There’s something about a summer series between the Red Sox and Yankees that is more appealing, more intense than ones in the spring. Sure it’s nice to see the rivalry right out of the gate, but there’s a difference now. This year it seems that way because both teams have found themselves the way we expected them to be and most players have found themselves performance-wise than earlier this year.
There’s also something fun about facts about the players who will play such key roles in these games and their connections to each other that make it so interesting.
For example, besides being one of the AL’s best outfielders in average, slugging and home runs Jacoby Ellsbury is the first Native American Navajo to reach the major leagues. Only three Native Americans exist are in the majors and one is injured pitcher Joba Chamberlain and the other is Kyle Lohse.
Ellsbury also is one of 124 players from Oregon who have played in the majors. The most notable rivalry contributors from Oregon are Johnny Pesky and Scott Brosius.
Besides having a pole named after him in Fenway Park, Pesky had two four-hit games in 1946 – the year the Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games. Like this year, they faced the Yankees in an August series. This time, the gap was double-digits between the teams and Pesky’s four base hits off Tiny Bonham and Johnny Murphy were footnotes in a 7-5 loss.
Two years later when the Red Sox lost to the Indians in an AL playoff the race was much tighter. When the Red Sox left the Bronx on August 11, the Yankees were behind three teams and 3 ½ out. A month later nothing had changed other than the Athletics dropping eight games out. Finally, on October 2, 1948 Pesky helped eliminate the Yankees by scoring on Ted Williams’ two-run home run off Tommy Byrne and on Stan Spence’s double off Joe Page.
Pesky’s other chance in the rivalry when games meant something for both teams was in 1949, which is chronicled in David Halberstam’s book “The Summer of 49”. Though the Red Sox lost the pennant on the final weekend, Pesky helped get it there with an 8-for-14 showing in three tight ballgames that turned a two-game deficit into a one-game lead for the Red Sox. In the makeup game of Sept. 26, 1949, Pesky contributed to the four-run eighth that decided things by reaching on a Stuffy Stirnweiss error and scored the go-ahead on Bobby Doerr’s bunt.
As for Brosius, he spent three years in the rivalry manning third base from 1998-2001 and the man he succeeded there was none other than Wade Boggs. In the four years he spent in pinstripes, the Yankees won the AL East by a combined 42 games. The closest besides the poor Sept. 2000 was a four-game difference during 1999, which happened to be the first of three times the teams met in a postseason series. During his four years with the Yankees, Brosius had five three-hit games – all in Boston – with his most notable being a four-RBI night on June 19, 2000 in a 22-1 win.
Dustin Pedroia is from Arizona State and it’s the same baseball program that produced 97 other hitters, including Reggie Jackson. Jackson’s notable contributions to the rivalry besides his confrontation with Billy Martin in 1977 was a game-ending two-run home run off Reggie Cleveland in the bottom of the ninth on Sept. 14, 1977 that put the Yankees up by 3 ½ over third-place Boston or his three-run home run a year later off Tom Burgmeier during the second inning of the second game of the weekend Boston massacre. Those were two of 25 home runs Jackson hit in Fenway and two of 51 hit in 832 at-bats off Red Sox pitchers.
Pedroia is probably the best Sun Devil hitter to play for the Red Sox, edging out the likes of Kevin Romine and Marty Barrett. His intro to the rivalry occurred during a late-September series in the Bronx when the division was decided by the Yankees. His first noteworthy achievements were his 8-for-14 in a June series which represented his first time with consecutive three-hit games and turned his average from .308 to .336. In the Bronx, his most notable hit was an eighth-inning grand slam off David Robertson in an 11-3 Red Sox rout on August 27, 2008, which was Boston’s last victory at old Yankee Stadium.
Adrian Gonzalez is new to the rivalry but if you were at the Stadium you saw his laser shows in batting practice and those have translated to a .357 average (.235 off Yankee pitching). Gonzalez is from San Diego, a city that has produced numerous players including Graig Nettles and Ted Williams.
