If you believed some high and mighty Yankees fans last year -- and, if you did, you have no one to blame but yourself -- no rivalry existed between the New Yorkers and the Red Sox. The Sox were pests, at best. They were semi-amusing jesters in front of the royal pinstriped court.
How could there be a rivalry when the Yanks were always winning?
Well, that line of thinking is as dead now as the Babe and his curse. This season, we're thinking: Can this season's Yankees-Red Sox rivalry get any stronger?
"The curse is over," Yankees manager Joe Torre said earlier this spring. "I don't know where it goes now."
Hold on, everybody. We're about to find out.
The Yankees and Red Sox, thanks to those dastardly schedule makers at Major League Baseball, begin the 2005 season on Sunday night back in Yankee Stadium, the scene of the Yanks' most inglorious collapse ever, in last year's American League Championship Series. The teams are 1-2 in many people's AL rankings, in whatever order you like, just as they were last season.
And they are -- don't even think otherwise -- aching to get at each other again. After an offseason of name-calling (everybody ganging up on Alex Rodriguez), beefing up (Randy Johnson to the Yanks, ex-Yankee David Wells to the Sox), big-time partying (the Sox, of course) these two teams have tons to settle.
Last year the rivalry began with the offseason tug-of-war over A-Rod, carried on through Jason Varitek's in-your-face shove of A-Rod during the season and ended, finally, in the ALCS when the Sox did something no other team has done. Down 0-3 in the series, they came back to stun the Yankees, winning Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. Then they swept the Cardinals in the World Series.
Sunday will be Game 1 of 19 Boston-New York games this season, including six in the first nine games.
Here's a Top 10 list of this season's biggest rivalries within the biggest rivalry in sports:
1. A-Rod vs. Varitek-- The Yankees third baseman took offense last year to getting "called out" by Varitek, the Red Sox's catcher, and then took a mug full of catcher's mitt, inciting a brawl.
2. Jason Giambi vs. the fans -- The Yankees' DH and slugger will get lots of love from his hometown fans in this week's games, but when the venue switches to Fenway Park on April 11, the Nation will be juiced to greet him.
3. A-Rod vs. Trot Nixon -- When Rodriguez mentioned to a reporter in the offseason about how hard he worked while others took their kids to school, Boston's Nixon -- no deadbeat dad -- called him a "clown."
4. Wells vs. George Steinbrenner -- Boston's Opening Day starter and The Boss once conspired to hoodwink Arizona in a deal that brought Wells to the Bronx. Now they're opponents after N.Y. spurned the big lefty's offseason overtures.
5. A-Rod vs. Bronson Arroyo -- Rodriguez doesn't make many friends. Maybe if he hadn't tried that stupid basepath karate chop against Arroyo, or if he'd stop calling him "Brandon," the two Florida kids could be chums.
6. The Yanks vs. tight collars -- You don't go up 3-0 in a best-of-seven and lose. Until last year, that is. It was a historic choke, one that still has to be eating at the Yanks. And The Boss.
7. Mariano Rivera vs. his head -- The Sox owned the Yanks' super closer last year. Rivera had two blown saves against the Red Sox in the regular season and two more in the ALCS.
8. Yankeessuck.com vs. Soxsuck.com -- 'Nuf said.
9. The Sox vs. complacency -- Hard to believe, but after ending that drought, after that offseason party, the Sox have to watch out. The Yanks got better in the offseason. And New York has seven straight AL East titles, too.
10. Johnson vs. Curt Schilling -- Do the former teammates and co-MVPs of Arizona's '01 World Series win like each other? It doesn't seem so. The Unit goes on Sunday, while Schilling sits. But they'll probably meet sometime in '05.