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Tomase: Round 1 of Red Sox-Yankees was tremendous, and we're just getting started

John Tomase
April 13, 2018 - 12:04 am
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BOOM! Went Giancarlo Stanton's first swing with the Yankees, an opposite-field home run in Toronto.

BANG! Responded Chris Sale with two strikeouts to open his own season, 1,500 miles and two countries away.

BOOM! Went Aaron Judge, Stanton and Gary Sanchez a few days later with homers in a win against Tampa.

BANG! Responded the Red Sox with a tremendous run of starting pitching that led to nine straight victories and the best start in franchise history.

BOOM went Joe Kelly's fastball between Tyler Austin's shoulder blades. BANG went Austin's fist in Kelly's direction during an old-fashioned Red Sox-Yankees melee.

Get ready for a full season of this, because if MLB's opening two weeks suggest anything, it's that the Red Sox and Yankees are on a collision course for American League East supremacy, and it's been a while since we could make that claim.

Last year marked the first time the clubs had finished within two games of each other since 2007, but it's not like they spent 2017 at each other's throats. Relatively little was expected of New York, at least until Judge started sending balls into the stratosphere. The Red Sox spent 90 days in first place and led the division every day after July 31. We didn't realize how good the Yankees were until they pushed the eventual-champion Astros to seven games in the ALCS.

This year is different. New York's shocking acquisition of NL MVP Stanton restored its Evil Empire glory. The Red Sox eventually responded by signing J.D. Martinez, the only power hitter in the game whose numbers approached those of Stanton or Judge.

And just like that, a rivalry that could best be described as "in name only" over the last decade finally courses with the 1.21 gigawatts needed to send us back to the future. Forget about the preseason narrative of the Red Sox ranking a notch below the Bombers. Right now, they're better.

"I don't think anybody in here saw us as a notch below anyone," said first baseman Mitch Moreland. "We know what we're capable of. We know we're a good team."

On Thursday, they finished claiming two out of three from New York with a dominating 6-3 victory that saw Rick Porcello take a no-hitter into the seventh. Playing without shortstop Xander Bogaerts (ankle), the Red Sox shrugged off the loss of first baseman Hanley Ramirez, who was hit on the right wrist and left the game. Even without two of their hottest hitters, the Red Sox still bled Yankees starter Sonny Gray for six runs in three innings. Meanwhile, Porcello masterfully painted corners all night.

The game highlighted the contrasting styles that were on display all series. The Yankees live and die with the long ball. More than 42 percent of New York's 66 runs entering Thursday's game had come via its 16 homers. Sanchez highlighted Wednesday's 10-7 victory with a pair of bombs. Otherwise, the Yankees were limited to a lone solo homer by Judge in their two losses.

The Red Sox boast better starters and -- for the moment, anyway -- a more diverse offense. They began the night ranked in the top five in the American League in runs, doubles, triples, steals, average, on base, slugging, and OPS. They were also third in ERA and first in fewest errors.

"There's a lot of games still," said infielder Eduardo Nunez. "But we know what kind of team we have. We know we have a solid team. We can pitch. We can play defense. We can hit. We play the fundamentals. We can do the little things. To beat us, you have to do all that, too."

That said, no one is pretending New York won't eventually treat its opponents to an extended run of clobbering time. The heart of its order is just too good. The Yankees will figure things out. Sanchez and Stanton, for two, began to come alive in this series.

That would be great news for the Red Sox, not to mention Major League Baseball. The season is infinitely more compelling with a worthy foil, and nothing against the pugilistic Orioles, but last year's bean-brawl wars didn't energize fans so much as exhaust them with all of the "it's not me, it's them," equivocations.

Wednesday's battle felt much more black-and-white, and players on both sides seemed legitimately respectful of the way their counterparts had rallied to defend "their family" as Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. On some level, the Yankees knew Austin's spikes-up slide into Brock Holt had crossed a line, just as the Red Sox recognized that 98 mph around the shoulder probably represented a slightly excessive response.

Both teams left the ring feeling unified, and the Red Sox delivered the better response on Thursday by controlling the Yankees from start-to-finish. There will be more counterpunching as the season progresses.

Hard to believe, but 15 years have passed since the summer of 2003 gave way to Aaron Boone, the Bloody Sock, reversing the curse, and Mariano Rivera tipping his cap. That last gesture conveyed genuine class, but it also marked a collective exhalation. Red Sox-Yankees just couldn't mean as much with the Red Sox possessing a ring. Titles in 2007 and 2013, sandwiched around the Yankees winning it all in 2009, inevitably sucked life from the rivalry.

It wouldn't stay dormant forever, however, and that bring us to today. Even with New York a game under .500, no one's kidding themselves. The Yankees aren't going anywhere. But neither are the Red Sox.

This is baseball the way it's supposed to be.

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