WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Aaron Boone was a part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry when it was as good as it ever was, and ever will be again.
Oh, sure, Boone was there in 2003 to hit one of the most famous October home runs in all of Yankees history -- against the Red Sox, bottom of the 11th, Game 7, American League Championship Series, at the old Yankee Stadium, off Tim Wakefield. One of the great October nights the old place had ever seen, and it had seen plenty.
The two teams played 19 regular-season games that year, and then seven memorable games in the ALCS. And what happened the next year? They played 19 more regular-season games and seven more in the ALCS, with the Red Sox coming from 0-3 down and getting four straight games off the Yankees and then sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series after that.
"I think there's a reason why the ribbing I've always taken in Boston has been good-natured," Boone was saying in Port St. Lucie, Fla., last week. Then he grinned and said, "I mean [the Red Sox] did go on to win three World Series in the next 10 years. Who knows what would have happened if I didn't hit that home run?"
Moving up on 15 years after his Game 7 heroics, Boone is the Yankees' manager now, at a time when things look as if they have a chance to get good again -- and that means really good -- between the Yankees and Red Sox. Of course, there are other rivalries in baseball. There are really deep and good and historical ones like Dodgers and Giants and Cardinals and Cubs. But the Yankees and the Red Sox remain the main event. And it might be as much of one as it has been in a while this season, as both teams come off a 2017 season in they had something rather unfortunate in common:
Neither one was as good as the Astros, who beat them both in the postseason. Houston beat them both. It happens to be something that no team had ever done in a baseball October.
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It turned out that the consequences of those defeats to Houston were dramatic and severe, at both Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park: Both teams elected to change managers who had taken their teams all the way to the same postseason. The Red Sox dismissed John Farrell, who just four years previously had managed them to a World Series championship, another one for the Red Sox against the Cardinals. The Yankees chose not to renew the contract of Joe Girardi, who had managed the Yankees to their most recent World Series championship, in 2009.
The Yankees hired Boone, the home-run hero of '03. The Red Sox hired Alex Cora away from the Astros. So it is the first time in more than a quarter-century that both the Yankees and Red Sox begin a season with rookie managers. So there's that.
And there is something else you have to this narrative, considering the franchises being discussed here and the expectations in the two cities -- the markets and brands and history and fan bases and all the rest of it:
As rare as it is for both teams to start a season with new managers, it is just as rare for first-time managers to win the World Series. The most recent to do it was Bob Brenly with the 2001 D-backs -- against the Yankees -- after Brenly replaced Buck Showalter. So Brenly did it in Phoenix, and that's the only time this has happened in 50-plus years. Now Boone tries to do it at Yankee Stadium, the home office. Cora tries to do it in Boston, where my friend Mike Barnicle once wrote this in the Boston Globe: "Baseball isn't a life-and-death matter, but the Red Sox are."
The Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton to a team that went all the way to Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS. The Red Sox added J.D. Martinez and the 45 home runs he hit in 119 games last season to a deep and balanced batting order that did everything except hit home runs as Boston was beating out New York for the AL East title. There is a chance that the Red Sox may yet add Alex Cobb to their starting rotation, unless somehow the Yankees change their minds and beat the Red Sox to Cobb. This has turned into an old arms' race out of the past in this rivalry, and we're clearly not just talking here about pitchers' arms.
Again: No could suggest that things will ever be the way they were in 2003 and '04, when you had Pedro Martinez and old Don Zimmer getting into it one afternoon in the playoffs at Fenway Park, and Boone turning himself into Aaron Bleepin' Boone, at least in that moment; when you had Jason Varitek shoving a glove into Alex Rodriguez's face; when you had Dave Roberts stealing second in the bottom of the season for the Red Sox, and beginning the greatest comeback in baseball history, and maybe the greatest baseball story ever told; when you had Curt Schilling and his bloody sock.
There were a lot of years after that when the Yankees and Red Sox had taken upper-case letters away from their rivalry, and we all tried too hard to still make it something it was not. But this season could be different, as the two teams do something very risky for win-now teams coming off seasons when they both won a lot, but not enough:
Bring new managers into the thing. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, in particular, has placed an awfully big bet on himself by replacing Girardi -- who replaced Joe Torre -- with Boone, who has never managed anywhere.
"What this shows," Cashman said Friday, "is that [both the Yankees and Red Sox] are not afraid to make very difficult decisions when trying to be the best we can be."
First-time managers. Old-time rivalry. Upper-case again.