By Jim Caple
Page 2

The New York Yankees host the Boston Red Sox this weekend with four games separating the two teams in the standings ... and I don't care. Baseball's supposed best rivalry no longer matters to anyone outside New York and New England.

It's a shame, really. For decades, this rivalry provided one of baseball's most compelling story lines, the seemingly endless saga of the rich, arrogant and wildly successful Yankees giving atomic wedgies to the beloved underdog Red Sox and stuffing them into their lockers. Every season, Boston would spend six months rolling an enormous boulder to the top of the mountain, only to have New York cruelly kick it back down into the valley. At its best -- Pedro and Don Zimmer spring instantly to mind -- the rivalry's plots were so engrossing and the games so dramatic that Steven Spielberg should have held the broadcast rights, not Fox.

All that ended, however, when the Red Sox rallied against the Yankees last fall -- becoming the first team in major-league history to win a series after trailing 3-0 -- and went on to win the World Series. Sure, Boston fans got the championship they had so long desired. But the rest of us lost the best continuing plot in baseball. And what did we get in its place? A diary from Stephen King, a movie starring Jimmy Fallon and an episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.''

And Boston fans thought the Jeff Bagwell trade was lopsided.

Last autumn's drama might have given Boston a pennant, but it took away the defining characteristic that made it a team worth following elsewhere. Now, the Red Sox are just another team. There is no more reason to root for them than there is to root for the Orioles.

Actually, they're worse than just being another team. The Red Sox are the new Yankees.

Both the Red Sox and Yankees are recent world champions. They both have bought those titles with payrolls far exceeding every other team in baseball. They both have rosters stocked with players from other organizations (the Red Sox even more than the Yankees). They both have fans who think the world revolves around their team. Cripes, David Wells pitches for Boston now. It's almost to the point that if it weren't for the pinstripes and Johnny Damon's hair, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

Who cares whether either the Red Sox or the Yankees win the AL East anymore? It's like choosing whether you want Halliburton or Bechtel to get the latest war contract.

Our attention should be focused on other, worthier places this month. Like the National League wild card, where the lead changes almost hourly. Or the American League Central, where the White Sox have the league's best record and are trying to win the World Series for the first time in 88 years (an even longer drought than those long-suffering Red Sox fans endured). The AL Central is also where Cleveland and Minnesota are fighting to give the division two postseason representatives for the first time. Or the AL West, where the Athletics are trying to become just the second team in history to make the postseason after being 15 games under .500 at one point. Or the NL Central, where the ageless Roger Clemens and the Astros are trying to do the same thing. Or the NL West, where Barry Bonds is poised to return to play for the surging Giants.

Few things outside the Vegas strip were as entertaining the past two years as the Boston-New York rivalry, but this situation is just like a sitcom when the male and female leads finally get it on. You have all this delicious tension and repartee episode after episode, and you're wondering will they or won't they -- and then as soon as they do, the air instantly goes out of the series. Likewise, for decades we rooted for the Red Sox to finally beat the Yankees, wondering what it would be like if they ever finally won.

Well, they did. And because they did, the Red Sox-Yankees series has become the equivalent of Ross and Rachel.

The New York-Boston rivalry's history is still there, but all the drama is gone. I'm ready for something fresh.

Sigh ... do you think there's any chance the Blue Jays still can pull it out?

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
So how did your first day at the office go? Accidentally send a virus through the office e-mail? Spill copy toner on your slacks? Get stuck in a sexual-harassment seminar for five hours?

Well, that's the way most people start out on a new job. Florida's Jeremy Hermida, on the other hand, had a better day. Asked to make his major-league debut on Aug. 31 as a pinch hitter, he hit a grand slam, becoming just the second player in modern (post-1900) big-league history to do so in his first game and the only one in his first at-bat. The only previous player to hit a grand slam in his first game was Bobby Bonds, in his third plate appearance.

Hermida's line:

AB 1, R 1, H 1, RBI 4

FROM LEFT FIELD
Does Hermida's debut promise a career of many home runs? We'll see. Entering this season, 88 players in modern big-league history had homered in their first at-bat, and of those, Gary Gaetti wound up with the most -- 360. The top 10 in that category:

FIRST AB HOME-RUN KINGS
Career home runs Player
360 Gary Gaetti
284 Will Clark
260 Tim Wallach
238 Earl Averill
202 Bill White
195 Jay Bell
188 Jermaine Dye
162 Terry Steinbach
152 Carlos Lee
142 Wally Moon

(Source: Baseball Almanac)

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It can also be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.



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