Early sparks reigniting Yankees-Red Sox rivalry

BOSTON -- Bean balls, brawls and back-on-track at-bats defined the latest three-game act in the storied rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

In other words, just like old times.

What we’ve learned after the latest installment of Red Sox-Yankees is that the rivalry appears to be on the cusp of a renaissance. Much of the fervor, emotion, energy and big-name star power we saw 15 years ago is back.

We won’t know for sure how much the rivalry's been reignited until these two clubs meet in the postseason. And even with the Yanks off to a 6-7 start that sees them enter Friday 4½ games behind the first-place Sox in the American League East, there is plenty to suggest both teams will be in it come October.

This series showed that (David Price's one-inning outing Wednesday night notwithstanding) Boston has the type of elite, top-of-the-rotation starting pitching to give hitters fits all season.

Chris Sale and Rick Porcello combined to shut down the Yankees’ fearsome lineup to the tune of 10 hits, one run and 14 strikeouts across 13 innings in Tuesday and Thursday nights' games. Porcello even had a rain delayed no-hitter going into the seventh inning Thursday before Aaron Judge broke it up by blasting a double to the deepest part of Fenway Park.

“He got us to come out of our zone, out of our plan,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said of Porcello. “That’s what happens when you don’t stick to it.”

Added Judge about Sale’s blistering one-run performance: “You’ve got to be aggressive with a guy like that. He’s going to come after you. He’s got good stuff, he knows it.”

As good as Sale’s stuff was in the series opener, Judge handled him well, going 3-for-3 with a 444-foot home run to center field. Which is something else we learned in Round 1 of this season's Yankees/Red Sox matchups: Judge is primed to build off his 52-homer, Rookie of the Year showcase of 2017.

With the Yankees opening a three-game set at Detroit on Friday, Judge brings into it a 10-game hitting streak that shows no signs of slowing. He was on base twice Thursday, with his seventh-inning double following up outings of three and two hits in the first two games in the series, respectively.

Before the trip to Fenway, there were questions about Stanton’s bat, as well as Gary Sanchez’s. Stanton came to Boston fresh off a 3-for-28 (.107) homestand that included a pair of five-strikeout games. The offseason addition didn’t leave Yankees fans with a very positive impression in his first appearance in pinstripes in the Bronx.

Sanchez also wasn’t hitting well, bringing a 1-for-33 (.030) slump into Wednesday’s game.

“I can’t say something specific, but we’ve been working [Sanchez and hitting coach Marcus Thames] very hard,” Sanchez said through a translator before that game. “Eventually I know I’ll get out of it. Everybody goes through this rough patch and eventually get[s] out of it.”

He wasted little time doing just that.

Both struggling power hitters, in fact, went on a Beantown surge. After striking out twice to start Tuesday’s opener, Stanton finished the night with a single and a double. The next day, he tripled and added a pair of base hits. In the finale, he reached on an infield single one batter after Judge broke up Porcello’s no-no.

Sanchez homered twice Wednesday and added a double. His bases-clearing, ninth-inning double Thursday gave New York some late life before it ultimately dropped the game 6-3.

This series also reminded the baseball world just how good the Red Sox are. At 10-2 entering a home series with the Baltimore Orioles, they're rolling early. But don’t try convincing them this early success means anything.

“The whole [AL East] race question, that’s for you guys to answer,” Porcello said to reporters. “I have no idea. We’re focused on what we’re doing here. It feels great to take two of three from them.”

Perhaps the boldest lesson from this first Red Sox-Yankees meeting of the Alex Cora and Aaron Boone eras is neither team is afraid of confrontation. Following the mid-series brawl that led to four ejections, two appealed suspensions and several fines, the focus on the rivalry ramped up.

The bad blood we saw in this rivalry a decade and a half ago might not be there -- not yet, at least -- but it seems it’s on its way.

Some of the newest additions to the rivalry, even Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, are discovering just how intense the games between these teams are.

Asked Thursday if he felt he needed to talk with Cora to help quell a brouhaha that developed over gestures Cora made in Nevin’s direction as the teams were separated in Wednesday’s brawl, Nevin offered a reply that got reporters laughing.

“I don’t need to talk to him,” Nevin said. “That’s not how the Red Sox-Yankees do things.

“I’m learning.”

We’re all learning. The battle between these two teams is just beginning.