Like many notable encounters, this one was accidental--a simple,
unexpected meeting of...well, rear ends. Really, it was perfect.
How many times over the years had they crossed paths and thought
of growling, Kiss my ass? And here they were, Dwight Evans and
Willie Randolph, posterior to posterior on one of their old
battlegrounds, Yankee Stadium.
This took place last Friday, roughly two hours before the
first-place Boston Red Sox and the second-place New York
Yankees, baseball's greatest rivals, were to meet for the ninth
of the 19 games that their fans are being blessed with this
season. Randolph, the Yankees' third base coach and their former
six-time All-Star second baseman, was standing on the pitcher's
mound, gathering the balls left scattered from his team's
batting practice session. Evans, the Red Sox hitting coach and
their former three-time All-Star rightfielder, was strolling
toward the hill to begin tossing BP to his club. As he was
chatting with Red Sox infielder Carlos Baerga, Evans
accidentally backed into Randolph, who was bent over at the
waist. The two men turned around, and for an instant their eyes
met. Then they spoke.
Evans: "Hey, Willie, how's it going?"
Randolph: "Pretty good...pretty good."
And that was that. As Randolph jogged toward the home clubhouse,
he was stopped by a reporter who had witnessed the scene.
Randolph shook his head and sighed. "Man," he said, embarrassed
that there'd been a witness to the friendly exchange. "You saw
From 1976 through '88, when Evans and Randolph were principals
in the great rivalry at the same time, the two teams detested
each other. It wasn't just that the clubs were routinely clawing
for American League East supremacy. (Over those 13 seasons, the
two combined for six division titles and five World Series
appearances.) No, members of each team had a genuine dislike for
the other. "It was hatred, no question," says Randolph. "I'm
sure they thought we all had attitudes, and we felt the same way
about them. There was no talking before games, no hanging out by
the batting cage. Just snarling."
As Randolph was speaking, a familiar scene unfolded nearby that
curdled his old-school blood. Two Yankees jogged alongside a
couple of Red Sox, chatting like long-lost brothers. And in the
outfield a gaggle of Boston pitchers exchanged pleasantries with
their New York counterparts. There was laughter with backslaps
and--egads!--handshakes, the byproducts of free agency run amok.
"I guess it's O.K. for me to say 'Hi' to Dwight because he's a
coach now," says Randolph. "But as a player I wouldn't even look
at him. Nowadays you see Red Sox and Yankees running in the
outfield, hugging each other. That bothers me, but what can I
do? Nothing's the same anymore. Everything's changed."
For the low, low price of $10, you, too, can own what has become
one of Boston's most popular fashion staples. On the front of
the blue T-shirt BOSTON is written in large red letters. On the
back there is a number 21, with two words stenciled above the
digits: CLEMENS SUCKS.
Hating the Yankees--and their ageless righthander, Roger
Clemens--is still big business in Beantown, where two weeks ago
vendors encircled Fenway Park like ants around a soggy apple
during a four-game series against New York. In addition to
anti-Rocket wear, one could purchase YANKEES SUCK bumper
stickers ($3), YANKEES SUCK pins ($5) and YANKEES SUCK caps
($12). The latest fashion statement was a tank top that called
into question Derek Jeter's sexuality. Those went for $15, and
they flew out of cardboard boxes. It was a warm Friday evening,
and as the Red Sox scurried around their undersized clubhouse
before the game, they were routinely stopped by reporters and
offered the opportunity to express their contempt for the
visiting team and, in particular, that night's opposing pitcher,
Clemens. There was no venom to be found.
Nevertheless, to Red Sox fans Clemens is--and this is no
exaggeration--a modern-day Benedict Arnold. First he had the
gall to abandon their team. (After 13 years and 192 wins, he
snubbed general manager Dan Duquette's low-ball offer and signed
as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997.) Two years
later he committed the unforgivable sin of becoming a Yankee.
(Arriving in New York by trade, he happily signed a contract
extension in 2000.) What's more, Clemens is as dominant on the
mound as ever. That Duquette thought Clemens to be washed up is
long forgotten. Clemens is a Yankee, so he must be the villain.
To Boston players, however, Clemens remains an icon. "He's done
everything you could only dream of accomplishing," says
righthander Derek Lowe. "A lot of us are in awe of him."
"Roger's the man," adds righty John Burkett. "He's done it all,
and he's done it like a professional."
The fans and the players also diverge in their attitude toward
the rivalry. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule adopted by major
league baseball, the 19 meetings between Boston and New York
represent the most between the two clubs in a regular season
since 1960, when they played 22 times. (Expansion in 1961
reduced that figure to 18, but as recently as 1999 the teams met
only 12 times.) To the dismay of old-timers like Evans and
Randolph, this quickens the pulses of current players only
slightly more than Playboy presents...Star Jones. Truth be told,
members of both teams would prefer to spend the early part of
the season beating up on AL East bottom feeders Baltimore, Tampa
Bay and Toronto, and then focusing on each other come September.
(Oddly, with more than two thirds of the season remaining, the
rivals have already met 11 times and won't square off after a
three-game series wraps up on Sept. 4.) "Right now, Boston is
just another series," says New York reliever Steve Karsay, a
Queens, N.Y., native who grew up a Yankees fan. "It doesn't mean
The fans disagree. After Clemens surrendered seven runs in 3 2/3
innings on May 24, in a game Boston would win 9-8, the boos and
chants of "Clemens sucks!" that accompanied his departure nearly
equaled the decibel level at a DMX concert. Unlike the masses at
Yankee Stadium last weekend, who jovially mocked the Red Sox
with chants of "Nine-teen-eight-teen!" (the year the club last
won a World Series), there is a palpable bitterness to the
Boston crowds. Hanging in Fenway's concourse is a banner
celebrating Clemens's two 20-strikeout games with the Red Sox;
by the completion of the series, it was splattered with ketchup
and mustard and spittle.
