- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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There are tickets available in all price ranges for the three-game series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that begins Tuesday night at Fenway Park, which tells you all you need to know about the state of Sports' Greatest Rivalry.
The fact that any seat at all can be had in a bandbox that holds 37,000 people for a Yankees-Red Sox series in September with one of those clubs battling for first place lets you know that not even the Boston fans really care much anymore, because thousands of them are willing to sell their hard-earned seats to Yankees fans, of all people, and below market value.
But what can you expect when the home team is hopelessly out of the race and there's only one player left, David Ortiz, who was even a member of the Red Sox the last time these two teams met in a playoff game?
In fact, there might be only one guy in a Red Sox uniform for whom this fight is still important: Bobby Valentine.
Back in December, he began his tumultuous tenure as the Red Sox manager by proclaiming, "I hate the Yankees."
Now, he can close out an otherwise disastrous first -- and maybe only -- season by showing how much he hates them.
And what better way to do that than by playing spoiler?
In truth, there's really not too much Valentine can do. Even when he still had a season to play for, he couldn't get very much out of his overpaid, overrated and over-coddled roster.
So it's doubtful he can have much of an effect now.
Since the late August bloodbath that purged Valentine's clubhouse of three of his most underperforming veterans -- and presumably, rid it of a good chunk of the cancer that was eating it up from the inside -- the Red Sox have lost 12 of 16 games.
So much for addition by subtraction, votes of confidence, yada, yada, yada.
The Red Sox stink. There's no other way to put it.
And even if the manager does hate the Yankees, and would love nothing more than to put a dent into their precarious playoff hopes, he's bringing a stick to a sword fight.
The reality is, even with getting jobbed out of at least a tie in one game and managing only a split, the Yankees came out of Baltimore in pretty good shape.
Pretty much the only ones who can sabotage their chances now are they themselves.
Twenty-two games to go and 16 of them against teams with a combined record of 185-235, and six of those against the hapless Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Orioles have to make a West Coast trip, plus they play the Rays six more times. So while they're busy taking chunks out of each other, the Yankees could be, and should be, rolling up wins over teams just playing out the string.
I can give you five good reasons the Yankees should feel very optimistic about the rest of their season.
1. They're done with Baltimore. And, Buck Showalter, who has even more reason than Valentine to hate the Yankees and want to knock them off.
2. Alex Rodriguez. So much for needing to shake off the rust. Whatever rust A-Rod accumulated over six weeks on the DL fell off him in sheets over the weekend, in which he went 5-for-16 with two home runs and just missed hitting a third. Rodriguez may not be having a great year, but the Yankees suffered without his right-handed power bat, something in short supply in their lineup.
3. Joba Chamberlain. He needed a lot longer than A-Rod to shed the rust, but then, he was out a lot longer, too. Aside from the home run he allowed to Mark Reynolds Thursday night, he's been lights-out lately, and the Yankees' bullpen could really use a fresh arm.
4. Hiroki Kuroda. Since May, the only Yankees starter you can absolutely trust to give you a solid outing every five days.
5. The remaining schedule. (See above.)
I can also give you five reasons the Yankees should be afraid, very afraid, of what might await them over these final three weeks.
1. Mark Teixeira. He'll be out 10-14 more days after he reinjured his calf trying to beat out that game-ending DP the other night. Do you feel good about a first-base rotation of Nick Swisher/Steve Pearce/Casey McGehee/Eric Chavez? Me neither.
2. No Andy Pettitte. Or at least, no Andy Pettitte at anywhere near full strength. His recovery from a broken left ankle has been longer than expected, but maybe we were all expecting too much from a 40-year-old coming off a yearlong hiatus in the first place.
3. CC Sabathia, or at least not the CC Sabathia we remember. Although the numbers (13-5, 3.56) say he is having another good season, your eyes, and the radar gun, tell another story. He has been good, but nowhere near dominant. The Yankees need dominant, now.
5. Joe Girardi. Good manager of players, sometimes questionable manager of games and lately, pretty shaky manager of his own emotions at crunch time. In the past three weeks, he has lost it in confrontations with three umpires, a fan and a reporter. And those are only the incidents we've been able to witness. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors, or in his head and gut?
There are compelling reasons on both sides of the equation, but on balance, the reasons to be optimistic far outweigh the reasons for worry.
And in the overall scheme of things, in the midst of a September pennant race, Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox turn out to be the least of the Yankees' worries at all.