Derek Jeter is set to end his remarkable career after a three-game set in Boston that closes the 2014 MLB regular season. The Red Sox organization is certain to pay tribute to the Yankees captain, but departing with Jeter (albeit in the background) will be another venerable element of Major League Baseball: the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. For all intents and purposes, that rivalry is dead.
Who are the Yankees?
As Jeter exits, the chapter closes on the Core Four of home-grown Yankees that included Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. Despite the 2009 title (the fifth World Series ring for most of the group), the Core Four’s dominance peaked around 2003, which one could argue was the peak of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. It was the year both teams battled into extra innings of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, one that ended in epic fashion with an Aaron Boone walkoff home run.
Without the steady Jeter, the unflappable Rivera, the clutch Pettitte, and the fiery Posada, the Yankees will search for an identity in 2015 and beyond. Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, stars from the 2009 title, hold little of the promise they showed in 2009 for carrying the franchise torch. Masahiro Tanaka, a born gamer and elite athlete, isn’t ready to lead the team, either. Nor are any other new members of the organization. The Yankees held up their end of the rivalry by bringing familiar, formidable faces to battle for about fifteen years. It’s unclear who is on deck.
Will the Red Sox return to relevance?
If World Series titles are the only symbol of relevance, then both the Red Sox (2007 and 2013 champs) and Yankees (2009 champs) are enduring baseball powers. Yet despite their handsomely paid rosters and profitable franchises, neither team was seriously in contention in 2014. The Red Sox traveled the full circuit from first to worst in the AL East, mainly due to an underachieving supporting cast and rookies who did not live up to their billing. Boston’s poor performance led to a midsummer fire sale that left the team without its two best pitchers, John Lackey and Jon Lester.
Giddy projections from sports writers and MLB analysts aside, the Red Sox are going nowhere unless they revamp their gutted pitching staff in the near future.
Lone holdout Clay Buchholz has been an enigma (largely an unpleasant one) and the remaining pitchers in the rotation are not ready for prime time. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Yoenis Cespedes will lead the team’s imposing offensive charge, but there is no rotation hawk to deflect the charges of league hitters. Once upon a time, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling brought enough intimidation to the mound against Yankee hitters the Red Sox ended their drought with the 2004 World Series title.
For the Yankees’ part, question marks surround the infield, offense, and health of the starting rotation. Oh, and a guy named Alex Rodriguez may turn up in spring training with a mind to play third base. Talk about an uncertain future.
End of a competitive drama
The 2004 triumph followed a Red Sox comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS. It took all seven games to decide American League Championship titles i, 2003 and 2004. Along the way, Pedro Martinez and Jorge Posada exchanged genuine hatred, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek brawled, a journeyman right fielder named Karim Garcia tangled with a Red Sox employee in Fenway’s bullpen, and the Curse of the Bambino finally ended.
Baseball had its must-see TV any time the two teams played. It’s easy to see why. Two elite teams packed with All Stars fought for MLB dominance eighteen times a year, with recognizable figures on the Red Sox and Yankees to get under each other’s skin.
That makes a rivalry. Two non-contending teams with little to look forward cannot have a rivalry. New AL East champs Baltimore have bth a future and a present. Other great rivalries are brewing out in the Central and West divisions. For now, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is retiring with Derek Jeter.