Rivals in Exile: Conflicts of Interestby Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken
August 15, 2004
Larry Mahnken: The past couple of weeks, as the Yankees played teams that the Red Sox are battling for the Wild Card, the question arose, how far does this rivalry go? With the division title clearly out of reach, Boston's best shot at the playoffs is the Wild Card, which means that two of the Rangers, A's and Angels have to finish worse than the Sox.
But rooting for them to lose in the last week would mean that you'd have to root for the Yankees to win, even if it was indirect and somewhat passive. For some fans, undoubtedly, that would be eminently doable, but for the hardcore Sox fan, could they really pull for a New York victory without blood shooting from their eyes?
From my perspective, I think it would be a tough call. I hate the Red Sox. I really, really hate them. I hate the Red Sox so much that I hate the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins for no other reason than the fact that they play in the same city as the Red Sox. I hate the Red Sox so much that I hate myself for being related to people who like the Red Sox.
If the Yankees' season came down to a point where to make the playoffs, they'd need the Red Sox to win, even if Boston wasn't in postseason contention, I think I'd still root for the Red Sox to lose. But in this situation, it's different.
On one hand, I don't want to face the Red Sox in the postseason. They're a dangerous team, they've beaten the Yankees 8 of 13 this season, and I really don't look forward to Boston going to the World Series via Yankee Stadium. On the other hand, last year's ALCS was a classic, and the ultimate victory was a fulfilling as any World Series title other than 1996 was for me. Pure joy. Beating the Red Sox again probably wouldn't feel as good, but it would feel better than any other possible ALCS outcome.
For now, I'm just going with what I always have, rooting for my team to win every game, even if it puts Boston in the playoffs. I feel more honest doing that, but helping Boston in their chase of the Wild Card makes me kind of nauseous.
Ben Jacobs: Well, my rooting interests haven't really been tested too much yet this year. I rooted for Oakland to beat the Yankees last week partially because I hate the Yankees and partially because I want the A's to win the AL West. I like them better than the other two teams in contention and if they win the AL West this year, I figure everybody has to shut up about the Big Three being the only reason they keep making the playoffs.
And while I didn't really root for the Rangers to beat the Yankees, neither did I root for the Yankees to beat the Rangers. I'm just not that worried about the Rangers because, while they're a much-improved team, I still don't think they're a real good team.
My hatred of the Yankees will be put to the test next weekend, however, when they face the Angels. I don't think the Angels are as good as most other people seem to, but they are better than the Rangers. If the Red Sox don't win the wild card, I think it will be because of Anaheim.
So, when Anaheim heads to Yankee Stadium next weekend, I likely will be rooting for the Yankees to win all three games. Of course, I already knew that I'd root for the Yankees if I wanted something else badly enough, because I did it last year.
Last season, the family of my best friend, who also lived in Rochester at the time, had an extra ticket to one game in any playoff series involving the Yankees. They offered that ticket for the Yankees potential ALCS appearance to me.
As you probably realize, if the Red Sox had beaten the A's, but the Twins had defeated the Yankees, I would have watched Game 2 of the ALCS on TV like most everybody else. If the Red Sox and Yankees both won their first series, I'd be in the stands when they met in Yankee Stadium for Game 2.
So, not only did I root for Boston to beat Oakland, I also rooted for the Yankees to beat the Twins and give me a chance to see my first Red Sox playoff game. I know my rooting for the Yankees didn't change anything and they still would have won the series if I had rooted for the Twins instead, but I'm very superstitious.
My allegiance was with the Yankees that series and I don't regret it one bit. Getting to see the Red Sox play in the postseason in person, even though they lost the game, was amazing. And really, hating a team so much that you'd rather see bad things happen to them than good things happen to the team you love doesn't make much sense to me.
If somebody told me that the Red Sox would win the World Series this year, but that the price would be the Yankees winning the next five World Series, I'd gladly sign up for the tradeoff. Maybe I wouldn't if the Red Sox had won it all recently, but they haven't. Everybody knows it's been 86 years and, though I've only been alive for 23 of them, the whole length of that drought weighs on me.
If the Yankees and some of their fans find some joy along the way to me feeling what I did when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, so be it. I just want that feeling again, and I think it will feel even better when it's the Red Sox winning the World Series.
LM: Aww, false hope. You Sox fans are cute.
Well, the Yankees are a more or less mortal lock to win the division and Home Field Advantage, so if they get swept by the Angels, it isn't very likely to hurt them directly, and it hurts the Red Sox. I really don't think anything would make me root for the Yanks to lose, but losing wouldn't be as tough to take in this circumstance.
Well, now I can expect to get a mailbox full of vitriol from other Yankee fans, challenging how big a fan I really am.
Since the Yankees have pretty much clinched a playoff spot, people have already started talking about their postseason chances. The main problem people see the Yankees having is starting pitching, and it can't be denied that the starting pitching has struggled this season, but I don't think their starters can be dismissed that easily.
It's not like Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez are rookies, and we don't know what to expect out of them. In his previous three seasons, Vazquez has posted a cumulative 3.52 ERA, Brown has a career 3.18 ERA, Mussina a career 3.60, and they have 489 combined victories. They've had their struggles this season, but I think their career track record is more of an indication of future performance than this season alone. Mussina and Brown may be fading, but it's not by any means a sure thing.
In October, the Yankees will have three starters who are capable of shutting down any team, and have done so in the past. They shouldn't have any trepidations about being able to get quality outing out of these starters, only if they can be healthy or not.
