When fans like me looked at the Boston Red Sox schedule last spring, it was understandable if we circled this September series with the New York Yankees on the calendar. Preseason expectations were such that it seemed to be one of those classic pennant race showdowns that fans of both teams have come to expect.
Instead, both the Red Sox and the Yankees are staggering into Boston's Fenway Park for three games beginning September 11. Unfortunately for me and the rest of Red Sox Nation, only Yankee fans have a reason to pay attention at all.
New York has lost 4 of 6 games against division rivals here in the late summer, and lost their once comfortable lead in the American League East Division as well. All of a sudden, the Yankee juggernaut seems creaky, as injuries are felt and illusory early season performers fall back to earth. Unexpectedly, the Yankees have to worry about repeating the collapse suffered by the Red Sox last season, and about making the playoffs at all.
But it is so much worse in Boston these days. The Red Sox never got high enough to crash. From the start, they have been a disappointment. Losing, bickering, and bad play have become the norm.
The Yankees have been beset by injuries, to be sure. Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera went down early. Outfielder Brett Gardner has missed the season, so has starter Michael Pineda. During the recent losing spell, first baseman Mark Teixeira has been out, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez virtually rehabbing in the lineup.
But the Red Sox have seen injuries on a level just shy of a Biblical plague. One expects frogs to rain from the sky at Fenway Park some night - to be followed, naturally, by a rousing chorus of "Sweet Caroline."
New York is left to hope that Freddy Garcia can hold it together through the month, and that Andy Pettitte can get healthy enough to drag himself back to the mound. Would it surprise anyone at this point if Roger Clemens appeared in the owners' box in the Bronx with a dramatic comeback announcement?
Boston decided maybe it could fire all the players instead of the manager, crafting a mega-trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that seemingly rid them of any player but Daisuke Matsuzaka who was making more than the league minimum salary.
But the Yankees, at least, have hope. They remain in first place, if barely.
The Red Sox have none. Their circus side show of a season can't end fast enough - for fans or players. Everyone has had quite enough, thank you, of the ringmaster of this disaster, Bobby Valentine. The incessantly attention-seeking manager now gripes incessantly about all the attention he's getting. Where else would fans be treated to the spectacle of a manager going on his radio show - for which he gets paid - and threatening to punch the host in the mouth?
For the Yankees, this is the opening of a critical series, and a chance to get back on track against a last place team. For the Red Sox, it is a Tuesday.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.