From John Harper:
For years now this Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has needed a new villain, since the likes of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling left the stage and Alex Rodriguez stopped irritating teammates and opponents alike quite so much.
So who knew it would be Francisco Cervelli?
Actually, it's not terribly surprising, as emotional and animated as Cervelli can be. It's just that he's an afterthought on most nights as Russell Martin's backup. But Tuesday night he injected a little juice into the proceedings, getting under John Lackey's skin by clapping hard in front of Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as he reached home plate on a home-run trot in the fifth inning.
Sure enough, Lackey drilled him in the back in his next at-bat, in the seventh inning, and Cervelli knew it was intentional, pointing his bat toward the mound and telling the pitcher he didn't care for it.
Afterward, everyone from Joe Girardi to CC Sabathia to Cervelli himself said they thought Lackey's pitch was intentional. Sabathia, who was screaming at the Red Sox as the benches cleared but didn't brawl, may have been the most upset.
"I didn't like it," he said.
If this rivalry needs the intensity boost, baseball needs it more. In a season that seems headed for the quietest September ever, with almost no division-race or wild-card drama to be found anywhere, the promise of a high-octane October featuring the Yankees and Red Sox might help keep people interested.While I'm totally against adding more playoff teams, I do think this rivalry needed a boost. The Yankees also need to win some more games and prove they can actually beat this team. It may not matter in the regular season since both teams are virtual locks for the playoffs, but it will matter if these two teams meet in October.
If only Bud Selig could instantly install the new format that seems sure to be adapted in the next year or two, featuring a second wild-card team and thus a one- or three-game playoff between the two wild-card teams. That way both the Yankees and Red Sox would be desperate to win the division.
Even so, it's starting to feel as if these teams are tired of seeing one another this season. You could sense the intensity from the first inning Tuesday night, when Sabathia hit Jacoby Ellsbury as what appeared to be retaliation for Lackey coming inside and hitting Curtis Granderson - even if the umpire ruled the pitch hit Granderson's bat.