Present Red Sox Not Afraid of Past Yankee Mystique
By Michael Avallone
Here’s the biggest problem for the Yankees right now as it relates to the Red Sox: New York doesn’t intimidate Boston any longer. First things first. Losing two out of three over the weekend is nothing more than a speed bump in a long season. Even the ’62 Mets took a series once in awhile. The problem for the Bombers is that this was a series – whether they admitted it or not – they would have loved to have had.
The Yanks entered Friday night’s matchup having won 15-of-17, an impressive stretch that culminated with a sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Unlike New York, the Red Sox were reeling, having been swept out of Toronto on their way down to the Bronx.
Just a few weeks earlier, Boston was sitting pretty with a 17-12 record, a full 6 ½ games ahead of the struggling Yankees (11-19). But New York began to play like the team everyone expected them to be while the Red Sox struggled, losing 10-of-19. Fast-forward to May 27 and New York (26-21) was a ½ game better than Boston (26-22) in the standings.
So what happens between these two rivals over the Memorial Day weekend? Boston outscores New York 27-9 while pounding out 52 hits.
The team batting average? A healthy .406 (hmmm, that number looks familiar). Like it has all year, the problem with New York continues to be pitching, but against Boston, the numbers are just plain ugly.
The Yankees have not found an answer for stopping the current group of Red Sox boppers. Whether it’s Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Javier Vazquez or Andy Pettitte, Boston has battered New York pitching the last two years. That being said, not too many pitchers have success against players like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.
New York certainly has shining stars in Johnson, Mussina and Carl Pavano. While each has shown flashes of past brilliance, none have distinguished themselves as an ace, particularly the 6-10 Johnson. Though his fastball got up to 97 in Friday night’s win, he struck out only three, meaning the Big Unit has fanned a total of eight batters over his last three starts.
Increased velocity or not, Johnson makes his living dominating opposing hitters and so far this year, he hasn’t done that. While he’s 2-0 in three starts against the Sox, he’s surrendered four home runs and has an un-Unit like ERA of 4.74.
Another big issue – at least among talk show circles here in the Big Apple – is the number of Yankee hitters that are continually being hit or thrown at by Red Sox pitchers. No big deal there, although the art of intimidation isn’t quite the same as in the Bob Gibson-Don Drysdale days.
No, the difference is the Yankees refusal to retaliate. It may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but maybe some of those Boston hitters wouldn’t be so comfortable – as in .406 and 27 runs scored comfy – if they thought the next pitch might be headed towards their ear.
Another factor is Baltimore. It’s getting to the point in the season where the Orioles have to be taken seriously. They may not continue to lead the A.L. East, but they’ve shown a spunkiness – and better-than-expected pitching – under Lee Mazzilli to convince people they won’t just fade away.
But as it has been for most of the last decade, the battle will probably come down to the Yanks and their neighbors to the north. So now the Bombers head out on a two-week road trip to Kansas City, Minnesota, Milwaukee and St. Louis. Only two of those series could be problematic (Twins and Cardinals), so New York has a great chance to regroup.
Still, all the wins they may muster against the Royals, Twins, Brewers and Cardinals will come with a degree of skepticism. Their 15-2 spurt came against the A’s, Mariners, Mets and Tigers, not exactly championship-caliber clubs. In fact, the team across the Triborough is the only squad from that group with a non-losing record.
The World Series titles count as of June 1, 2005 reads Yankees: 26 Red Sox: 6. But for the first time in a long time, New York has to prove that THEY can beat someone. It’s not as if the Sox are dominating the season series, having won five of the first nine games, but – get this – the Yankees need to beat Boston if they’re to convince anyone they’re for real.