Throwing Fuel On The Fire It's only April, but the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was in late-season form as newcomer Curt Schilling joined the fray and Boston won three of four

April 25, 2004

Like skydiving, childbirth and a root canal, baseball games
between the Yankees and the Red Sox are life experiences that are
impossible to fathom vicariously. So when New York first
baseman-DH Jason Giambi was asked by new teammate Alex Rodriguez
over dinner in spring training to describe what was in store for
him the first time the two rivals met this season, words failed
Giambi.

"I just told him, 'I can't explain it,'" Giambi recalls. "Until
you're a part of it, you can't understand what it's like to go
out there knowing there's a chance you'll do something that will
be remembered forever. Look at Bucky Dent."

The rivalry, like the fists that were flying throughout the
stands at Fenway Park during last weekend's four-game series,
tends to introduce itself to the uninitiated with a smack upside
the head. For Rodriguez the formal introduction occurred hours
before the Friday opener as he and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter
ate lunch at a windowside table in a Boston restaurant. Numerous
passersby facing Rodriguez greeted him with the middle-finger
salute and the amplifying epithet, only to repeat the display
upon catching sight of Jeter. Those traveling in the opposite
direction acted out the same pagan ritual--the sign of the
crass--in reverse order: Jeter, then Rodriguez.

For Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez, the
you're-not-in-Montreal-anymore moment came shortly thereafter,
when a friend dropped him off at Fenway Park for his start.
Vazquez had pitched there in an interleague game as an Expo in
2000. "There was nobody around then," he says. "This time, there
were millions of people in the street."

Hyperbole is another Yankees-Red Sox genetic marker, which
explains why more members of the media (450) covered a series
three weeks into the season than the American League Division
Series last year between Boston and Oakland. The mid-April set,
the first of 19 games between the American League East rivals
(who meet in New York for three more starting this Friday), was
framed as an extension of the two clubs' epic seven-game League
Championship Series six months earlier.

"It's like the theater of the absurd," Boston general manager
Theo Epstein said after Friday's series opener.

This rendition, in which the Red Sox won three of four games,
including a 5-4 thriller on Monday, included 15 players new to
the Yankees-Red Sox phenomenon. Some, such as Vazquez and
Rodriguez, stumbled badly. One in particular, though, a
fast-talkin', heat-packin', belt-hitchin' extrovert who
practically begged to pitch for either side, fit as if he were
born to the role. Curt Schilling was made for Yankees-Red Sox the
way John Wayne was for Westerns.

It was one o'clock on Saturday afternoon, a spring day so
glorious with light and warmth that it seemed all winter in the
making, when the magnitude of the rivalry hit Schilling. It was
then that he emerged from the Boston dugout to walk to the
bullpen for his pregame warmup. "As soon as my foot hit the top
step of the dugout, the place started cheering," Schilling said.
"I hadn't felt that kind of emotion and energy in a
regular-season game since I pitched against the Yankees for the
Phillies in front of 67,000 people [at Veterans Stadium] seven
years ago. Awesome."

Schilling has a name for this kind of over-the-top,
leave-the-women-and-children-home kind of game: East Coast
baseball. That's all he wanted when Arizona Diamondbacks owner
Jerry Colangelo, seeking to pare payroll, asked him last November
for a list of teams to which he would waive his no-trade clause.
In order, Schilling named the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox.
Philadelphia, which had traded him to Arizona in the first place,
wasn't interested. New York, G.M. Brian Cashman said, never came
close to a deal because Arizona's asking price was "way too
high," a multiplayer package that reportedly included first
baseman Nick Johnson and second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

Then in late November, as Yankees executives were meeting with
owner George Steinbrenner at a Tampa restaurant, Cashman received
a message by telephone that the Red Sox had arranged a trade for
Schilling, contingent on working out a contract extension.
Cashman decided this was not the kind of news he should break to
Steinbrenner in person; later, by phone, would be much safer.

Epstein and two associates flew to Schilling's home in Paradise
Valley, Ariz., to hammer out a two-year extension that would pay
Schilling $25.5 million beyond the $12 million he will get this
season. Six days after Schilling joined Boston, Cashman returned
fire. New York traded Johnson and two spare parts, outfielder
Juan Rivera and pitcher Randy Choate, to Montreal for Vazquez, a
27-year-old righthander with an inventive repertoire of pitches
that reminded the Yankees of a young David Cone. Vazquez,
however, often pitching without much run support, crowd noise or
pennant-race pressure, was 64-68 lifetime.

Vazquez pitched eight exceptional innings to win his New York
debut 3-1 in the team's home opener against the Chicago White
Sox. But Fenway, rest assured, would be a different story.
Rodriguez was welcomed with a huge banner in centerfield that
read a-fraud; Giambi was serenaded with chants of "BAL-CO!"; with
light-hitting Pokey Reese filling in at short for the injured
Nomar Garciaparra, Jeter heard chants of "Po-key's bet-ter!" and
at least 30 people were thrown out of the park for brawling. An
uncharacteristically wild Vazquez was sent packing in the sixth
inning after getting cuffed for six runs, two of them tied to
errors by Giambi and Jeter, and Boston won the main event 6-2.

"It's gotten worse over the years, their hatred for us," Jeter
said of the fans afterward. Then he admitted, with a wry smile,
"This was one of their better performances."

"For me it wasn't anything special," Vazquez said. "It's just
another game I'm trying to win. I know about the rivalry. But
whether I'm going up against the Red Sox or White Sox, I'm trying
to get people out."

Schilling took precisely the opposite view. "If you're
downplaying this as just another game, you're denying reality,"
he said before the opener. "I don't want it to be just another
game. I want it to be something bigger. I thrive on that. I've
never been a part of it, and it's something I've looked forward
to."

A renowned preparation freak, Schilling sat at his locker on
Friday as if cramming for a test, studying a chart of how Yankees
hitters fare against certain pitches in certain counts and
occasionally marking it with neon highlighters. In previous days
he had watched video of Tampa Bay righthander Victor Zambrano's
two-hit, five-inning performance against them earlier this month.
"The only guys I really don't know on the Yankees are [Hideki]
Matsui and A-Rod," Schilling says. "I did face A-Rod once before,
in the [2002] All-Star Game." (He struck him out on three
straight fastballs.)

Schilling chewed up Rodriguez again on Saturday: a harmless fly
and two punch-outs that contributed to Rodriguez's 1-for-17
weekend. Schilling, with a heater that hit 96 mph, struck out
eight batters and allowed one run before he saw manager Terry
Francona signal to the bullpen with one out in the seventh.
Schilling spit out one of those sidewalk epithets of his own
because he didn't want to leave this theater of the absurd.

Finally, tugging a bit on the bill of his cap in thanks,
Schilling slipped into the dugout just as he had emerged from it
hours earlier: with applause and shouts--the noise of East Coast
baseball--washing over him in an antique font of a ballpark. The
madness had only just begun.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON LOST WEEKEND Schilling twice fanned Rodriguez, who was 1 for 17 in the series and saw his average drop to .160. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS NAILED Yankees catcher Jorge Posada barely got the tag on Manny Ramirez in time during New York's 7-3 win on Sunday.

"If you're downplaying this as just another game, you're DENYING
REALITY," Schilling said. "I want it to be something bigger."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)