BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox traveled to the land of the ThunderStix and thundered Anaheim to the tune of 17 runs and a 2-0 lead in the ALDS.
Now with three chances – the first being Friday afternoon here at Fenway Park – to wrap things up, even the most fatalistic Boston fans are feeling pretty good.
Epic collapses do happen in baseball and, in case you hadn't heard, they've happened to this franchise. But the likelihood of a highly anticipated ALCS rematch with the New York Yankees is now high.
Oh, except for the New York part. The Yankees are in a battle (series tied at 1-1) for their postseason lives with a more-than-capable Minnesota Twins club.
Which begs a new and perhaps never-before-been-asked question in these parts:
Would finally winning the World Series somehow be lessened if Boston never directly vanquished its chief nemesis and archrival? Are Red Sox fans actually rooting for the Yankees?
Just so they can then beat them?
"There were some people here on Wednesday rooting for the Yankees," said Eliza Partington, a bartender at the Cask n' Flagon, which sits just behind Fenway's Green Monster and is about the last place Yankee fans would congregate to watch their team.
"I was busting their balls," Partington said. "I said, You are not rooting for the Yankees?' They said, We are, but we're Sox fans. We want to see the Sox-Yankees in Boston."
"I couldn't believe it."
All over baseball-mad New England the same dilemma is being debated. Love of the Red Sox comes with an equal part hatred for the Yankees. You can't have one without the other.
New York is the team Babe Ruth was sold to after Boston's 1918 World Series victory. New York is the powerhouse division rival that – more than any curse – kept the Sox out of contention for a title since. New York has those 26 World Series titles and 39 American League pennants.
Red Sox fans root for the Yankees to lose split-squad games during spring training. But with another historic ALCS – perhaps the one where redemption is finally won – potentially derailed by these pesky Twins, everything changed.
By the time the Twins and Yankees hit extra innings Wednesday, New York found a region full of unlikely fans.
"I don't want to play the Twins. There is no exorcism there," said Tony Zarrella, a Taunton, Mass. native now living in Colorado who flew to Boston with his girlfriend to hang around Fenway this weekend. That meant nursing drinks and reading the Boston Herald Thursday afternoon at the Cask.
"Seriously," he said, "even though it is just a step to the World Series, losing to [the Yankees] last year was worse than losing the World Series in 1986. The Mets, who are they? The Yankees, I am so sick and tired of losing to those guys."
Officially, you aren't getting any of the Red Sox to admit they would rather play New York than Minnesota, although some agreed the drama might be higher.
Everyone respects the Twins. The Angels, too. Last year Boston dropped the first two games of the ALDS to Oakland only to rally to win. So there is still work to do.
"We still have to hit and catch balls," manager Terry Francona said.
But most Sox fans have a different opinion. The emotional baggage with the Yankees is so significant, the build-up and anticipation so great, that even though the main goal is winning the World Series, a little something would be missing if the road didn't go through the Bronx.
Besides, Sox fans think the Yankees are a sinking ship. The Twins are probably tougher.
"They don't have the pitchers," said Zarrella of the Yankees.
So welcome to Boston, pull up a stool at the Cask, call into WEEI and join the crowd – the most unlikely group of New York fans you'll ever find.
For the time being, "Yankees Suck" has been replaced by "Let's Go Yankees."
To most people.
"Personally, I'd like to see the Sox and Yankees in the playoffs," said Partington, the bartender, before shaking her head.
"But I just can't bring myself to root for the Yankees. I just can't."
She said that from her heart. But that kind of loyalty ought to be worth some serious tips around here.
- New York