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Yankees-Red Sox rivalry doesn’t have the same fire

BOSTON — Here in the city of recent champions, one of sports’ greatest rivalries is taking a backseat compared to New York. It’s sad, really.

The Yankees and arch-rivals Red Sox were scheduled to meet for the first time in 2024 after a 70-game season, but the game was so low-profile that it was moved out of primetime while old-timers hoped for another championship for their team. In a city where the Celtics are the obvious favorites and standards are high, the Yankees-Red Sox game was pushed to lobster roll time, with an unusual 6:30 start time before being rained out.

(Actually, I’ll make the deadline, so thank you. This is the only paper that let me send a columnist and a reporter to cover the story.)

Manager Aaron Boone said the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is “always boiling over.” USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Manager Aaron Boone, who hit the home run that sent the Yankees to the World Series and the Red Sox home in 2003, said the rivalry “is always hot” and could heat up again. We’ll see what happens.

There’s no debate that it’s down at this point, for three reasons:

1. From the time the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth until 2003, they led the Red Sox in championships 26-0 — a dominance so complete that it gave rise to the slogan and book “The Curse of the Bambino.”

“Part of it is the inferiority complex about New England and New York. It’s not the same,” legendary Boston-based baseball writer Peter Gammons told me.

2. New friendships are forming that didn’t exist when Graig Nettles was breaking Bill Lee’s arm, or when Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez were wrestling on the basepaths or when Pedro Martinez was hurling Don Zimmer to the ground.

“The Yankees don’t have any players that the Red Sox don’t like,” Gammons said. “Who doesn’t like Aaron Judge? [Anthony Rizzo] was [originally] “The Red Sox. Everybody loves him.”

Alex Rodriguez helped strengthen the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. Corey Shipkin (New York Post)
The fight between Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez was part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. USA Today Sports

3. This one is pretty obvious: The Red Sox aren’t on the Yankees’ level right now.

The Red Sox are actually having a pretty good season, considering their surprisingly young roster, but they’re no match for the once-hated Yankees, who were the best team in baseball at 49-22 heading into the season.

The Red Sox aren’t actually bad, especially for a rebuilding team. They just aren’t good enough to be a threat after a winter in which they didn’t do much except for Zoom calls with their stars (like Jordan Montgomery).

“They haven’t got a top-tier player yet,” Gammons said. “They’re not going to spend a ton of money to sign a player.”

If there’s one thing the Red Sox’s current owners have done that’s notable besides breaking an 86-year streak and winning three more titles, it’s revamping the baseball team’s management team — and yes, they’re more of a boss than Steinbrenner’s son Hal, who runs one of the most consistent franchises in sports.

Meanwhile, Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner appointed their fourth president of baseball operations in a decade, a departure from Brian Cashman’s tenure with the Yankees.

Red Sox ownership has been inconsistent — for the third time in four years, they’ve drafted former pitcher Craig Breslow out of Yale, followed by Chaim Bloom and the legendary Theo Epstein (a Breslow pal who wisely returned as a consultant) — but they do have a type.

Breslow has quickly assembled a promising pitching staff that is performing at a surprisingly high level (they were sixth in ERA with a 3.43 through Thursday), but the 1-1 trend doesn’t work for the Red Sox, and everyone here is bracing for the team to make sales at the deadline.

The last big trade, sending starting outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Yankees, is a prime example of the unwanted rapport that exists today, and of course Boston residents still haven’t (and likely will never) forgotten about the even bigger trade Verdugo was involved in: the trade that sent homegrown superstar Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

Despite Verdugo being a big plus for the Yankees and being one of the most quote-unquote people in baseball (no clichés!), Verdugo isn’t going to diss the Red Sox after it became clear Boston manager Alex Cora had grown tired of him. True to where things stand for both teams, Verdugo again spoke Friday about how much he respects Cora and how close their families are.

Alex Verdugo was traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees ahead of the 2024 season. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Well, talk like that wouldn’t help the rivalry one bit!

Verdugo is a big plus for the Yankees, and the Red Sox needn’t have cared if he helps the Yankees snap their 15-season winning streak. Verdugo won’t win the MVP award; that will probably go to one of his two fellow outfielders, Juan Soto or the incomparably great Judge. But the Red Sox’s surprising willingness to help the Yankees showed they have no interest in continuing the animosity that makes the rivalry great.