NEW YORK — A little less than a month ago, the Boston Red Sox were having a third baseman issue. They were getting less offensive production than any other American League team from that spot.
But Boston didn’t get Frazier. The New York Yankees did, along with major bullpen upgrades David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle in a move that felt more than a little familiar. Gamesmanship between the Yanks and Sox was once a regular thing.
It has been years since baseball’s greatest rivalry felt big, but it certainly does this year. Both teams were active in the days leading up to the trade deadline, each making acquisitions for a run at the World Series. They set themselves on a course heading right at each other, which brings us to this weekend and next.
The clubs begin a three-game series Friday at Yankee Stadium, the first time since 2011 they are meeting this late in the season holding first and second place in the AL East. New York was up a half-game when the trade deadline expired, but the Yankees now trail Boston by 4 1/2 games with the Sox on an eight-game win streak.
The rivals have another three-game series the following weekend at Fenway Park.
These six games could be very impactful in determining whether the teams make the postseason and what position they do it from. The terrain is quite different from a dozen years ago when there was one wild card and finishing second in the AL East still got you into a playoff series. The club that doesn’t win the division is either going home or looking at a winner-take-all wild-card game.
The renewal of the Sox-Yanks intrigue is about more than just their respective places in the standings or their enormous payrolls. As it was in its best days — in 2003 and 2004 — the clubs are using heightened rhetoric and tactics against each other.
The rich history and animosity between the Yankees and Red Sox, of course, goes way back. There was the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yanks and the decades of New York domination that followed.
The rivalry found a new gear, reaching a climax of sorts in the early 2000s. There were the two epic postseason battles in the AL Championship Series. The Yankees won in 2003 on Aaron Boone‘s Game 7 walk-off homer. The next year, the Red Sox ended the “Curse of the Bambino” by becoming the first team in baseball history to come back after losing the first three games by winning four straight over the Yanks en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.
The enmity may not be back to that level yet, but it is getting there.
The way the Yanks snatched Frazier conjured some old moves. Most memorable is how Boston negotiated a deal with the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez after losing the ’03 ALCS, saw the trade fall apart and then watched as the Yankees ended up making a deal for the slugger. The teams also had a standoff in Nicaragua as each tried to woo Cuban defector Jose Contreras. And the Yankees outbid the Sox for Johnny Damon after the 2004 season.
His Sox still walloping in the “Curse” at the time, then-Red Sox president Larry Lucchino called the Yankees “the evil empire.”
Again, things haven’t escalated to that, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman greeted the news of Boston’s offseason deal with the White Sox for Chris Sale by saying the Red Sox became “the Golden State Warriors of baseball.”
And when asked on July 31 about the Yankees acquiring right-hander Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s, Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski smirked, “You mean the Golden State Warriors, you’re talking about? I think the Golden State Warriors have significantly made some moves.”
Oh, and by the way, don’t think everyone didn’t notice that Boston tweaked its rotation a little to be certain Sale would face the Yankees in each series.
The current versions have some of the best young stars in the game. Boston has the guy who was supposed to be this season’s AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, and the Yanks have the guy who will be, Aaron Judge.
With Sale, the Sox’s rotation now has three former Cy Young Award winners (David Price and Rick Porcello being the others). New York shortens games with three All-Star relievers, Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.
The next nine days could shape the postseason. Do the Yankees — 6-3 against Boston this season — close the gap? Can the Red Sox stay hot and pull away?
Baseball’s greatest rivalry is back and everyone should want to watch.