In mid August of 2006 I spent a long weekend at an old farmhouse in Sweden, Maine, not far from the New Hampshire border. I was there with a college friend, his mom, and step dad, all of us hardcore Red Sox fans who were hungry for another World Series title and dying to see the Sox stomp on the Yankees yet again. That Friday, August 18, the Bombers came to Fenway for a 5-games-in-4-days series. The Yankees were just a game and a half ahead of Boston in the A.L. East standings. (Remember those simpler times when the Yankees and Sox were the only good teams in the East?) We didn’t need Joe Buck or Tim McCarver to tell us that the series had the potential to determine the fates of both clubs, especially if either team managed the improbable—a sweep of a 5-game series.
The series started with a Friday day-night doubleheader. Chien-Ming Wang, who went on to win 19 games that year, pitched well in the opener while Sox Jason Johnson, Kyle Snyder, Manny Del Carmen, and Rudy Seanez allowed 12 runs on 17 hits and 7 walks. Game 2 was another debacle, with Jon Lester getting tagged for 7 earned runs while Mike Timlin spotted the Yankees another 4 in just 2/3 of an inning. The final score was 14-11. Game 3? Yankees 13, Red Sox 5. Game 5? Yankees 8, Red Sox 5. The massacre concluded with a comparatively mild 2-1 loss on Monday, with the immortal Wily Mo Pena driving in the lone Sox run. The Yankees sauntered out of town having outscored Boston 49-26, and they cruised to a 97-65 record. The Sox finished in third place.
Six years later, both clubs have added World Series titles to their illustrious histories, and once again the Red Sox are trailing the Yankees, whom they’re about to welcome to Fenway for a four-game weekend series. It’s early July, not mid August, and in some ways the rivalry has cooled off—lack of steroids, perhaps?—which means this series does not have the same weight as that ghastly ’06 series. But still, does anyone think the Sox have a chance of contending for the division if the Yankees pull off another sweep? And it won’t get much easier after the All-Star break, will it Gordon Edes?
… This series begins a stretch of 30 games in which the Red Sox will play 17 against teams that would be headed to the playoffs if the season ended today: Yankees (7), White Sox (4), Rangers (6). They also have six games in that stretch (three each) against the Rays and Tigers, both of whom are expected to be factors in the race down the stretch.
So while this weekend cannot completely scuttle the Red Sox’ hopes, it could very well mark the beginning of the end (or did that start when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt in April?) if trends continue. I wish I were more fired up about Josh Beckett and Jon Lester being two of the starters in this series, but I’m not. Beckett is a confounding blend of effectiveness and ‘eff you’-ness, while Lester has been thoroughly mediocre all season. Meanwhile, Dustin Pedroia won’t be playing (thumb), Will Middlebrooks is nursing a sore hammy and a cold bat, David Ortiz is sulking about not having a two-year contract, Daniel Bard is hitting AAA batters instead of the catcher’s mitt, and Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are still rehabbing in Portland.