Nettles joined the Yankees in 1973 and stayed there until 1983. His career began with two home runs in two games off Red Sox pitching when he connected of Luis Tiant and Marty Pattin. Of course those meant little since the Yankees began the Steinbrenner era by getting outscored 25-10.
As for his contributions in the 1978 sweep in Fenway, the Yankees concluded it with a 7-4 win on September 10 and Nettles had three hits and drove in two runs in the first inning. One of his best individual showings occurred July 1, 1983 at the Stadium in a 12-8 win. Nettles drove in four runs starting with a solo home run off Dennis Eckersley, followed by a RBI double off Eckersley and capped by a two-run single off Mark Clear.
Nettles was born on August 20, 1944 – two months after D-Day. Williams was in the Marines as a naval aviator in 1944 and was awaiting orders when the Pacific Theater ended in 1945. Those years kept from him adding to his total of 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium and 401 hits (91 home runs, 298) off Yankee pitching in a career that lasted until 1960 and included a .406 average in 1941.
In 1941, Williams batted .485 (16-for-33) at Yankee Stadium and .471 in 22 games (32-for-68) off Yankee pitching.
He was a pinch hitter in his first game against the Yankees, then went 4-for-9 May 11-12 in Fenway, putting him at .383. From May 23-25 at the Stadium, he was 7-for-11 with five RBI and that put his average back at. 383. On May 30, he played a doubleheader at Fenway and went 4-for-7, putting his average at .429. In a three-game series in the Bronx July 1-2, he was “cold,” going just 3-for-9 but he was still over .400 at .401 actually.
A month later August 6-7, he was 4-for-10, getting a two-run home run off Lefty Gomez in a 9-5 win at Fenway which put his average at .408. After a four-game series in Washington, Williams came to New York and if you had tickets to the August 11 game, you might have left disappointed because Yankee pitchers walked him four times. And his 2-for-4 showing those days put him at .411. On Sept 3-7, Williams went 6-for-12 in a four-game series, leaving the Bronx with a .413 average. He saw the Yankees again for two games Sept. 20-21 in Boston and went 3-for-7, including a two-run home run off Tiny Bonham.
Kevin Youkilis is among a handful of Jewish ballplayers to have played over the years.
That list includes Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen. Rosen was the one who made the most contributions to the Yankees when he was team president in 1978-1970. Ron Blomberg also was a Yankee and his noteworthy achievement was being the first DH.
Like Koufax, Youkilis went to the University of Cincinnati, which also produced Miller Huggins, who managed the Yankees from April 15, 1918 until September 19, 1929.
Huggins was 11-6 in his first year managing against the Red Sox, who were a championship team with Babe Ruth that won the first four games in the season series. After going 20-16 without Ruth against the Red Sox, Huggins was 13-9 in 1920. He was even better in 1921 with 15 wins in 22 games, including a 10-1 mark at the Polo Grounds.
After going 9-13 in 1922, Huggins kicked off the Yankee Stadium era with a 14-8 showing in 1923 that included April 18 when Ruth hit the stadium’s first home run, a three-run shot off Howard Ehmke. In 1924 when they lost the pennant to Washington they still won 17 of 22 against the Red Sox.
After a 13-9 showing in 1925, the Yankees returned to the World Series the next three years, helped by going 51-15 in those seasons. Huggins was 15-5 against the Sox in 1929 with his final game coming on Sept. 1 when Ruth hit his 40th home run and Tom Zachary pitched a 14-hitter and improved to 10-0.
David Ortiz has 34 home runs off Yankee pitching in 597 at-bats, which translates to once every 17.5 at-bats, which is pretty good but not as good as Williams’ rate of one home run per 12.1 at-bats off the Yankees. Ortiz’s path to becoming a Yankee killer began in Santo Domingo Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo has a population over three million and is the birthplace of hundreds of major leaguers.