Moose comes back Tuesday against Minnesota, having taken his time coming back from his elbow injury. Brown's made three starts since his last DL stint, and Vazquez has Pink Eye, which should be cleared up in a few days. As for a fourth starter, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez has made a remarkable comeback from a season-long injury last year, going 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his first 7 starts (which the Yankees have all won). They hype from the late 90's is gone, but he's essentially the same pitcher he always was, without great stuff, but incredibly deceptive, which may be more important. I don't want him starting Game 1 or anything, but going against another team's #4 starter in the playoffs is a pretty good matchup from my point of view.
Lieber's been good and bad, Loaiza's been just plain bad, and looks headed for the Jeff Weaver fate in October, hopefully without that last chapter. Neither of them are likely to play a big role in October, the bullpen is almost certain to be limited to four, QuanGorMo and whoever Torre decides is his most reliable middle-reliever -- perhaps Karsay, expected back... sometime.
The Yankees don't have a 2001 Diamondbacks staff; there are no sure wins in there. The closest to that is the Red Sox, maybe the Cubs when healthy. What they do have is a late 90's Yankees staff, very good starters who can hold back any lineup. They have a '96 Yankees style bullpen with Gordon and Rivera -- probably better, since Rivera is better than Wetteland, and they have a 2003 Red Sox offense. The starting pitching is clearly the weakest link in the Yankees' postseason chain, but that doesn't make it weak.
BJ: Woah, settle down there. Put down the Yankees Kool-Aid before you say something really stupid. The Yankees do not, under even the most vivid imagination, have a 2003 Red Sox offense.
The 2003 Red Sox scored 961 runs. The 2004 Yankees are on pace for 881. The 2003 Red Sox scored 7.5 percent more runs than the second-best offense. The 2004 Yankees are only third in the AL in runs scored.
The 2003 Red Sox had one regular with an OPS above 1.000, three more with plus-.900 OPS, three with plus-.800 and their other two were at .750 and .760. The 2003 Yankees don't have anybody with an OPS above 1.000 and while they have three people above .900, they only have one other regular above .800. The 2003 Red Sox as a team had an .851 OPS and .285 while the 2004 Yankees have an .815 OPS and .275 GPA.
The Yankees might have a 2004 Red Sox offense (.826 OPS, .278 GPA), but they certainly do not have a 2003 Red Sox offense.
I also think it's funny that you're calling Red Sox fans cute and saying that we have false hope. I say it's funny because it's the same thing us Patriots fans heard in 2001.
Aww, you Patriots fans are cute, thinking you can make the playoffs.
Aww, you Patriots fans are cute, thinking you can get a first-round bye.
Aww, you Patriots fans are cute, thinking you can beat Oakland.
Aww, you Patriots fans are cute, thinking you can beat Pittsburgh.
Aww, you Patriots fans are cute, thinking you won't get blown out by St. Louis.
So, please, continue to act condescending towards Red Sox fans. It'll just make the feeling that much better when Boston wins the World Series.
And as long as Boston makes the playoffs, I see no reason why that can't happen this year. When I look at the Red Sox and Yankees, the only area in which I think New York has an advantage is the bullpen.
In fact, if Boston makes the playoffs, I might root for the Yankees to win in the first round again, even though I don't have a ticket riding on it this year. The Red Sox came so close to celebrating a trip to the World Series at Yankee Stadium last year, and I think they have just as good a chance this year.
LM: Heh. When. Because the Red Sox are the Patriots. Yeah.
The Yankees' OPS is worse than the '03 Sox, but the Red Sox play in a hitters' park, the Yankees play in a pitchers' park. The Yankees slumped horribly in April, since then they've had a .836 OPS and a .281 GPA -- if you adjust that for park, it's not significantly different than the 2003 Red Sox. Of course, Boston had a .741 OPS in the postseason, so maybe the Yankees should hope they don't have a 2003 Sox offense.
BJ: Hey, that sounds like fun. Let's throw out the worst month and then use the rest of the season to prove how good we are. Let's see if I can apply it to the Red Sox.
Boston slumped in June and only went 11-14. The rest of the year, they've gone 53-38. That .582 winning percentage is almost the same as last year's .586 winning percentage. So, this year's Red Sox are as good as last year's Red Sox, and last year's Red Sox would have beat the Yankees in the ALCS if not for one stupid decision, so we can expect this year's Red Sox to beat the Yankees in the ALCS.
The fact is the Yankees have had a great team OPS in two months (.899 in August and .877 in May), a good team OPS in two months (.803 in June and .797 in July) and a bad team OPS in one month (.701 in April). They're probably a better offensive team than their overall numbers indicate, but they're not as good as last year's Red Sox.
Anyway, to get back to what we were talking about, I'm going to turn to the Patriots for an example again. I just remembered that when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, I had to root for one of my least-favorite football teams along the way.
In order for the Patriots to get their first-round bye in the playoffs, the Raiders needed to lose their final game. And they were playing the Jets, who I dislike immensely. Nonetheless, I rooted for the Jets, the Jets won that game, the Raiders beat them the next week, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl, I was elated and I forgot I ever rooted for the Jets to win a game.
So, when the Red Sox win a World Series (Yes, when. I know you don't think they're cursed, and they're trying to be smart about running their team now. So you can mock me if you want to, but I say when, not if), it won't even matter if I root for the Yankees along the way because I'll forget all about it in the celebration.
Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken are staff writers for The Hardball Times. Ben can be contacted here, Larry can be contacted here.
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