Thursday, May 6, 2010
Who will be The Rivalry's next victim?
By Wallace Matthews ESPNNewYork.com
We all know a Yankees-Red Sox series is a different breed of cat, a ravenous insatiable beast that every so often must be fed a player or a manager to satisfy its hunger.
In its history, it has taken down the great (John Smoltz) and the not-so-great (Chase Wright), the respected (Joe Torre) and the ridiculed (Grady Little).
Since 2004 alone, it ended the Yankees careers of a manager, two marginal pitchers and one guy they were depending on to perhaps become their ace -- Javier Vazquez.
That is why, when the Yankees and Red Sox begin Round 4 of this 18-round bout -- the Yankees are ahead 2-1 following their opening-weekend series win at Fenway -- Vazquez should consider himself fortunate that his bosses are taking the merciful step of excusing him from the action.
This weekend, Javier Vazquez won't have to worry about taking the mound against the Red Sox.
It is way too early for anyone to consider these three games in Boston as make-or-break for the season, but when it comes to these two teams, and the importance their front offices put on individual performances in their head-to-head matchups, it is never too early to write off a player based on what he does here.
"I know everybody's going to think it's because of the Red Sox,'' Joe Girardi said earlier in the week when announcing he would skip the struggling Vazquez's turn in the rotation, which was to come up in the series opener, "but at some point you have to do something a little bit different when you've had, I think, five starts and you're struggling the way he has.''
Of course, it is because of the Red Sox and Fenway, where the fans are so close to the field that players can smell what they had for dinner. As GM Brian Cashman put it earlier this week, and repeated to me Thursday, "If you're struggling, it's not a place to work your problems out in. We're not saying Javy Vazquez can't pitch in Fenway Park ..." just that he can't pitch there right now. Not the way he's pitching or the way the Red Sox have begun to hit, and certainly not in an atmosphere that is sure to be hostile, to say the least.
"Do we want to go up to Fenway with him, with Fox and all the extra scrutiny and that type of environment, or would you rather try him in a different situation, where maybe it's a little less intense?'' Cashman said. "We decided that makes more sense.''
Originally, since by Girardi's own admission Vazquez's problems seem to be more mental than physical, I believed the seven-game road trip was the perfect opportunity for Vazquez to get in two starts away from Yankee Stadium, where the hostility of the home crowd certainly seems to be in his head.
I figured that the only way Vazquez was going to be able to rebuild his busted confidence was with a win or two, and he had a better chance of getting them away from the Bronx. Returning home with one or even -- best-case scenario here -- two more wins under his belt would do more for him than a dozen bullpen sessions, which by Girardi's account have been excellent anyway.
Then I remembered how Grady Little's managerial career in Boston died in 2003, because of a pressure-influenced decision to stay with Pedro Martinez that cost the Red Sox an ALCS against the Yankees and Little his job.
And 2004, when Vazquez imploded, allowing Johnny Damon's grand slam in Game 7 of the ALCS, which led directly to the first Red Sox World Series title in 86 years and Vazquez's almost immediate banishment from Yankeeland.
Even though he held onto his job for three more increasingly miserable seasons, Torre died in that series, too, never regaining the trust and respect he had from within the organization after that epic collapse.
Want more Yankees-Red Sox casualties? How about Tim Redding, who made his one and only Yankees appearance in a 2005 game against Boston, bombing out in a six-run first inning, never to be seen in a Yankees uniform again.
Two years later, it was Chase Wright self-immolating, allowing four home runs in one inning to the Red Sox and after one more appearance, three months later, disappearing from the annals of Yankeedom.
But if there is any flameout truly indicative of how much a Yankees-Red Sox game means to the people who buy the ballplayers, it is Smoltz's one exposure to the madness last August at Yankee Stadium.
Want to get the scoop on everything in pinstripes? ESPNNewYork.com has you covered. Blog
At the time, the Yankees were leading the division but the Red Sox were only 2½ back, and sent Smoltz out to open the four-game series thinking sweep, or at least three-of-four, to get right back into the race.
Instead, Smoltz got lit up for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings, the Red Sox got smoked, 13-6, and wound up getting swept. And the next morning, Smoltz was DFA'ed -- "designated for assignment,'' the baseball euphemism for you're fired -- and his Red sox career was DOA.
Said Red Sox manager Terry Francona in announcing the move: "We respect what Smoltz has done in his career.''
They just couldn't live with what he had done against the Yankees.
"It's different, no question about it,'' Cashman said. "An awesome series, every time.''
Awesome, and unforgiving and ravenous. Chances are, this weekend's Yankees-Red Sox series will eat up somebody. Javy Vazquez should be grateful that, this time at least, it won't be him.
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.