Photo Cred: Zimbio.com
Consuelo Gonzalez is not a household name, nor a relative of the Colorado slugger Carlos Gonzalez. In fact, Consuelo has no ties to Major League Baseball at all; instead, she’s a professional lip reader.
But in 2004, a lifetime for some Red Sox fans, we were all professional lip readers when Alex Rodriguez blasphemed Red Sox Hall of Famer Jason Varitek, inciting the most epic benches clearing brawl of the 2000’s. Following the profanity, Tek, with a vein bulging from his neck that you could see from the simplest of standard definition TV sets, walloped A-Rod in the face and ignited a flame under the Sox roster that propelled a Bill “Mo-Killer” Mueller walk off, with the season ultimately culminating in the end of a disastrous title drought. The rivalry was fierce.
But that was fourteen years ago. Does it remain, or have the Yanks taken a back seat?
Since ’04, the rivalry has taken form with other divisional foes. Dating back to Pedro’s near masterpiece no-no vs. the Rays and another Sox brawl fueled by Gerald ‘Ice’ Williams inability to accept an HBP to the butt, the argument could be made that there’s been more emotion and passion emanated from Tampa-Boston showdowns. Their playoff battles went tit for tat, one overtaking the other year after year. There was no love loss from Sox fans when Joe Maddon (“he’s so offbeat, and witty,” Tampa purported for years) split for the Windy City. And as ’18 draws closer, it is with open arms that the Sox welcome Kevin Cash back to the division as he’s averaged a 76-86 record in three full seasons at the helm; except this year, he has to make do without Red Sox killer Evan Longoria, his franchise leader in WAR, ding dongs, RBI.. essentially ever major offensive category. After launching the biggest long ball in Florida’s history —acting as the final dagger to the heart of Sox Nation in 2011— Boston fanatics may as well have shoulder carried Longo to the Bay Area.
Is Tampa Bay a force to be reckoned with? No, but neither were they in 2007 when they won 66 games, only to follow that up with a hard earned, pennant winning storybook season in 2008.
The Rays recent string of four consecutive losing seasons may have dampened the short rivalry between the two clubs, but this simply meant that they’d pass the buck on to the Sox’s newest and fiercest divisional enemy: the Baltimore Orioles.
Last April needs not be detailed; the weird eared hot corner Oriole was the first domino to clink to the ground, setting off an out of control series of events leaving the city of Boston with a black eye of racism and an injured second baseman. If you can reflect on the games that followed without getting hot under the (blue) collar, kudos. However, the brawling, name calling, and heated post game interviews are set to be relived and re-diagnosed as early as April 13th, when the Birds make a trip up north for the first series of the season with Boston.
When a flu bug ran rampant through the Red Sox clubhouse early in 2017, the well travelled Buck Showalter took the opportunity to stoke a fire that wasn’t burning with fervor just yet, expressing to reporters, “…nobody really wants to hear somebody else complain about it. Our guys have done a good job not broadcasting it to the world.” True; Showalter’s guys also did a good job of winning 75 games, playing the role of the A.L. East cellar dwellers.
The Red Sox of course had the last laugh winning the division, but Baltimore held the edge with a 10-9 record against the good guys, despite a slow start by Machado. With a few positive additions to the rotation in Andrew Cashner and Boston native Alex Cobb, plus a lineup that saw seven dudes (six of whom will return) crank 20 long ones last year, the O’s will look to push for a division title under their free agent superstar’s final year in Maryland. If they fail, Showalter won’t have a flu bug to blame.
As a historic franchise with division, pennant, and World Series banners to go along with superstar hall of fame inductees, the Red Sox have certainly made enemies along the way. But those enemies have repaid the sport in a backdoor method, as Baltimore, Tampa, and New York —and might as well throw in the Jays, for good measure— will all take their shot at dethroning the defending division champs once again, and reclaiming a tertiary title as the number one Red Sox rival.