Red Sox have turned tables on rival Yankees
Since 2004 ALCS, Boston has gained upper hand on New York
NEW YORK -- It has been nearly a decade since that seminal Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, and finally it must be said that the storied rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox has decidedly tilted toward Boston.
The World Series-defending Red Sox have had their way with the Yankees since the start of 2013 season, winning 14 of the last 21 games between the two teams and eight of the 12 played at Yankee Stadium.
"There's an intensity to it," said Grady Sizemore, getting his first sampling of that rivalry on Friday night when his three-run, sixth-inning homer off CC Sabathia propelled the Red Sox on to a 4-2 victory. "It's always special to come into Yankee Stadium, but even more so when it's Red Sox-Yankees."
Since the Red Sox came from behind in Game 4 at Fenway Park, ran the table on the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and then the Cardinals in that World Series to end the vaunted Curse of the Bambino after 86 years, the Red Sox have gained the upper hand.
They've won the World Series in 2004, 2007 and last fall while the Yankees have won only once since then in 2009.
The stars have been many, led by David Ortiz and capped Friday night by Sizemore, a new addition to the Red Sox roster in place of the departed Jacoby Ellsbury after not being able to play because of injuries the last two full seasons.
A decade ago, a guy like Sizemore would rarely have been able to vanquish his old Indians teammate and friend Sabathia like that in a Yankees-Red Sox tilt. There was the Bucky "Bleepin'" Dent game of 1978, and the ball that rolled between Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Mets. The Pedro Martinez collapse in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and Aaron Boone's pennant-winning home run. The Yanks were the Evil Empire. The Red Sox were hexed.
But then in the ninth inning at Fenway in 2004, Davey Roberts stole second base and Bill Mueller knocked him in with a ground single to center off Mariano Rivera and all that changed.
And on Friday night, Sizemore beat Sabathia like a drum.
"It was just one pitch," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who has seen the rivalry as a player and a manager. "He hung a slider and Sizemore didn't miss it."
The Yankees may even have their own curse now to deal with, the Curse of Ortiz. Not only does Ortiz have 39 homers and 139 RBIs in 720 career regular-season at bats against the Yankees, but the concrete hole in the caverns of the new stadium where legend says that construction workers dug up an Ortiz jersey planted by a Red Sox fan has never been filled.
It is still there, surrounded by silver pipes near the visitors' clubhouse. The Yankees need to fill that hole. They also need to regain their old swagger. There was a time when the Red Sox came to town and the Yankees expected to win. The Red Sox would find a way to lose.
The cast is certainly different on both sides -- only Ortiz and Derek Jeter remain from the old Yankees days of dominance. But the tables have definitely turned.
"I wouldn't say we have the upper hand now on anybody, especially the Yankees," Red Sox catcher David Ross said on Friday night. "We don't take anything for granted. But the one thing I can say is that we definitely expect to win no matter what park we go into and who we play. We play hard every night."
To be sure, every season is different, and the Red Sox are once again finding that out. The team that bounced back from a last-place finish in 2012 to beat the Cardinals in six World Series games last fall is still trying to discover this year's form and personality.
Last season, their new-found success against the Yankees started right from the opening series of the season when they came into the stadium and won two out of three to immediately begin to shake off the vestiges of the 2012 debacle. The Red Sox opened 12-4 on their way to 97 wins.
In 2012, the year of their greatest discontent, they opened 4-10 on their way to 93 losses. This year they are 5-6.
The reasons for this are myriad. Ellsbury is now with the Yankees. Stephen Drew is still a free agent. A.J. Pierzynski is having growing pains fitting in behind the plate with a veteran pitching staff. Koji Uehara, last year's all-world closer, has come down with a sore right shoulder and was unavailable to pitch on Friday night. He's day to day, manager John Farrell said after the game.
Still, despite all that, despite having trouble scoring runs, the Red Sox found a way at Yankee Stadium just like the Yankees used to. Left-hander Jon Lester started and controlled them on two runs and six hits for 6 2/3 innings with what he said was ordinary stuff.
"It was just a grind," Lester said. Still, the Yankees are the Yankees.
"I don't think either side has an upper hand no matter how good or bad you do against them the year before or that year or whatever," Lester added. "I don't think we ever come into New York or they come into Fenway and say, 'Yeah, we have these guys.' Every time we play these guys it's a grind. It's usually going to come down to the last pitch. It's part of being in this rivalry."
Indeed, Friday night's game was still contested when Edward Mujica threw the last pitch and Brett Gardner struck out.
But unlike the old days, the Red Sox won.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.