Yankees socked by Sawx? So what?

NEW YORK -- There was a moment in time when it appeared the Red Sox were going to overtake the Yankees as the premier franchise in baseball. After Boston broke the curse in the most dramatic of fashions in 2004, wunderkind GM Theo Epstein constructed a deep farm system and picked up a second ring in 2007 for Red Sox Nation.

By the end of 2008, the Yankees had failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons.

For a brief moment in time, Boston looked like the superior organization. That time has passed. The rivalry has withered.

"This rivalry is always going to be special," said Derek Lowe, who helped end the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and now is a Yankees reliever. "I think people crave for that, 'Here we are with six weeks to go and the Yankees have a two-game lead or a game-and-a-half lead where if Boston sweeps them, then now they are in first place.' People crave that type of rivalry. It will happen again."

For now, it is the varsity against the junior varsity. The JV won 4-1 on Saturday as Jon Lester pitched like he deserved a letterman's jacket for a change this season, outdueling David Phelps.

Still, the Red Sox are 12½ games behind the Yankees as they head into Sunday night in what should be a fun pitching matchup between Hiroki Kuroda and Josh Beckett, if Beckett were any good this year. So these games feel very average compared to years past.

Every season, when the schedule comes out, the first thing any fan from the Bronx or Boston looks for is when the Yankees and Red Sox play. It is almost unfathomable that a preseason football game -- Tim Tebow or not -- could overshadow arguably the greatest rivalry in American sports. But if you flipped on sports radio, everyone everywhere in New York was talking Jets-Giants exhibition, not Yanks-Sawx.

The Bobby Valentine era in Boston was supposed to make the rivalry louder than ever. None other than Yankees GM Brian Cashman called it a new chapter. Now, unless the Red Sox improve in a hurry and/or the front office shows some offseason spine, it appears as if Valentine might just be a footnote.

It is all Boston's fault the rivalry is in a respite. The Red Sox have been one of the worst teams in baseball for the past 12 months. There was nary a chant of "Red Sox [stink]!" on Saturday, because the fact is self-evident these days.

When these two clubs are going right, there is anticipation from "SportsCenter" to the back pages -- and front pages -- of the tabloids.

"You walk around that day or a couple of days before, everyone knows the Red Sox are coming into town, as opposed to another team coming to town, they may say, 'Who are we playing?'" said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, when asked the characteristics of the rivalry when he played in the '90s.

Girardi would never demean the current state of the competition. He is too politically correct to ever do that, but there is a different vibe this weekend. The stands are mostly filled, but they are like that every Saturday afternoon. There is no special feeling about these games because the Yankees are too much better than the Red Sox.

"Now, it feels different because of where they maybe are in the standings," Lowe said.

That is the problem.

"You ruin days when you don't win," Lowe said of his perspective from all those years at Fenway. "I've always loved the accountability."

It is doubtful Saturday's loss ruined any Yankees fan's day. Heck, there was preseason football to watch.