"Last winter," Cashman says, "I think things got a little disrespectful between us, but they have a great organization, and Theo's done a great job."
So scrape away all the classical allusions—it's hard to imagine some ancient Athenian entrepreneur selling SPARTA SUCKS! T-shirts at the foot of the Acropolis anyway—and all the literary encrustation that this rivalry has accrued from the various faculty clubs on both sides of the Charles, and what you have left are two talented, splendiferously flawed baseball teams that happen to suit perfectly each other's obvious strengths and weaknesses. "You take two guys from each of these teams, and you throw them in a ring, and everybody's going to come out of there bloody," said Torre, who was wrung out by Saturday night.
The competitive standard for this season had been set in late July at Fenway, when Boston pulled to within 1� games of first-place New York by getting two wins against the Yankees in what were arguably the three best games played anywhere in the majors this year. Over the next month the Yankees built that lead up to 7� games, but they showed signs of wear in doing so; before heading for Boston, New York was slow-roasted at home on consecutive nights by the Chicago White Sox 13-2 and 11-2.
Meanwhile the Red Sox walked through August in a fever dream. Every win was Mardi Gras. Every loss was Krakatoa. They dropped two tough games to the Oakland A's in a three-game series at Fenway. Boston's No. 2 starter, righthander Derek Lowe, left the first game with a blister, and Martinez came down with pharyngitis and had to miss a start in the third game. Martinez later became so incensed by criticism from some radio know-nothings that he threatened to leave the team after his contract ends next year. What kept the whole thing in balance was the contribution of some of the players Epstein and Lucchino brought in who are not yet afflicted with the Historical Affective Disorder. When Lowe got some heat for leaving the Oakland game, first baseman Kevin Millar taught everyone in Boston a new verb: to cowboy.
"I want to see somebody cowboy up and stand behind this team one time and quit whining about all the negative stuff and talking about last year's team and 10 years ago and 1918," Millar said.
"Seriously," Millar said a few days later, "we all don't know any better. David Ortiz, Todd Walker, Bill Mueller, we're all the new guys here." Third baseman Mueller and designated hitter Ortiz joined the Red Sox last January, from the San Francisco Giants and the Minnesota Twins, respectively. At week's end Mueller led the American League with a .323 average and Ortiz had proved to be a natural lefthanded Fenway slugger, hitting 23 home runs, including one stretch that ended on Saturday in which he'd hit one out in six consecutive starts. These have been essential numbers, especially last weekend, when $20 million-a-year slugger Manny Ramirez missed all three games also with pharyngitis. Meanwhile, Millar, a refugee from the Florida Marlins who was batting .282, has supplied the Red Sox with more than a respectable bat in the middle of the lineup. He has given them something of a soul by demonstrating that he doesn't have very much, well, soul.
Last season it was the Rally Monkey in Anaheim. This year the Red Sox have the Rally Karaoke Guy. It seems that several years, about 15 pounds and at least three shades of blond ago, Millar allowed himself to be videotaped doing a lip-synch version of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.SA. and then neglected to burn every copy. So now, when Boston needs a late-game lift at Fenway, up on the scoreboard video screen goes Millar in what appears to be a hostage video shot by the Deney Terrio Dance Fever Liberation Army. It is so very un-Red Sox. Imagine Yaz juicing the lads up back in '78 by gyrating to a tune from, say, Styx. Imagine—gasp!—what Ted might think. (No. Don't. There are children in the room.)
"There's so much affection in this clubhouse," says outfielder Gabe Kapler, one of the newest of the new Red Sox. "It's cool. It's interesting." This is a remarkable departure for a team once defined for the ages as "25 guys, 25 cabs." (After last weekend, however, Kapler may discover that baseball in Boston is not all Britney-and-Madonna after all. First, on Saturday, while pursuing a fly ball, he ran into starting centerfielder Johnny Damon, knocking him out of Sunday's game. Then, replacing Damon, Kapler made two errors that cost the Red Sox two runs.)
The new guys are the heart of what has become a Red Sox lineup with a prodigious chin. Through Labor Day they had come from behind to win 36 games, and they'd won 20 in their last at bat. Boston put up at least 10 hits in eight consecutive games before last weekend's series, and they cowboyed Contreras in the opener, scoring seven runs against him in three innings and squashing the Yankees 10-5.
But the white-hot center of things came on Saturday, in the eighth inning, with Fenway loud enough to chase away any ghosts. Staked to leads of 3-0 and 4-2, Martinez had blown them both, and he was long gone. Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte had hung on until the Yankees built an 8-4 lead. Whereupon Torre edgily went for the bullpen phone and brought on righthander Jeff Nelson.