Yankees vs. Red Sox: The Rivalry Continues

Matt Matsumura

The Pinstripes and the Old Towners have both opened their seasons with road trips and home stands, but for Yankees and Red Sox fans from the red bricks of Hamilton, N.Y. to the cobblestones of Beacon Hill, the 2007 Major League Baseball season starts when the Bronx Bombers visit Fenway Park for a three game series starting on Friday. Boston’s most famous blogger, Curt Schilling, will attempt to remove the bitter taste of his team’s late-season collapse of 2006, when his Red Sox virtually eliminated themselves from the AL East race when they were swept in a five-game Fenway series by the Yankees in August. The 2004 ALCS hero will take the mound on Friday against Red Sox killer and “vintage Yankee” Andy Pettitte. Boston has managed to maneuver its rotation to pit its three strongest arms against their division rivals, starting Josh Beckett on Saturday and Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka on Sunday. With Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and Carl Pavano shelved on the disabled list, the Yankees will probably take their chances with rookie pitchers Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright.

The Red Sox stole the show this offseason with their headline-grabbing signings of Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo. Taking a page from George Steinbrenner’s book, John Henry and his front office bid an unprecedented $51.1 million just for the negotiating rights to then-Seibu Lion Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K hasn’t disappointed Red Sox Nation, posting a 2.70 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched, despite a 1-2 record in three starts coming into his rivalry debut.

Former Cardinal, Brave and Dodger Drew has garnered little fan support during his injury-plagued career. General manager Theo Epstein was looking for more production out of their club’s five-spot, and emptied his pockets to the tune of $70 million over five years to sign Drew, who hit .283 with 20 homers and 100 RBIs last season. Citing his apparent lack of effort and indifferent demeanor, not to mention missed games, many Red Sox fans cringed at the prospect of Drew replacing career Red Sox Trot Nixon in right field. Regardless, Drew has hit well behind Manny Ramirez, batting .342 with a .422 OBP and seven RBIs in the young season. Fellow 2006 Dodger SS Julio Lugo followed Drew to Boston, and has quietly improved Boston’s leadoff situation. He is currently hitting .304 and has scored nine runs this season.

The 2007 Yankees come to Fenway largely intact from last year’s playoff run, with a couple of subtractions and one major addition. Nearly every Major League club would have less than high hopes after losing two potential hall-of-famers in Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield. But then again, these are the Yankees. The pinstripes still have more than enough to a scare into opposing pitching staffs. Starting with former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon, one could describe the Yankee lineup as a five feet by five feet minefield. Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano follow. Proven winner Andy Pettitte rejoined the Yankees after a brief exodus to Houston for the last three seasons. The Louisiana native has been especially successful against the Red Sox, going 13-5 with a 3.05 ERA over his career. Pettitte is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA over three starts this season.

Despite his embarrassing demotion to the 7-spot in the Yankee lineup for the last game of the 2006 ALCS, his apparent fallout with former bosom-buddy Derek Jeter, and questionable future with the Yankees after this season, Alex Rodriguez has lit the American League on fire with 8 homers and 21 RBI in his first 12 games while batting .375. Rodriguez didn’t hit particularly well against Boston last year, hitting .246 against the Red Sox in 65 at bats.

FIVE QUICK THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND (BESIDES DICE-K):

1. Curt Schilling’s New change-up (Curt is going to need it against the Yankees while his fastball currently rides in the high-80’s)

2. The Yankees bullpen (Joe Torre has become infamous for taxing his late-inning arms, and this season may be no different as the Yanks battle major injury problems in the rotation)

3. Josh Beckett’s demons (Since Beckett’s historical Game 6 shutout of the Yankees in the Bronx to clinch the 2003 World Series for the Marlins, Beckett has faced numerous problems, including finger blisters and blistering Bomber bats. Beckett’s 9.45 ERA last year against the Yankees hardly warranted losing then-prospects Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez for the Sox.

4. Boston’s 6-7-8-9 Hitters (Mike Lowell may argue about being put in this category, but the slick-fielding third-baseman has hardly quelled concerns over his power output. Coco Crisp is arguably the worst offensive centerfielder in the American League, Jason Varitek’s swing is even slower than it usually is and Dustin Pedroia has been described by some scouts as David Eckstein with less tools)

5. Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera (Arguably the two best closers in Major League Baseball may be late-inning treats for fans this weekend. Is it too early to start calling Jonathan Papelbon the best closer in the world? Papelbon’s machine-like disposal of the Texas Rangers in a five-out save earlier this season and his 0.97 career ERA should start the debate.)