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Friday, April 25, 2014

Can Jacoby, Tar-Gate jump-start Red Sox-Yankees rivalry?

A new villain is born.

Watching Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda get ejected from Wednesday night's game for turning his neck into a one-stop lube shop, and fans continue their series-long booing of turncoat Jacoby Ellsbury -- a tactic that didn't slow the red-hot hitter one bit -- almost made it feel like the good old days at Fenway Park.

Old, as in 2003-2006.

Back then, the rivalry between the Sox and Yanks was at its Athens-Sparta heights. In addition to some epic regular season and ALCS battles, there were specific incidents and individuals that further electrified the match-ups and heightened the hatred for Boston fans. Among them:

The turning point.

The A-Rod-Varitek fight on July 24, 2004, spurred on when Alex Rodriguez didn't take kindly to Bronson Arroyo pitching too close to his pretty face, and got a face-full of Jason Varitek's mitt for mouthing off. After Tek's smack-down the Sox went 46-20 (.697) the rest of the regular season to make the playoffs. 

The A-Rod-Arroyo interference incident in Game 6 of the '04 ALCS, when Rodriguez visibly smacked a ball out of the pitcher's hand while running down the first-base line -- costing his team a late-game rally and launching a thousand photo-shopped pictures in which a purse was hung on his arm. We all know how that series turned out.

Ah yes, the good old days.

Johnny Damon's defection to New York after 2005, in which Jesus became Judas and eventually helped the Yanks to another title. On the positive side for Boston, this did provide a home for young Ellsbury in center field.

The ninth-inning showdowns between the Sox and legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, which on a few memorable occasions went Boston's way.

And, of course, other familiar foes like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, and Jason Giambi. Some were easier to boo than others, but you never needed a scorecard to know most of the New York roster. Class or no class, they were a known enemy.

Now, with A-Rod on the suspended list, only Jeter remains in pinstripes from those glory days. The lineup New York used to wipe out the Red Sox 14-5 last night included the likes of Yangervis Solarte, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann, all newcomers to the rivalry. Jeter and Ellsbury, of course, were atop the order combining for 5 hits and 5 RBI.

And then there was one.

Pineda picked up a 10-game suspension for his Wednesday-night antics, but he'll surely be back in the rotation when the Sox and Yanks next meet in late June. 

Will the energy that ran through Fenway last night when he got tossed carry over into that game? 

Will New York follow suit and have Boston pitchers inspected for pine tar? 

Will the Sox use the embarrassment of last night's 5-error, 4-hit, Mike Carp-pitching fiasco to spur them on to a hot streak, as they did after the Varitek-A-Rod fight in 2004?

If Sox fans want any chance of seeing their team back in the postseason, they had better hope the last comes true. It's still early enough to turn this season around, but Boston does not have the superstars necessary to dig themselves out of too big a hole.

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