Red Sox rally around Alex Cora after Brett Gardner criticism

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Tomase: Brett Gardner's jab at Cora helps fuel Red Sox sweep originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We've searched for excuses about Red Sox-Yankees losing its luster for a decade, but it really boils down to one word: hatred.

The 1970s clubs despised each other, with no rivalry more bloodthirsty than Carlton Fisk vs. Thurman Munson in a battle of granite backstops. The 1980s saw Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice challenge an entire section of Yankee Stadium bleachers after a fan stole his hat. The '90s brought Nomar vs. Jeter, Pedro vs. Roger, and the birth of the Yankees dynasty juxtaposed against a Red Sox franchise still wedded to misery.

The animosity crescendoed in the early 2000s. Pedro Martinez slammed Don Zimmer to the turf, Aaron Boone slammed the door on another Red Sox season, Jason Varitek slammed his mitt in Alex Rodriguez's face, and David Ortiz finally slammed the Yankees right into the history books. No rivalry will ever top 2003-04.

Fast forward 17 years, and Red Sox-Yankees generally hasn't merited the Sunday Night Baseball treatment or constant national TV coverage it has nonetheless received. Even when the rivals competed for a division title in 2017 or squared off in the 2018 playoffs after 100-win seasons, the breathless talk of The Rivalry felt more perfunctory than passionate.

Tomase: Red Sox, Yankees are heading in two different directions

Why? No hatred.

That changed this weekend in the Bronx, and let's hope it lasts. After the Red Sox swept the Yankees on Sunday night, shortstop Xander Bogaerts let slip that the Red Sox weren't happy with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, who had criticized manager Alex Cora before the series.

"Having him back in the dugout makes me want to beat them more," a smirking Gardner said. "We don't like those guys. They don't like us."

It may not be Pedro admonishing reporters to wake up the damn Bambino, but at least it was something. And it gave the series an extra jolt that should carry over to the next meeting later this month at Fenway Park.

"Brett Gardner said a couple of words before the series started, so it kind of got us fueled up," Bogaerts admitted on SportsCenter after delivering the game-winning two-run single in the 10th inning of Sunday's 6-5 finale.

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He wasn't quite so forceful later with reporters on Zoom, but it wasn't hard to read between the lines: The Yankees came after Cora, and the Red Sox had his back.

"It's very important, especially because that's the way he is with us," said one of Sunday's heroes, Marwin Gonzalez. "He has our back, too. He's the best manager that I have played for. You have to do that. He does it with us, so why not do it with him?"

In retrospect, the hints were there that the Red Sox hadn't taken kindly to Gardner's flippancy. In Friday's opener, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi greeted Gardner with three straight 100 mph fastballs. NESN analysts Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley immediately theorized the Red Sox were sending Gardner a message. Why save your hardest fastballs for the No. 9 hitter?

That the Red Sox would take particular offense at criticism of Cora makes sense, but it's a two-way street. After all, Cora admits playing a central role in the sign-stealing scandal that tainted the Astros' 2017 World Series title, a crown they would not have won without beating the upstart Yankees in a seven-game ALCS.

More than a half a dozen Yankees remain from that team, and they can be forgiven for having long memories. The Red Sox, meanwhile, legitimately respect their manager, who has returned from suspension to take a last-place club to the third-best record in baseball.

How sweep it is

Red Sox' last sweep in New York prior to this weekend

2011

Variation

Single

So once Gardner dissed Cora, it was sure to catch the attention of the Red Sox clubhouse.

"I think we were talking about it a little bit early on in the series, pretty much before we came here," Bogaerts said. "I think that's when it came out, but once we were here, there wasn't much of that, like, 'We gotta win tonight because he said this, or said that.' There wasn't any of that. As soon as it came out it was like, 'Oh, all right.'"

So thank you, Brett Gardner. Red Sox-Yankees needs villains, and now each side has one. It should make the next matchup between these two clubs on June 25 a lot more interesting, and maybe it can ever carry forward.

In the meantime, the Red Sox sent the Yankees a message.

"We know we're a good baseball club," Bogaerts said. "We know we have talented players on this team, and I think this was a good statement that we made coming in here and winning these three games."