Baseball's best show

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – Logically there can be no rivalry between the hammer and the nail.

But logic has little to do with the best rivalry in sports – the white-hot matchup between the hammerin' New York Yankees and the perpetually nailed Boston Red Sox that renews here Tuesday in the American League Championship Series.

"It's going to be nuts," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I think it's going to be obviously electric again."

The fact is the Yankees hold a 26-0 lead in world championships since 1918, have won seven consecutive division titles over Boston and found ways to hold the Red Sox back at nearly every turn.

But it also is a fact that the Yankees are just as obsessed with Boston as the Sox are with them.

Over the last few years, the gap between the two teams has closed. Torre called last year's Red Sox, which New York beat in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the ALCS, the best team his Yankee clubs had faced – which is telling considering they have lost playoff series during his run.

Now, with Boston having improved its starting rotation, bullpen and defense – while remaining extremely dangerous at the plate – the question is whether the Yankees can hold off Boston again.

To put it simply, both sides desperately want this one.

It is the perverse joy of this rivalry, of course, that makes seasons like last year satisfying to the Yankees. Yes, they lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins. But there was plenty of solace in once again keeping Boston from winning it.

What should transpire over the next week-plus is baseball at its very best and not just because the games promise to be competitive, back-and-forth affairs.

It isn't even just because it is a culture clash of personalities – the animal-house Red Sox vs. the button-down Yankees.

It begins with history, which is where baseball always is at its best. Two franchises locked in a century of competition. The cast of previous stars is a who's who of the game – from Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Mantle, DiMaggio and Yastrzemski, right up to Jeter, Ramirez, Rodriguez and Martinez.

"There is just so much history here," said Curt Schilling, Boston's Game 1 starter.

The uniforms are almost unchanged since Babe Ruth's day (no teal here). The ballparks – Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park – are perhaps the two most treasured in the sport and both treat the game as the featured attraction. There are no hot tubs, ThunderStix or garbage-bag outfield walls.

"This is baseball how it should be," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

There are, of course, a couple of downsides to this series.

One is the inevitable onslaught of celebrities who can't resist the spotlight. None is more annoying than Ben Affleck, whose "Red Sox every fan" act is as bad as most of his big-screen work. But another inane box seat interview is inevitable.

Second is the never ending talk of the "Curse of the Bambino," the most overhyped and unrealistic storyline in sports. They've written books about his fable. Fox will mention it every third pitch, and every trite sportscaster in America will focus on it.

There is no curse. The Red Sox curse is not the selling of Babe Ruth in 1920 (more on the facts of that in a minute) but rather their proximity to the Yankees.

New York is going for its 40th American League pennant during that stretch, which means almost half the time no one in the AL has beaten them. For decades when Boston was strong – maybe the second-best team in baseball – the Yankees were a bit stronger.

Over a full season this plays out. Before the wild card, it was the only way Boston could defeat New York. Had they ever met in seven-game series (as they would have if the Sox were a National League or AL West team) where the best team doesn't always win, maybe Boston would have won a couple of World Series. Only now with the wild card do the Sox have that second chance.

Far more damaging to the Red Sox was the franchise's decision to be the last in the majors to racially integrate (12 years after Jackie Robinson). Even then, it was slow to fully embrace change. Besides being an ugly legacy, it left the team at a competitive disadvantage for decades. Call it the Curse of the Ignorant.

Of course, the Curse of the Bambino gets the attention, but even that is based on disputed facts. Legend has it that it was the work of a bumbling Sox owner named Harry Frazee. Supposedly, he sold Ruth to the Yankees to finance the play "No, No, Nanette."

But as the excellent baseball historian and author Glenn Stout details in his new book, "Yankee Century," almost none of the facts surrounding the sale are true. The curse is an urban legend repeated so many times it has been taken as fact.

But curse or no curse, annoying celebrity or not, here we are again in October, with two great teams in what seemed like a preordained rematch.

New York and Boston, the Yankees and the Red Sox, the hammer and the nail set to meet in one more time in a rivalry that shouldn't exist but that does at a level like no other.

This is baseball at its best.

"I guess it was supposed to come down to this," Torre said.

Even a Red Sox fan can agree with him on that.

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