BOSTON — Before the first pitch Tuesday, I wanted to make sure I took a moment to walk outside Fenway Park to take in the scene.
The bars? Packed.
Red Sox and Yankees jerseys? Everywhere.
Live music filled the air in the streets outside, and no matter your rooting interest the energy was palpable.
Same thing on the drive into the city. The sports talk radio shows were fired up, and so were the callers.
It was everything you’d expect in the lead-up to a winner-take-all playoff game between the two biggest rivals in baseball, but there was one thing notably missing.
No panic. No fear of being disappointed. No bemoaning our lot as Red Sox fans based on things that will definitely go wrong, because, of course they will.
Heck, things did go wrong and Red Sox fans seemed to be taking it in stride.
Think about what just happened with J.D. Martinez. One of the best players on the Red Sox sprains his ankle tripping over the second base bag while running out to right field between innings. The only reason he was there in the first place is because the Red Sox happened to be playing in a National League ballpark their final series of the season.
That’s crazy! What are the odds of something that random and that consequential happening days before a winner-take-all showdown with the New York Freaking Yankees?
If David Ortiz had freakishly sprained anything in 2004, in the days of The Curse, it would have been seen as some kind of divine prank and the whole city would have been losing its mind.
Instead, when news broke that Martinez couldn’t play, the reaction from Red Sox Nation was well-measured disappointment.
How far we’ve come in just a few short years.
No matter who comes out on top Tuesday, the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry has changed forever. What was once a lopsided, big brother-little brother dynamic has morphed into something resembling a contest of equals.
Back in the day, the Yankees always won, and Red Sox fans hated them for it. New York dominated the rivalry — and baseball as a whole — throughout the 20th century. As Boston’s title drought grew by the year, the resentment grew with it.
Since 2004, everything’s changed. The Red Sox have won four World Series titles and the Yankees only one. Boston has won 10 playoff series compared to the Yankees eight (not including one-off Wild Card play-ins). The last time they faced off head to head in the 2018 ALDS, Boston won in four games, mocking Aaron Judge’s “New York, New York” drive-by as they celebrated in Yankee Stadium’s visitor’s clubhouse.
Now, when the Red Sox and Yankees meet, the passion is there but the feeling of inadequacy is gone. The dynamic is much healthier, and we’re probably all better off.
But that doesn't mean the rivalry isn’t any less fun, and if the scene at Fenway Park last night was any indication, the rivalry is still very much on.