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The (Original) Empire Strikes Back

Remember a couple of winters ago? Recall how prices for free agents stopped going through the roof, and the spending insanity seemed to stop. Esbeban Loaiza signed a three-year, $21.5 million with the A’s, Matt Morris got a similar contract with the Giants, and it seemed as if they were way overpaid?

Remember how the term “market correction” was thrown around.

Well, perhaps that’s what we have going on with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Call it a “rivalry correction.”

In case you haven’t noticed, the Yankees have erased all but 1 1/2 games from a deficit that on May 29 was 14 1/2 games. It’s outrageous, and if I weren’t watching it myself, I wouldn’t believe it. After all, the Yankees were playing worse than the Giants when those two teams got together in June.

Anyway, the Red Sox have basically had the upper hand in this rivalry since they erased the Curse of the Bambino with their epic 2004 postseason run. That was the year the Red Sox, sparked by Dave Roberts’ stolen base (until O.J., was that the most famous swipe in history?) became the first team in baseball history to erase a 3-0 postseason deficit, victimizing the Yankees in the process. Boston eventually ended an 88-year World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis, and the whole culture around the rivalry changed.

You see, since that day, the Red Sox have become obnoxious. They don’t spend the same amount of money the Yanks do, but they certainly could. Fenway Park has been transformed into their own personal vault, the New England Sports Network is every bit the revenue-maker that the Yankees Entertainment&Sports Network has become, and their fan base has enjoyed its own sort of baby boom, and now matches their rivals.

In other words, both of these teams are Evil Empires now.

Has it been good for the game? That’s a question you could debate 24/7/365. But one thing that you can’t deny is that it’s certainly been different. The Red Sox, once upon a time, were lovable underdogs, a team worth sticking with through the torture, because once, just once, maybe they wouldn’t break your heart.

But since the World Series of 2004, that hasn’t been the case. The baseball universe, in a sense, has endured a force of nature that has thrown it off its orbit. True, the Yankees have continued to win AL East crowns, but New York’s World Series drought is now longer than Boston’s.

That said, perhaps the universe is starting to find its way again. The Yankees’ put the Bosox out of their misery a year ago with a five-game sweep at the Fens in August, and now this. Should the Yankees erase the final 1 1/2 games, it might well send the entire region of New England into crisis counseling, and bring back those old feelings of inferiority and paranoia.

As for the Yanks, they’d once again be one-up on their rivals. And mark my words, the day will come when they trail the Red Sox 3-0 in a postseason series and come back to win four straight. Then we’ll know the baseball universe, as we know it, is back in its correct order.

Anyway, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

rhurd