So this is how Spring Training really ended for the Red Sox and the Yankees on Sunday: The Red Sox scored six in the bottom of the eighth against the Rays at Fenway, five of those runs coming with two outs, and won, 8-7, to go 8-1 for the first
So this is how Spring Training really ended for the Red Sox and the Yankees on Sunday: The Red Sox scored six in the bottom of the eighth against the Rays at Fenway, five of those runs coming with two outs, and won, 8-7, to go 8-1 for the first time in their history. The Yankees? They led the Orioles, 5-0, after the bottom of the first and ended up in extra innings -- again -- before losing in 12 innings by the same score in which the Red Sox had won, 8-7.
The Red Sox and Yankees are scheduled to play a three-game series at Fenway Park this week. But it will feel, in all the big ways, as if the regular season really is just starting for the both of them. It is the way things used to be when this rivalry was as good as it has ever been, back in 2003 and '04. In those years, Red Sox vs. Yankees was as good, both in the regular season and in the postseason, as any baseball rivalry has ever been, and that includes the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Yeah. It was all that. And more.
The Red Sox have already had Opening Day against the Rays -- when the Rays scored six in the eighth to beat them -- and then their home opener against the Rays. The way things have gone so far, their fans would be perfectly happy for Boston to play the Rays all year long. The Yankees had their official opener in Toronto and then they also got to open their home season against the Rays in football weather last Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
But now the preliminaries are over. What has always felt like the main event for both teams begins with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Fenway Park, with Chris Sale against Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge and all the other Mash Brothers.
Things likely won't ever be what they were between the two teams more than a decade ago, when four-hour, nine-inning games between them so often did feel like 15-round fights, and that was before they twice went the distance in the American League Championship Series. There's the old cliché in sports about how "these two teams don't like each other." Guess what? The Red Sox and Yankees really didn't in those days, when the Red Sox finally felt the sides were even, against what their CEO at the time, Larry Lucchino, nicknamed the "Evil Empire."
The other day I asked Joe Torre, who was in the barrel for all of that, what Red Sox vs. Yankees was like in 2003 and '04.
"Wins were the best," Torre said. "Losses the worst. It was stressful. It was exhausting."
Then he joked, "Otherwise it was great!"
It might not be great this season. Probably will be stressful for Aaron Boone, the hero of Game 7 of the ALCS of 2003, and for Alex Cora, rookie managers both, but both veterans of Red Sox vs. Yankees as players. Likely to be exhausting. But if feels as if the whole thing might be big fun again, because of the big expectations for both teams. It will most certainly be a grind.
But the season so far for both the Red Sox and Yankees has been a grind. The Red Sox needed extra innings to win their home opener over the Rays. The Yankees went 14 innings Friday night at Yankee Stadium before Pedro Alvarez of the Orioles hit a grand slam to beat them. Giancarlo Stanton struck out five times in the Yankees' home opener and actually got booed by the cold and cranky Yankee faithful. J.D. Martinez, who was hired to hit home runs by the Red Sox, didn't hit his first until Saturday.
The Yankees' bullpen, which was supposed to smack around opposing teams the way Stanton and Judge and Gary Sanchez are supposed to smack home runs from here to October, has hardly been spectacular. The Red Sox starting pitching has been spectacular. Before Sunday, Red Sox starting pitchers had been 5-0 with a 1.28 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the second-lowest starter ERA through eight games of a season since the American League began recording earned runs 105 years ago.
The hitting stars for the two teams haven't been Stanton or Judge or Hanley Ramirez (who's been very, very good so far) or Mookie Betts. The hitting stars have been the team's two shortstops, Didi Gregorius and Xander Bogaerts. It was Gregorius who hit two home runs and knocked in eight runs in the Yankees' home opener. In the Red Sox home opener on Thursday, Bogaerts saved the Sox with an RBI double in the ninth. On Saturday, he hit a grand slam towards the Massachusetts Turnpike and knocked in six on the day and the Red Sox won, 10-3, before all the late-game drama on Sunday.
All of the Red Sox eight wins have come against the Rays or the Marlins. Only the Yankees have played a team -- the Blue Jays -- that currently has a winning record in their first three series. The Yankees seem to have already had a couple of months worth of injuries and illnesses so far. And there have been two games already that made their fans feel a little queasy, because of late-inning grand slams by guys from other teams, Alvarez early Saturday morning, and Justin Smoak in Toronto before that, hitting his off Player Page for David Robertson.
A lot has happened with both teams so far. Now Stanton and Judge arrive in Boston on Tuesday night. The two of them have a combined five home runs so far and are looking to at least double that at Fenway. The Red Sox will get their first chance to show they can beat someone other than Miami and Tampa Bay.
The expectations are the same as ever for both teams, even though one thing sure has changed: The Red Sox come into this season with an all-in payroll that is ... wait for it ... $68 million higher than the Yankees' payroll. If you thought that would ever happen, back when Lucchino called the other guys the Evil Empire because they signed a Cuban pitcher named Jose Contreras and the Red Sox did not, send up a flare.
The two teams meet up again on Tuesday night. A new imagining of an old fight. A short preliminary card is over in the American League East. In Boston and in New York, the real season finally begins. Spring Training ended late Sunday afternoon, in both Boston and New York.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.