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Friday, May 7, 2010
Updated: May 8, 3:51 AM ET
Examining the toll of a rivalry

By Curt Schilling
ESPNBoston.com

Yankees versus Red Sox.

I am no doubt biased, but I've always told anyone who asked that you need to add Notre Dame-USC, Texas-Oklahoma, Michigan-Ohio State, Green Bay-Minnesota, Pittsburgh-Dallas, roll them up into one, and then you will get the intensity and interest and passion of Red Sox-Yankees.

Now that I've offended fans in all those states, cities and at those colleges, I'll try to explain. It starts in spring training, people camping out overnight to get tickets to a spring training game, and for the past few years has culminated often with a season-ending series for one of them in October.

Josh Beckett
Red Sox-Yankees games take a bigger toll on players than any other games. Just ask Josh Beckett, who struggled through 5 1/3 innings against New York on Friday night.

I always explained to fans that asked that the Red Sox season was 143 playoff games (the regular season vs. everyone else) and 19 World Series games (games versus the Yankees), and then you get to the postseason.

I don't think as a player I was alone in feeling that way. You can't deny the energy; you certainly can't deny the games themselves as more than one of these games has become an instant ESPN classic. The other thing I have always felt you could not deny is the "price" players on both teams pay during these games. Red Sox-Yankees games are, at least to me, far more taxing physically and mentally than any other games we played during the season.

So I researched and asked for help in compiling some numbers that I felt might explain this in a tangible and meaningful way. After every Yankees series I was a part of there were usually two emotions: One was based on the outcome of the series, the other was relief. Relief that we did not have to play a Sunday night game (the toughest start time for a player) and relief that we would not have to answer more dumb questions from the media about "the rivalry." But most important was the relief that we could at least take a breath, it was not do-or-die on every pitch and every out. I don't think anyone could play in that mode 162 consecutive games and live to tell about it.

The rivalry was awesome to be a part of on the field. You were competing against the best: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and the rest. They were always going to be there, and they'd be grinding no matter the score. I always felt there was an immense amount of respect on the field.

Where it got heated, passionate, sometimes violent, was in the stands. One of the main reasons I liked Yankee Stadium was you knew you were going to see 3-4 melees during the course of the 4 1/2 hours of a typical nine-inning game. The over/under was usually 5. Weekends you could make a case to move that to 7.

But I always felt there was a price we paid, by both teams, for being able to play in games with an October atmosphere, this early in the season. The fans brought it, and they absolutely expected the players to bring it as well. You did not want to go into Yankee Stadium wearing a Red Sox uniform and not perform. They were loud, obscenely loud, obnoxious as well, and I can tell you there is nothing more annoying than loud, obnoxious highly informed and intelligent baseball fans. Their shouts and obscenities are just so damn good.

So with that, I ran some numbers and with the help of the Elias Sports Bureau acquired others. I wanted to know if what I thought was true. I always felt we came out of the series against the Yankees and played better, and often times with more energy, against our next opponent and felt the Yankees always left drained, like it was harder for them to get out of the spotlight and get to business as usual than it was for us.

The numbers to the right are the winning percentage of each team for 2003-2010. From 2003 through Thursday's action, the Yankees' record in the seven days following a series against the Red Sox is 138-115, for a winning percentage of .545. In that same time, the Red Sox have played 152-102 ball for a winning percentage of .598.

In only one year did the Red Sox play better overall baseball for the season than they did in the week after a series against the Yankees. In the eight years since 2003, the Yankees have played worse in the seven days following a Red Sox series than they did during the season in every single year.

Not an enormous sample size, and maybe it says nothing in the grand scheme of things, but with two clubs that are perennial October participants, it's an interesting piece of data. I have thoughts as to why this is and I'll get into them, but the other point to make here is that Red Sox-Yankees series usually represent the two best teams in the league playing each other. So with that you'd assume every game in the seven days following this series would be against teams of lesser stature, so the win-loss percentage should be higher.

I was as curious about the pitching side of things as well. The ERAs to the right are from both staffs for the entire season. The Yankees' staff ERA for the seven days following a series between the rivals is 4.57, while Boston's is 4.49. In combining the two teams' ERAs for the 16 seasons matched up here, only three times were their ERA in the seven days after facing each other lower than their season performances. Put an easier way, both staffs underperformed after this series every year except once for New York and twice for Boston.

This series taxes both staffs immensely, and it often takes a week to 10 days to get the arms rested and back in order. Again, if you operate under the notion (and I think it is safe to do it) that these staffs are facing the two best offenses in the league in this series, their ERAs should be lower in the week following because the offenses they are facing are inevitably weaker than the ones in this series.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this number. To the right are the team batting averages for the seasons included. The Yankees hit .271 and the Red Sox .280 in the week following a series between the two teams. Someone far smarter than me can draw conclusions as to what that means, if anything. The Yankees hit as well, or better, for the season in eight of nine years in the week after a series with Boston. I am not sure what that means, I just know that I've never faced a Yankees lineup that couldn't rake.

Since 2003, here is how pitchers on these two teams fare against each others' lineups:

Nothing surprising there, in that these lineups see fewer innings pitched by starters because they're both built to wear the hell out of pitchers. Here's something to think about: At 19 games per year, the Red Sox make Yankees pitchers throw 171 more pitches than they do against all other opponents on average (basically an extra game and a half). Red Sox pitchers don't get off much easier, throwing on average of 133 more pitches per season (19 games) overall. Put another way, if you take the desired 15-pitch inning, you are looking at an extra 11 1/3 innings for Yankees pitchers and around nine innings for Red Sox pitchers.

I'm not sure how relevant or meaningful this is, but what I do know is that beyond the wins and losses in the series, both managers must have an eye on the bigger picture. Rarely are these games over before the eighth or ninth innings, and that means managers are pulling out all the stops. Since it's the American League, that usually means pitchers, and using whomever you can whenever you can, to make sure you keep it close, or shut the door.

Those things do have far-reaching implications. If you are winning, you want to win big. Losing sucks, but losing big can also be something that you benefit from in the days and weeks following these games.

What you don't want is to grind it out for 3-4 days, spend everything you've got, and then show up on Monday telling your starter, "Go get 'em hoss, we have no bullpen tonight!" That's likely happened far more than you know, and far more than managers of either team would admit.

A special thanks to Elias Sports Bureau for compiling the statistics used above. Curt Schilling, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2004-08, is a three-time World Series champion, six-time MLB All-Star and founded 38 Studios. Curt and his wife, Shonda, have raised money to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) through Curt's Pitch for ALS, as well as encouraged awareness for sun protection through the SHADE Foundation. They recently announced their support for the Asperger's Association of New England after their third child was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.