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Yankees, Red Sox Set for Bronx Battle

Events this season ratchet up the already intense rivalry. They play in New York this weekend, Boston the next.

September 17, 2004|Jim Baumbach | Newsday

It began in spring training when the teams' owners exchanged wordy insults.

It escalated July 1 in the Bronx when Pedro Martinez angered Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter flew into the stands to catch a foul ball in a thrilling, 13-inning win.

It grew into an all-out, benches-clearing fight 23 days later at Fenway Park when Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek learned a lot about each other's facial features.

Some may not have thought it was possible, especially after they played an epic seven-game American League championship series last October, but this season the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has been ratcheted up a notch from the craziness of years past.

And with the surging Red Sox having cut the Yankees' lead atop the AL East standings from 10 1/2 to 3 1/2 games, the stakes only get higher.

The Yankees and Red Sox open a three-game series tonight at Yankee Stadium, and they meet for three more games next weekend at Fenway Park.

The American League East title probably will be determined in these six games.

"I'll try to treat this the same as any other, but I know in my mind it is different.... It's going to be the most watched, the most anticipated and the most nosiest," the Yankees' Sheffield said. "With all of the things taking place, we can't get wrapped in the surroundings."

In these games, that may be easier said than done. After Sheffield was hit for the first of two times in the Yankees' 5-4 win July 1, his face filled with anger as he yelled at Martinez of the Red Sox. But he didn't charge the mound, instead choosing to slowly take first base.

That wasn't the case July 24 at Boston when the Red Sox's Bronson Arroyo hit Rodriguez of the Yankees. Rodriguez was as mad as Sheffield was, and he said so as he slowly walked toward first. But Varitek took issue and told Rodriguez to get moving, and it quickly escalated from there.

Asked whether he had any ill feelings left over from that incident, which cost him a four-game suspension, Rodriguez said, "My only concern is to win games. That's all I'm thinking about."

But when Rodriguez steps to the plate in the first inning of tonight's game, Arroyo will be on the mound and Varitek will be behind the plate.

Everyone knows that with home-field advantage for the American League division and championship series on the line, the stakes are way too high for more beanballs and fisticuffs to take place. But Sheffield promised that if something did happen, the Yankees would be ready to react.

"You hope players don't react to the situation and try to harm the other team, but if it came down to it, you have to do what you have to do," he said. "I don't care if those guys hit us or throw at us, but it definitely isn't going to turn out like it did last time."

The Red Sox took two of three the last time these teams met, and Boston has been on a tear ever since. Beginning with its 11-10 win over the Yankees on July 24, the Red Sox have won 36 of 49 games.

The Yankees looked as if they were cruising, having built a 10 1/2 - game lead over Boston by Aug. 15. But the Red Sox cut that deficit down to two games by Sept. 8, only to see the Yankees push it back to up to 3 1/2 games.

Boston has won with improved defense and strong pitching staff anchored by Martinez and Curt Schilling.

The Yankees have relied on their heavy-hitting offense to get them this far, and they believe it will take them beyond this challenge by the Red Sox.

"Both teams feel the same way, I think," Rodriguez said. "We're going to have to go through each other to get to the next level."

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