100 years later at Fenway still Red Sox-Yanks

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When Fenway Park first opened in 1912, some of the pageantry of its debut game was taken away because of the tragic sinking of the Titanic a few days earlier.

A ballgame was secondary to a city that had friends and family on the ship. Fast-forward 100 years later and the city of Boston is, again, watching a sinking ship right in front of their eyes and the Captain is Bobby Valentine.

Too soon for sinking ship references? Apologies if offending anyone.

Fenway Park opened April 20, 1912 with the visiting New York Highlanders, a team that would soon become the New York Yankees. It’s appropriate that Major League Baseball would schedule this classic rivalry that has been intertwined throughout the games rich history for Fenway’s Centennial weekend.

Usually, it’s the Yankees who are public enemy number one, but after two weeks, new Sox manager Bobby Valentine is finding just how “smaawt” Boston fans are. They realize that a new manager shouldn’t take over a team full of veterans that have two rings and try and change their habits, call them out in public and worst of all, lose in the process.

Those tactics may work on a team with young players looking for guidance, or even in Japan as Dustin Pedroia suggested when he fought back through the media, but not a team full of millionaires that has done just about everything there is to do in baseball.

Maybe worst of all for the fans in a city where beer is an intricate part of their daily lives after a hard days work, Valentine took the Red Sox beer out of the clubhouse. That will get you booed at Fenway almost as loud as Alex Rodriguez coming to bat. And at the same time, it’ll also give former manager Terry Francona a roaring welcome back cheer when he’s announced during the pre-game festivities. 

It’s a rare occurrence when the Red Sox (4-8) and Yankees (6-6) meet when neither team is in first place, but that’s what’s about to happen when the two teams meet Friday.

These matchups are always compelling, gripping baseball played with more intensity than any other rivalry in baseball. However, it feels as though things have changed over the last few seasons where the games don’t feel as epic as they used to be.

The Yankees will always be hated in Boston, and the Red Sox will never find any love in New York, but some of the luster does appear to be gone. Part of the reason is winning which can lead to complacency from both the players and fans and might also explain Boston‘s collapse in September last year.

The Red Sox don’t seem to have that hunger and misery that haunted generations for 86 years before finally winning a World Series in 2004. Finally beating down the Yankees, who they were down 0-3 to in the ALCS, was the ultimate achievement for all of Boston. When Boston won the World Series again in 2007, it was almost as if the hunger had completely been satisfied.

In the process, Yankee fans were no longer taunting Boston with their 26 championship rings. They were equals now and had gained the respect of New York. And when the Yankees won their 27th championship, it stung, but not like the previous 26.

With Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retiring before this season, only David Ortiz remains from the 2004 team. Even Francona, the instigator to many of the exciting brawls between the two squads, is gone. This is now Valentine’s team and it will be interesting to see how he manages in this series for the first time amid all the boos directed at him on his home field.

The main concern for the 2012 Red Sox right now is a struggling bullpen. That was the big question mark coming into the season and it got even worse when their newly acquired closer Andrew Bailey was put on the shelf until at least August with ligament damage in his thumb. Thus far, the concerns have been validated as Boston’s bullpen has the second highest ERA (6.63) in baseball.      

The bullpen has been one of the only areas the Yankees have all sewn up as they have the best ERA (1.99) among all teams, but unfortunately for them, their starting pitching has been letting them down. The Yankees have the 27th worst ERA (5.77) among all starting staffs with ace C.C. Sabathia getting hit hard, Freddy Garcia looking old and Phil Hughes pitching with no confidence.

To go along with bad starting pitching, the beefy parts of the batting order are fighting to stay above the Mendoza-line. Last years surprise player of the year, Curtis Granderson, is hitting .208 with more strikeouts than hits. Alex Rodriguez has only two RBI’s and Mark Teixeira still hasn’t hit a home run.

Russell Martin, who last year burst onto the scene with some pop, has come crashing back to earth batting .148. The one shining star in the lineup has been Derek Jeter (.389), the player who experts questioned the most coming into the season.

Boston was happy to get home last weekend and the bats came alive, but Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be out of the lineup for some time and Carl Crawford’s start to the season looks to be delayed as well.

Kevin Youkalis is also showing signs of fading with a paltry .184 average and he’s not even getting walks anymore. Valentine was right about Youkalis being different, but still, the conversation should have been in Valentine’s office, not the Boston Globe and ESPN.

So while the Yankees and Red Sox classic uniforms still represent a must watch weekend of games, the quality of play from the teams thus far don’t come close to matching the standards set over the last decade.

The main hope to keep this a bitter rivalry and distract from their actual poor play is to have one of the managers pick a fight with some mandated inside pitches. Valentine could regain some creditability with the fans by at least starting a brawl with Yankees and it could ignite the players as well.Here’s a look at this weekend’s matchups:

Friday, 3:05 pm (ET) – MLB

Ivan Nova (2-0, 4.15) vs. Clay Buchholz (1-0, 9.82):

Buchholz got the win in his last outing despite giving up five runs, thanks to the Sox bats. In both of his starts he’s given up five runs or more. Buchholz gets the tough draw of Nova who just always seems to win no matter the circumstances. Nova has won 14 straight decisions dating back to last season and based on the two pitchers form, despite it being the centennial game, Nova should make it 15 straight.

Selection: Yankees

Saturday, 4:05 pm (ET) – FOX

Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97) vs. Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40): This has the makings of a high scoring game and may be the only game of the series we can expect the Red Sox to win. Doubront has gone only five innings in each of his first two starts and has given up six runs, four in his last start against the Rays. Garcia has had two awful starts and been hit harder in each ensuing game. This could be a lopsided game that the Red Sox bullpen might be able to hang onto for the win.

Selection: Red Sox and OVER

Sunday, 8:00 pm (ET) – ESPN C.C. Sabathia (1-0, 5.59) vs. Daniel Bard (0-2, 4.63): The Red Sox bullpen sure could use Bard right now, but his conditioning throughout spring set him up for every five days so Valentine is sticking with it. The way Bard is pitching right now he’d fit right in with the bullpen. His ERA is fortunate to be at 4.63 because he’s pitched much worse.

In his last outing against the Rays he gave up seven walks and yet somehow only allowed one run. It’s possible that Jon Lester could make the start since his day was cut short Tuesday against the Rangers. Meanwhile, Sabathia tries to shake the funk against his No. 1 nemesis. Unlike last year when Sabathia had a groove going before getting slapped around by the Sox, this year he’s struggling giving up 12 runs in 19.1 innings of work.

The positive for him is that he finally did beat Boston in August after losing four straight to them. He only lost eight games last season and four of them were to Boston. His fourth start should be better than his first three, so look for the Yankees to take this one.

Selection: Yankees

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