Besides Ortiz some of the most notable to the rivalry have been Melky Cabrera, whom you might remember for 2006 catch that robbed Manny Ramirez of a home run in a 2-1 Yankee win.
It also is the birthplace of Ramirez who probably was one of the game’s best right-handed hitters in recent memory and his career began the same weekend as Jim Abbott’s no-hitter against the Indians in September 1993. It’s also the birthplace of Joaquin Arias, who is famous for being the player the Rangers chose instead of Robinson Cano when they dealt Alex Rodriguez.
As for Ortiz, in getting to this point, it started when the Mariners signed him in 1992 and one of his earliest minor league teammates was Derek Lowe during the Arizona Summer League season of 1995. Lowe pitched in two games, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings while Ortiz hit .332 in 184 at-bats.
A year later with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, Ortiz was a teammate of Damaso Marte, whom the Yankees probably could use to get him out. Marte was a starting pitcher at that point, going 8-6 with a 4.49 ERA in 26 starts. Ortiz did not finish 1996 in Seattle as he was traded to Minnesota for Dave Hollins on August 29, 1996 when the Red Sox and Yankees were separated by 5 ½ games.
Carl Crawford is new to this rivalry and is hitting .125 off the Yankees after joining the Red Sox in free agency. Crawford is from Houston, a city that has produced Britt Burns, who won 70 games but none with the Yankees after developing a hip problem. It also produced Bubba Crosby, who hit a game-ending home run on Sept. 18, 2005 off Baltimore. It also produced David Murphy, whose first home run was in 2006 at Yankee Stadium.
It also produced Calvin Schiraldi, who was on the 1986 Red Sox. During 1986, he made 25 relief appearances and then 62 in 1987. His final appearance in the rivalry was Sept. 28, 1986 when he gave up a game-ending two-run home run to Mike Easler. Three months later, he was traded to the Cubs for Lee Smith, who pitched for the final month of 1993 with the Yankees after being acquired from Joe Torre’s Cardinals.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a Braves’ first-round pick in 2003 and made his major league debut on his 22nd birthday in 2007 in a game that current Yankee Andruw Jones had an RBI. Also connecting him to the Yankees was that two months later, he was moved to Texas for Mark Teixeira. He also was born in West Palm Beach, which is where Dante Bichette was born in 1963. Eventually Bichette had a son and became friends with Joe Girardi, who was pleased when the Yankees drafted Dante Jr. this year.
Josh Reddick has played less than 60 games and is from Savannah, Georgia. He was born there in 1987 and 35 years earlier Bucky Dent was born there.
Dent’s birth certificate says Russell Earl O’Dey but in Boston there’s a transitional verb that replaces his middle name. Everyone knows about his home run in the 1978 AL East playoff game but another notable event for Dent occurred within the rivalry.
One was the night of June 5, 1990 when Dent’s 89-game tenure as Yankee manager came to end with a 9-8 loss at Fenway. Dent had to watch such things like Andy Hawkins getting just one out and allowing five runs. Then he witnessed Randy Velarde’s two-run game-tying home run that scored Deion Sanders. Then for the final curtain, he saw Eric Plunk make an error on Jody Reed’s sacrifice bunt that scored Boggs with the winning run in the eighth.
Marco Scutaro was born a few days after Carlton Fisk willed his home run over the “Green Monster” in 1975. The location was San Felipe, Venezuela, which makes him the only major leaguer born there. Connecting him to the Yankees is a three-run game-ending home run off Mariano Rivera on April 15, 2007.
Scutaro’s minor league career began in 1996 with the Columbus Red Stixx in the South Atlantic League. The manager was Joel Skinner, who played for the Yankees from 1986-1988 and then was traded to Cleveland for Mel Hall. Hall’s claim to fame in the rivalry is his game-ending home run on May 27, 1991 off Jeff Reardon, whose career ended in 1994 as a Yankee.
