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And there they are.
It is not possible for them to stay invisible, not even after last year, not even as other teams have leap-frogged them into positions of prominence among Yankees fans. It is not possible to simply forget them, or overlook them, or ignore them.
The Red Sox?
Nope. Even if they were as bad as everyone believed they would be, they would still be the Red Sox. Even if they were as bad as they looked like they were going to be when the Orioles swept them the first three games of the season, they would still be headquartered at Fenway Park, 4 Jersey Street, Boston, MA, 02215.
They would still be anchored in Yankees history.
They would still be the Red Sox.
Still, here we are, second week in May, a month into the baseball season, and what did we see Tuesday afternoon as the Yankees and Rays prepared for the third of their six-part chapter of a seasonal series? We saw the Red Sox in first place in the AL East.
We saw the Red Sox at 22-14, .611.
That’s the highest winning percentage in baseball. That’s one more win than anyone else in baseball. That’s one less loss than anyone in baseball besides the Mets, who have played seven fewer games (and got swept a pair by the Sox two weeks ago).
Before the Yankees and Rays prepared to play each other in a three-game series at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field starting Tuesday night, Aaron Boone had said, “We know them and they know us, and we know we’ll be thinking about and playing each other all season long.”
Those are the kind of things Yankees managers used to routinely say about the Red Sox. Those are things that were exclusively reserved for the Red Sox when they were the only other satellite in the Yankees universe — before the Rays became rivals, before the Astros occupied so much of their attention, before even the Mets slid into a spot on their radar thanks mostly to location, location, location.
And, yes, those three games against Houston last week were terribly satisfying and gratifying … at least until Jose Altuve took a mighty hack at that fastball in his eyes Thursday afternoon.
And, yes, these three games against the Rays this week at The Trop will surely be fascinating, both as an acid test for the Yankees (they will be able to figure out a way to beat these guys one of these days, right?) and also as a test for the team’s collective stomach acid because the Yankees and Rays don’t like each other even a little bit, and so there is always the possibility of a brouhaha brewing at any minute.
But it’s the Sox who are better than any of them right now.
It’s the Sox who have taken to the return of the Baseball Whisperer, Alex Cora, like a runaway dog reunited with a beloved family, and have played smart, exciting baseball across the first 36 games of their season.
It’s been oddly easy to shunt aside the Sox if you are the Yankees, partly because the Sox were so wretched last year (24-36, nine games behind the Yanks, 16 behind the Rays, a record that translates to 65-97 across the full 162), partly because the teams haven’t collided yet (and won’t until June 4; they don’t make their first trip to Fenway until June 25), partly because … well, the Rays are their more bitter rivals right now.
The Rays are the daily tinderbox, whenever they face them.
The Rays get the Yankees’ blood boiling with little prompting.
The Sox? The Sox don’t have Mookie anymore, and they don’t have JBJ anymore, or Benintendi (who always seemed to find the short porch), and they don’t have regular Yankees punching bag David Price anymore, and Chris Sale hasn’t pitched an inning yet. It still seems like a typo looking at the Sox’s record.
It isn’t a typo. It’ll soon be a quarter of a season in the books. And there they are, where they always seem to be. The Yankees have some business to tend to before then. But the Sox are a part of their lives again. And maybe a little more than that.
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