Boston infielder Lou Merloni noticed the anti-New York hostility
building during the second week of the season, when the Kansas
City Royals came to town ahead of the Yankees. Even though
Royals outfielder Chuck Knoblauch was cut loose by New York
after last season, he was greeted with venomous derision every
time he stepped to the plate. "Here, they don't forget who the
bad guys are," says Merloni. "It's sort of crazy."
Even so, because of Babe Ruth and Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner
and letdown after letdown, Bostonians are no strangers to
painful disappointment. That's why, after the Red Sox took the
first two of the four-game series at Fenway, few on hand were
surprised when the Yankees stole the momentum by winning the
last two. In truth, however, this year's Boston team matches up
well with its counterpart. After going 5-13 versus New York in
2001, the Red Sox won seven of the first 11 this year. Their
most convincing victory came on Sunday, when three Boston
players homered and righthander Frank Castillo limited the
Yankees to four hits over eight innings of a 7-1 rout. After
taking two of three last weekend, the Red Sox had baseball's
best record (37-16) and a two-game lead in the AL East. Boston's
21-4 start on the road was the best ever.
While the additions of first baseman Jason Giambi (.315, 15 home
runs, 41 RBIs) and third baseman Robin Ventura (.243, 13 home
runs, 37 RBIs), plus the continued emergence of second baseman
Alfonso Soriano (.320, 14 home runs, 37 RBIs), have turned the
grind-it-out Yankees into the league's most thunderous lineup
(91 homers, best in the majors), Boston has countered with a
stylistic change of its own. Gone is the club that collected
Popeye-armed, neckless righthanded sluggos to pound dents into
the Green Monster. These Red Sox have not one but two speedy
leadoff hitters (Johnny Damon and Rickey Henderson), the AL's
best double-play combination (shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and
underrated second baseman Rey Sanchez) and--most important--a
Through Sunday, Burkett, Lowe and Pedro Martinez were a combined
21-2 with a 2.65 ERA, easily the league's best numbers for a
trio of starters. The shocker has been Lowe, who last year
experienced the Fenway faithful's wrath after losing his
confidence, his stuff and the closer's gig he had held for
nearly three seasons. "I was pretty lost," he says of a season
in which he finished 5-10 with a 3.53 ERA. "Sometimes you get so
down, you wonder how long it'll take to return."
During spring training new manager Grady Little figured Lowe
might turn out to be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter. Instead the
29-year-old righthander was 8-2 with a 1.95 ERA, numbers that
make him a candidate to start the All-Star Game. His success can
be attributed to a renewed mastery of a swan-diving sinker that
eats righthanders alive. "With the stuff he has, we always
figured he could be a very good pitcher," says Yankees manager
Joe Torre. "But this good?"
In Boston's 5-2 win at Yankee Stadium last Friday, Lowe held New
York scoreless over six innings. It was the kind of performance
that boosts a team's confidence and plays with opponents' minds.
Yet afterward the Yankees were showering and eating and talking
as if they had been bitten by a flea. In a sense, the team
reflects its fans--or vice versa. Since 1996, when New York went
to the first of its five World Series under Torre, the Yankees
haven't lost any sleep over the Red Sox, winning 45 of their 78
matchups. "We have a great deal of respect for the Red Sox,"
says Yankees lefthander Sterling Hitchcock, "and I believe,
because of the fans and the tradition and the geography, they
make a great rival. But I wouldn't say anyone here thinks about
it too much."
Sure enough, the next day New York responded to Lowe's dandy by
beating the stuffing out of three relievers to win 10-2. In
rightfield the famed Bleacher Creatures made life miserable for
the fearless few who ventured into enemy territory wearing
Boston garb. There was no anger, though, just free-flowing
put-downs. It was the day after the New Jersey Nets had beaten
the Celtics to advance to the NBA Finals, and the assaults began
"Let's go, Celtics!"
"Trot Nixon sucks!"
Louis Mollica, a 34-year-old cable TV technician from Brooklyn,
was wearing a Yankees cap and a T-shirt with Clemens's name and
number on the back. The sun was shining. His team was rolling.
"There's no hatred here, only pity," he said, in between chants.
"Boston is like the kid in the neighborhood you used to beat up
on, and he couldn't fight back. They've never stood a chance."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN IACONO RIVALRY WEEK Jeter and Garciaparra (5) met at second, Carlos Baerga (above left) and Giambi (above) had reason to celebrate, and a Yanks fan flaunted a list of players who'd left the Red Sox for pinstripes.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: CHUCK SOLOMON [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO ROUGH STARTS Lowe (left) has quieted the critics in Boston, but Clemens got an earful upon his early exit at Fenway.
COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES KRUPA/AP [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO MIDDLE RELIEF Garciaparra is part of the league's best double-play combination and has a team-leading 44 RBIs.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO A DAY AT THE OFFICE For Bernie Williams and the other players, the rivalry doesn't have the on-field animosity of the past.
Red Sox fans see Clemens as the villain, but to the players he's
an icon. "A lot of us are in awe," says Lowe.
After going 5-13 against the Yankees in 2001, the Red Sox have
come out on top in seven of the first 11 meetings this year.
After last Friday's 5-2 loss, the Yankees were showering and
eating and talking, as if they had been bitten by a flea.