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July 5, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

In 1978, the Yankees and Red Sox played what is perhaps the most famous four-game regular season series in history. Coming into Fenway on September 7th four games off the lead, they left Beantown tied for first, having crushed the hometown favorites 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4. It would be remembered as the "Boston Massacre", and would take on added importance a few weeks later, when the Yankees and Red Sox finished tied for first place, and faced off in a sudden-death playoff in Boston. Had the Red Sox won just one of those games that September weekend, Bucky Dent's middle name would still be "Earl".

Now, the Red Sox have come into town trailing by four games, and after the first two games of this four-game set, they've crushed the Bombers 10-3 and 10-2. With victory likely with Pedro pitching on Monday, it appears likely that the Red Sox will leave town in no worse shape than when they came in, and with Andy Pettitte starting tomorrow, it's possible that we could be looking at Boston's revenge.

But just because the Red Sox might massacre the Yankees this weekend doesn't mean that the ultimate result will be the same. For one, it's July, not September, and there's a whole lot of season left for the pennant to be decided. For another, history is linear, not cyclical, and just because one thing happens that was similar to something in the past doesn't mean that the rest of the scenario will play out the same way. If this was a political blog, and it were March, I'd start talking about Iraq now. But it’s neither, so I won’t. But the point is, just because the Red Sox got massacred by the Yankees and lost, doesn’t mean the Yankees will lose if they get massacred by the Sox.

But most importantly, the Boston Massacre didn't happen in a vacuum. It occurred in the midst of one of the most epic collapses in baseball history, as the Red Sox lost a fourteen game lead in only 52 games. The Yankees, on the other hand, had just opened up their biggest lead of the season, are coming off of an 8-game winning streak, and had gained 6½ games on the Red Sox in the past month--all with two of their best hitters on the disabled list. This time around, the Massacre would be a rebound from a collapse, not a capper to a comeback. The 1978 Massacre sent the Red Sox reeling, this massacre would just make it a pennant race again.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s just two games, the Yankees can still split this series. If they aren’t going to stop the Red Sox from scoring, they’re going to have to run with them. They have to take advantage of their opportunities, something they’ve done an awful job of so far. It doesn’t help that they’ve batted Ruben Sierra cleanup. Ruben F. Sierra!!! Yeah, he’s had a great month, but 8000 PAs is a pretty decent sample size, and it’s clear that we’re dealing with an average hitter here. Playing him everyday instead of Raul Mondesi or Todd Zeile isn’t a bad idea, but sticking him between Giambi and Matsui is beyond bad. And with Godzilla coming off of a 1.157 OPS in June, the “playing the hot hand” argument doesn’t work, either.

That’s Joe for you. Expect Ruben to DH against lefties when Nick Johnson comes back. At least it’s better than Zeile and his .658 OPS.

Thanks to David Pinto for plugging me in his wonderful blog today.