N.Y., Boston dust off rivalry for 3-game set

August 10, 1993|By Jack Curry | Jack Curry,New York Times News Service

Don Mattingly was in gym class at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., on that unforgettable October day, or at least he was supposed to be.

The gym teacher was a baseball fanatic, so he let Mattingly and some classmates join him in a tiny room with a tiny television to watch a big baseball game. It became Mattingly's first taste of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.

The date was Oct. 2, 1978, and the two teams were involved in a playoff game to decide the American League East winner.

Even though Mattingly had no ties to the Yankees -- he was drafted by New York in 1979 -- he was rooting for them because they had won the 1977 World Series.

Bucky Dent hit the three-run homer off Mike Torrez over the Green Monster, the Yankees completed their astounding comeback from 14 1/2 games behind Boston and Mattingly was aware of the great rivalry.

"I just assumed it was a rivalry," said Mattingly, who 15 years later is part of it. "When I got here, I played that way. It was natural to hate the Red Sox. It came easy. It started for me in 1978."

But for only the second time since Mattingly eschewed gym class and Dent sent one into the net, the Red Sox and the Yankees will oppose each other in a late-season setting with both teams involved in the pennant race. Their three-game series opens tonight at Fenway Park.

The Blue Jays were in first place in the East, but the Orioles, Boston and New York were locked in a virtual tie for second going into last night, with only the Orioles playing.

Sure, there are still two months of baseball left, but in a storied rivalry that had lost some luster and caused one noted Yankee-Red Sox expert, Wade Boggs, to call it "dead" for the past decade, this is a pretty big deal. Not as big as the day Mattingly missed gym class, but pretty important.

"It's never happened," said Boggs, the Yankees third baseman who played 11 seasons with the Red Sox before this year.

"The Yankees were never involved in a pennant race while I was there. Being with a new team, it is twice as new for me."

Usually precise with statistics, Boggs was wrong about the Yankees never being in a pennant race while he played with Boston. The Yankees and Red Sox were involved in a critical situation in 1988, not so long ago, but Mattingly also had trouble recalling it.

The Yankees ventured to Boston on Sept. 15 that season for a four-game series, trailing the first-place Red Sox by 4 1/2 games. After the Yankees won the opener, stories abounded about the 10th anniversary of the Yankees' comeback of 1978. Would the Red Sox gag again?

The Red Sox did not fizzle a second time. They won the last three games of the series to increase their lead to 6 1/2 games and eventually snared a division title, although they lost to the Oakland Athletics in the league championship series.

"To me, this is going to be just like that," said Mattingly, his memory of the 1988 race jogged.

Fenway will be packed with 34,000 fans, both teams will be dreaming about first and staring at the scoreboard to see how Toronto does against Minnesota and how the Orioles do against Detroit.

The fan factor is always intriguing. Almost everyone from New York hates the Red Sox. Almost everyone from New England hates the Yankees. That should make for a raucous atmosphere as the Red Sox try to continue an amazing stretch in which they have won 33 of their past 43 and the Yankees attempt to thwart them.

The teams have split six games this season. After these three games, there will be one more series, four games in New York, Sept. 16-19.

"I felt the electricity the last time," said Boggs, remembering JTC when the Yankees played in Boston in May. "It was something I had not sensed since I had been there. There was excitement and a buzz in the air. I think the rivalry has been dead for 10 years or so. I think it's back to where it used to be."

Neither team is likely to stumble out of the pennant race by being swept, but neither wants to lose even once. The games are important for the moment, as important as the games they will play next week and the games they played last week.

The Yankees split four games with the Blue Jays last week, but then dropped two of three to the lowly Twins. While conceding that the series is important, Yankees shortstop Spike Owen, a former Red Sox, tried putting the games in perspective.

"The Toronto series was a good series, a neat series," Owen said.

"Before that, we heard that Detroit was the series. It wasn't the series and this isn't the series. It's not do or die, but it's a big series."

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