At some point, Jason Varitek will play. Varitek played college ball at Georgia Tech and is one of 45 major leaguers from that program. Varitek’s Georgia Tech career resulted in him becoming a first-round pick of Seattle in 1994 and preceded that of Teixeira, who was Texas’ first-round selection seven years later.
Varitek has appeared in 169 games in the rivalry. His first was May 22, 1998 in a 5-4 Red Sox and his first of 125 career hits off Yankee pitching was an RBI double during a four-run seventh inning off Ramiro Mendoza. Of course, Varitek’s most noteworthy role in the rivalry was his telling Rodriguez to bleep off and triggering a brawl. What’s amusing about that is if Seattle did not trade him he would become Rodriguez’s Mariner teammate since he was triple-A Tacoma in 1997, though it’s unlikely since he was blocked by Dan Wilson at the time.
Mike Aviles will also appear at some point and this will be his first taste of the rivalry since he was acquired last Saturday from Kansas City. His Yankee connection is being from Concordia College in the Hudson Valley, which produced Dell Alston who played 25 games for the Yankees in 1977-78.
Aviles is one of many major leaguers, who call New York City a birthplace. Among them are someone named Lou Gehrig. Gehrig appeared in 312 games against the Red Sox and not surprisingly his .352 average, 314 RBI are his most against any other time. What is interesting that his 404 hits are one fewer than what he did against Chicago while playing nine more games against the Red Sox.
Gehrig’s first introduction to the rivalry was in a four-game series at Fenway Park. With the Yankees having secured the pennant, Gehrig was able to see some late action and his first trip to Fenway was sensational as he was 9-for-19 with seven RBI, putting his average from .286 to .423. Gehrig had three seasons with an unthinkable 170 RBI or more (1927, 1930 and 1931).
In 1927, 20 were in Fenway and 37 against the Red Sox. Among the notable ones were a two-home run six RBI showing on April 17, which saw Gehrig hit a three-run home run off Jack Russell and future teammate Danny MacFayden.
In 1930, 19 of his 32 RBI off the Sox were in Fenway. Nearly half were July 31 in a 14-13 Yankee win when Gehrig was 3-for-3 with eight RBI. Half were on a seventh inning grand slam off Ed Durham.
In 1931, he had 25 RBI off Boston pitching, though just eight in Boston. His best RBI total occurred in a 14-4 win at Braves Field on August 30. That day included a two-run home run off Ed Morris.
Another notable New Yorker that participated in the rivalry was Eddie Lopat. Lopat was born on the lower east side, went to DeWitt Clinton High School in Bedford Park.
His first year in the rivalry was 1948 and three years later he was joined by Astoria’s Whitey Ford, who spent 16 years and won 24 of 55 appearances against the Red Sox. His first was a 4 2/3 inning relief stint in 1950 and his last occurred during the start of 1967, which was Boston’s famous impossible dream season. Ford pitched well on the afternoon of April 14, 1967 but Billy Rohr - a pitcher nobody had seen before – pitched a one-hitter. It was close to being a no-hitter but Elston Howard broke it up with a single, making it quite the Yankee Stadium opener.
The highlight of the game was Carl Yastrzemski’s catch against Tom Tresh, a call that was immortalized in a record about the "Impossible Dream" by Ken Coleman this way:
"[Tresh's] drive to left over the head of Carl Yastrzemski left a rising trail of blue vapor... At the crack of the bat, Yaz broke back, being guided by some uncanny inner radar. Running as hard as a man fleeing an aroused nest of bees, Yaz dove in full stride and reached out with the glove hand in full extension, almost like Michelangelo's Adam stretching out for the hand of God. At the apex of his dive, Yaz speared the ball, and for one moment of time that would never register on any clock, stood frozen in the air as if he were Liberty keeping the burning flame aloft.
It is the players who keep the burning flame aloft of the rivalry with memorable moments and games. Somewhere there are future Yankees and Red Sox participating in the game and ready to be connected in some way.