The dynamic of sports’ most storied rivalry has shifted drastically. While the first inclinations of this paradigm movement were first revealed in 2004 — when the Red Sox finally defeated their unceasing foils in the ALCS with their come-from-behind four-game blitz that ended 86 years of horror — it is now clear that the proverbial tables in this rivalry have turned and the battle may never be the same. And as Boston finished off their three game bludgeoning of the Yankees on Sunday, the new balance of power was clearly on display.
The series saw the Yankees losing ball games in every thinkable (and un-thinkable) way possible. On Friday, legendary closer Mariano Rivera was tagged for a two run, game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning by Jason Bay. That crippling blast was then topped off by an 11th inning walk off-home run — hammered off struggling reliever Damso Marte — by the red-hot Kevin Youkilis. It was a contest that would normally have conjured up the famed Yankee ghosts, but in Fenway on that night, no ghosts were in attendance, no mystique was at work, and the Yankees fell in defeat.
Saturday felt like a rebound day for the Bombers at the onset. With early-season stopper A.J. Burnett on the mound, the hype pointed to a classic pitchers dual between the aforementioned Yankee pitcher and Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. After the Yankees took an early six-run lead it was evident that the dual was not to be, but New York — with their starter cruising through three scoreless innings -– seemed unhittable and unbeatable. And then the wheels fell off once again.
The landslide began with a brutal five-run fourth inning, highlighted by a Jason Varitek grand slam. The nightmare that would follow is one that Yankees fans are unfortunately growing accustom to. While New York did escape the fourth inning with a slim 6-5 lead, they would not survive the onslaught that followed. 11 runs and four innings later, the Yankees found themselves on the sour end of an eye-popping offensive marathon, being defeated 16-11. Seven Yankee pitchers made appearances in the fiasco, and not a single one – besides Phil Coke and his 2/3 of inning work — left the game unscathed. For the Yankees, it was another shot in their collective gut and a humiliating loss to a team that much of their aura was built on humiliating. For the Red Sox, it was their largest comeback victory over the Yankees since 1968, a period of massive decline for New York that would not end for eight years following.
The finale of the series on Sunday was far less dramatic but nevertheless perfectly demonstrated the Yankees new-found futility against their rival. Managing to score only one run with their prolific lineup off of newly appointed starter Justin Masterson, the entire series was punctuated when, with two outs and the bases loaded, Jacoby Ellsbury stole home against pick-off specialist Andy Pettitte. Not a wild pitch, not a passed ball, but a straight steal of home. And as Ellsbury came out for his curtain call, and Fenway erupted with elation, the Yankees were left to wonder why the Bambino so readily and thoroughly ended his curse.
For years Boston wallowed in futility against New York, their talented teams never able to beat their continuously successful rivals. After the Red Sox most recent sweep of the Yankees in Boston — continuing their nine-game winning streak — it is very obvious that the Red Sox are now the team to overcome in the A.L. East and also in the greater scope of the rivalry period.
Granted the Yankees were banged up — with Xavier Nady, Alex Rodriguez, and Brian Bruney on the DL, among others — and sure it is only the early month of April in a very long season. But since 2004, the war between the Yankees and Red Sox has never been the same. New York has taken over the mantle as the face of futility and the visions of Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone are becoming as ghostly as the man whose curse once dominated the esoteric psyche of this rivalry so thoroughly.