark go out.

Baseball is best enjoyed when emotions run high and tension fills the ballpark air.

But lately, it has seemed like the Red Sox and Yankees, those most celebrated of rivals, just haven’t been able to muster the same level of revulsion for each other. Frankly, the two teams have become dangerously cordial, as if they woke up one morning to find the “Evil Empire” had turned into just another AL East opponent.

David Ortiz called Alex Rodriguez a “friend” and claimed the two went out to dinner after games ¾ then again, maybe Samsung just wanted a selfie with both of them in the frame. Dustin Pedroia, the Sox second baseman whose Jack Russell Terrier-like personality would seem perfectly suited to generating conflict, instead worships the ground Derek Jeter walks on. The Red Sox, long fueled by jealousy and a wicked inferiority complex, have now won three World Series titles in 10 years, two more than their neighbors to the south.

For fans like me who still celebrate the anniversary of the Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer throw-down, the situation has become rather dire.

But ladies and gentlemen, I have a morsel of good news: Controversy has returned to the Red Sox-Yankees series! Sort of.

The first new wrinkle came back in early December, when the sometimes-beloved Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury jumped ship and signed with the Yankees for a seven-year, $153-million deal. It’s hard to find anyone in baseball who really blames Ellsbury for pulling a Johnny Damon, but Red Sox fans aren’t known for being particularly reasonable, and I think it’s safe to expect a fair amount of hostility from the Fenway Faithful when the Yankees pay their first visit to Boston next week. Let’s just hope sign-wielding Sox fans don’t repeat the mistakes of their compatriots, many of whom reacted to the signing by declaring Ellsbury a “trader” on Twitter. After all, nothing says rivalry quite like personal attacks with amusing grammatical errors.

But the action isn’t limited to the free-agent market. The Yankees took three of four against the Red Sox last weekend but not without incident. Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda threw some filthy stuff in a 4-1 win Thursday night because his hand possibly was, indeed, filthy. The Sox did not blow the whistle on what could very well have been a pine-tar stain ¾ they have pitchers of their own, after all ¾ but that didn’t keep it from becoming the main topic of conversation for sports fans on the Eastern Seaboard.

And though his anger was directed towards the officiating crew, not the Bronx Bombers, Boston manager John Farrell lost his cool and was thrown out of Sunday’s game in the fourth inning after a replay decision went against the Red Sox for the second straight day. After the game, Farrell told reporters, “It’s difficult to have any faith” in the new replay system, adding, “As much as they’re trying to help the human element inside the system, it seems like it’s added the human element at a different level.” Other critics have noted that the replay center, which is located in New York, has yet to make a call that went against the Yankees. The fact that the season is not even two weeks old yet is usually neglected in this argument.

These developments hardly compare to the epic incidents of the early 2000s. Remember when Jason Varitek stuck his catcher’s mitt in A-Rod’s mouth? I don’t see anything like that happening anytime soon, as amusing as it would be. But we know that small incidents have a way of building on each other over the course of a 162-game season. So here’s to hoping the century-plus-long feud has been rekindled, at least in a small way. After all, if these two teams can’t find a way to fight, what rivalry stands a chance?

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