Ten years ago today the Alex Rodriguez-Jason Varitek brawl changed the narrative of the Sox-Yankees rivalry

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People still talk about the Red Sox and Yankees like it’s some highly pitched rivalry, but it’s not that special these days. Or at least not that heated. Back in 2004 it was heated, brother. They met in the playoffs in 1999 and 2003, the Yankees prevailing both times. The Aaron Boone game happened in the latter instance. There was a palpable hatred between them. It was a lot of fun!

On July 24, 2004, the Yankees were cruising. They had an eight and a half game lead over the Red Sox, who were tied with the Twins for the wild card. They beat the Red Sox 8-7 the night before. A month before that they swept Boston in the Bronx. On this Saturday, New York was up again, 3-0 in the top of the third when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate to face Bronson Arroyo.

A-Rod wasn’t yet the pariah he would become. Yes, a lot of people hated that he made the money that he made, but he had yet to be implicated in the PED story. He had yet to be caught cheating on his wife and dating pop stars. He had yet to strike narcissistic poses in glossy magazines and be on the outs publicly with his team. He was merely the best player in the game at that point who had maybe-a-bit-too-publicly forced a trade to a contender the previous winter. But heck, the Red Sox were actually the front-runners for him. Even struck a deal with Texas to acquire him, only to see it nixed by the union because A-Rod –selflessly! — had offered to rework his contract to make it happen.

But A-Rod had driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Yankees victory the previous night and the Sox were a tad frustrated.  Then this happened:

 

It was a pretty good brawl as far as these things go. Not the half-hearted shoving you typically see these days. But it wasn’t a terribly special brawl. We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Sometimes we see them with more haymakers. But one thing did make this brawl special. This picture:

source: Getty Images

Everyone knows this picture. It was taken by J. Rogash of Getty Images, and it has become iconic.

It’s a tad misleading, though. It’s talked about now as if it were an instance of Varitek simply telling A-Rod to “shove it.” As if he just got tired of A-Rod’s crap and told him, more or less, to get lost. But really it’s just a single frame from the start of a brawl that looked a lot like other brawls we’ve seen. A plunked batter jawing at a pitcher who clearly hit him on purpose and a catcher walking with said plunked batter down the line leading to a shoving match and a benches-clearing brawl. It wasn’t Jason Varitek simply laying into Rodriguez. There were almost simultaneous shoves. It happened in a split second.

But sometimes even a somewhat misleading photo can capture truths. And this photo by Mr. Rogash captured one. It captured what every Red Sox fan felt about the Yankees in July 2004. That they were sick and tired of coming out on the bottom of their dustups. Sick of New York’s superiority and entitlement. A superiority and entitlement that came not just from besting Boston on the field, but by besting them during the hot stove season too, with this A-Rod guy being just the latest example of it.

Both A-Rod and Varitek were ejected. The Red Sox would take the lead in the fourth. The Yankees would score six runs in the top of the sixth. The Sox would claw back in the bottom of the sixth. New York would take a 10-8 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Nomar Garciaparra led off the Sox’ half of the inning with a double and would score on a Kevin Millar single off of Mariano Rivera. Bill Mueller would then take Rivera to a 3-1 count before taking him downtown with a walkoff homer. The Sox won 11-10. It was one of the wildest days in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Sox won again on Sunday. They’d split the final six regular season games between them. New York, however, would once again win the AL East and then take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Sox in the American League Championship Series. Once again the Yankees looked poised to come out on top in this increasingly one-sided rivalry.

But, of course, Boston had different ideas. And in October 2004, the script to which we had become accustomed was flipped. The Red Sox would win the ALCS and the World Series. They’d win two more after that. And, some time between then and now, the feel of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry would forever change.

Did the shove and the brawl on July 24, 2004 change it? Logically it doesn’t make a ton of sense. One fight doesn’t affect pitches thrown in October and, of course, these guys are professionals. They’re not subject to the sort of motivations and turning points that you’d see in a Hollywood film. Ballplayers don’t tend to respond to “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moments. Baseball seasons are long and they’re always trying to win.

But if you ask most Sox fans, they’ll tell you that 2004 was a turning point. And when talking about 2004, they’ll almost always talk about the time that Varitek shoved his mitt in A-Rod’s face and how, after that, everything changed.

And that happened ten years ago today.

Yankees defeat Blue Jays to clinch postseason spot

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The Yankees guaranteed their place in the postseason with a 5-1 win over the Blue Jays on Saturday. Sonny Gray led the charge against their division rivals, clinching his 10th win of the season with six innings of four-hit, one-run, four-strikeout ball.

Gray worked into a little trouble in the first inning, putting runners in scoring position after Josh Donaldson drew a four-pitch walk and Justin Smoak advanced him with a single. The Yankees’ ace induced two quick outs to end the threat, but was overpowered by a Teoscar Hernandez home run in the third inning, the rookie’s fourth blast of the season:

Thankfully for the Yankees, that was the only run that slipped through the cracks. Gray finished the remainder of his outing with two hits and two walks and was backed by another three scoreless innings from the bullpen. Greg Bird supplied the go-ahead run with a three-RBI shot in the fifth inning, plating Chase Headley and Starlin Castro to give the Yankees their first lead of the night.

Todd Frazier tacked on another solo homer in the eighth, while Starlin Castro returned in the ninth to cap the win with an RBI single. Aroldis Chapman did the rest, wielding just 10 pitches to get three straight outs from Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar and Rob Refsnyder.

Following Saturday’s win, the Yankees have at least secured one wild card berth, though they’re not out of the division race just yet. They still sit a full four games back of first place in the AL East, with eight games left to play.

Watch: Brian Dozier pulls off a bunt home run

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Brian Dozier had a bonafide Little League moment during Saturday’s contest against the Tigers. In the first inning, the Twins’ second baseman squared up a bunt against Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd, which was scooped by Jeimer Candelario halfway up the third base line. The throw to first skirted the bag, allowing Dozier to touch all the bases and slide home to score the Twins’ first run of the game.

In other words, it was just your run-of-the-mill bunt home run:

Officially, the play was scored as a single and run scored on a throwing error. Still, if this is a sampling of the kind of plays we can expect to see from the Twins this October, it’s shaping up to be one wacky postseason.