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July 4, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

There's a bias against Yankees fans out there, similar to the ones against fans of the Cowboys and Lakers. When people find out that you're a Yankees fan they assume that you're obnoxious, arrogant, and stupid.

These traits aren't the exclusive domain of Yankees fans, they are found in the fans of all teams. It's just that there are so many more Yankees fans that you notice it more.

I think the defining trait of a Yankees fan, that separates them from fans of all other teams, is confidence. If you're a Yankees fan, you know your team is going to win. Not necessarily today, not necessarily this year, but eventually. The Yankees lost the Series in 2001, they lost to the Angels last year, but d any of us really think that it's the last time we'll see our team have a shot to win? If you're a Yankees fan, there is no sense of urgency to win now. The only frustration comes from the desire to win always.

Red Sox fans are different. Some are defeatist; they know that they're going to lose in the end, so they never get their hopes up. Some are ignorant or indifferent, and don't care about the last 85 years, and then there's the elitists, who take a special pride in being fans of a team that hasn't won since WWI. Most young fans are ignorant, most Primate Red Sox fans are indifferent, and most of the writers in New England are either defeatist or elitist. They all share an especial hatred of the Yankees.

And with good reason. It seems that whenever the Red Sox have a good team, the Yankees have a better team. I don't think they're really cursed, but it's gotta be annoying.

This season won't rank among the top 10 Red Sox letdowns against the Yankees, but it's likely that, unless they win this weekend's series, the Red Sox have blown their chance this year. The Yankees lost two of their best hitters in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season, and the Red Sox not only did not put them away, they lost ground, and are now four games back. Nick Johnson's hand is healed, and he'll be back as soon as he gets his strength and timing back. Bernie Williams is saying that he might be ready next week (slow down, Bernie--let's make sure).

Four games isn't a hair's-breadth margin, it's in the "nice little cushion" range. One starts to get the feeling that, if the Yankees can hold their ground through the break, they're home free.

It starts this weekend with the Red Sox. The worst-case scenario is that the Red Sox sweep, and the Yankees leave for Cleveland tied for first. The best-case scenario is that the Yankees sweep, and start printing playoff tickets.

Neither of those scenarios is likely to play out, as both teams are too good to get swept. The Red Sox offense has been spectacularly good, and is on pace to score more than 1000 runs. The Yankees' offense has been very inconsistent, but is good enough to run with the Sox, especially as hot as Giambi and Matsui have been. What's going to decide this series is pitching.

The match-ups are good; the closest there is to a mismatch is on Saturday, because with the rainout on Thursday, the Yankees aren't starting Claussen.

This afternoon, Boomer goes against Derek Lowe, who hasn't quite returned to his should-have-won-the-Cy-Young-last-season form, but has been excellent since mid-May, winning his last six decisions. Boomer didn't lose in June, either, though his performances have been slightly less consistent (except for the lack of walks). Bouts of inconsistency are something that should be expected from these two, who rely on getting the ball put in play. Neither pitcher has a great track record against the other team, either, so this game will likely go to the bullpen. Both teams have their issues in the 'pen, and with BHK in Boston, both teams have an ace out there, too. This should be a fun, high-scoring game that could go either way.

Saturday is Rocket vs. Ramiro. Mendoza struggled in relief before getting hurt in mid-June, while Clemens has been dominant in his past few starts, excluding the loss at Tampa Bay. If Mendoza struggles again, this game will be a laugher for the Yanks, but I think he'll pitch fine, and this will be another close game. I think the Yankees will pull it out, though.

Sunday is a match-up of inconsistent pitchers. Both Burkett and Pettitte have a propensity for imploding and putting their team in a deep hole, but both have gone out and shut their opponents down at times, too. It's likely that one of these pitchers will suck this go-around, so all the other needs to do is pitch okay. If the Yankees win the first two, this game becomes almost a must-win for the Red Sox.

If the Yankees win the first three, they'll have their best pitcher on the mound for the sweep. Unfortunately, the same is true for the Red Sox. Mussina and Pedro met at the Stadium two years ago in an epic match-up, and I have high hopes for this game matching that one for excitement.

Unfortunately for me, all four games are afternoon starts, which means I'll only be able to watch the third one live, and I'll have to tape the rest of them.

Strangely, I'm still superstitious when I'm watching the game on tape and I don't know what's happened. Don't make me try to explain that one.