Arguably, the weirdest part about the prior 17 years of sports’ greatest rivalry isn’t that the Red Sox turned the tables on the Yankees, winning four championships under John Henry to the Steinbrenners’ one. It’s that such a lopsided margin occurred despite the Yankees serving as a model of stability and the Red Sox, well, not that.
The Yankees qualified for 13 postseasons from 2004 through 2020 under general manager Brian Cashman and a trio of managers (Joe Torre, Joe Girardi and Aaron Boone). The Red Sox made nine playoffs in the same period, while four different people (Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski and Chaim Bloom), plus two interim groups (in 2005-06 when Epstein temporarily quit and in 2019 after Dombrowski’s firing), ran their baseball operations and five men (Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, Alex Cora and Ron Roenicke) managed them, with Cora now on his second tour of duty.
The Yankees have posted a winning record every season in this span and since 1993 overall. The Red Sox own four losing records, each of them landing the franchise in the American League East basement (including last year), during the same period.
You get the idea — and judging from my emails, many of you think the Yankees’ stability is precisely their problem.
Now the Red Sox find themselves on the upswing once again, reporting to Yankee Stadium on Friday for this season-series opener with a 33-23 record a season after they depressed New England with a 24-36 mark in the COVID-shortened schedule.
And if this keeps? If these Bosox, hurt by not one but two sign-stealing scandals and turning over a significant portion of their roster, manage to leapfrog over the Yankees again, that would represent quite an indictment of the stable bunch.
“We felt like we had a good team,” Cora, who rejoined the Red Sox last offseason, said Friday before the game, “a team that also has to keep working and keep getting better. Defensively, our bullpen, we still have to work with it, but overall, I’ve been saying all along, we have a good baseball team.”
Not only did the Sawx finish in last place last year, but they took direct hits, first from the 2017-18 Astros sign-stealing scandal (Cora, the bench coach for the 2017 Astros, and Boston parted ways in January 2020), and then from Major League Baseball’s discovery that the 2018 Red Sox, the franchise’s most recent championship club, engaged in some hanky-panky, if not to the level of the Astros’ trash-can banging. That ensured Cora’s season-long suspension and cost the Red Sox their second-round draft pick last year as well as (yawn) sidelining video replay system operator J.T. Watkins.
Throw in the February 2020 trade of the iconic Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, and this was a team in serious transition. For good measure, the Red Sox bade farewell to the rest of their ring-winning, homegrown outfield this past offseason, when Jackie Bradley Jr. signed with the Brewers as a free agent and Andrew Benintendi was traded to the Royals.
Despite all of that upheaval, the Red Sox showed up in The Bronx boasting of a vastly superior offense (4.93 runs per game) to the Yankees’ (3.74) and a pitching staff and defense that, if not as strong as the Yankees’ 3.67 runs allowed per game (second in the American League), put them in the league’s upper half at 4.14.
“When you look at our rotation, before the season, that was something that caught my attention, because a lot of people questioned our pitching,” Cora said. “This is night and day compared to last year. Let’s be honest.”
From day to night and back, the Red Sox have weathered many storms since ending The Curse of the Bambino and still lead the industry in parades. The Yankees lead the majors in playoff appearances over the same stretch. It would greatly behoove the Yankees, off to such a concerning start in 2021, to convert one of those October invitations into a title before the Sawx do so again.