When it comes to baseball’s greatest rivalry, set to launch its 2018 version Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Aaron Boone should try to turn the Back Bay’s “good nature” bad.
And Giancarlo Stanton should try to get Red Sox Nation to hate him as much as they mutually hate Derek Jeter.
We know of the goals these 2018 Yankees carry, and how their pair of newcomers has hit some unsurprising turbulence. Boone’s acclimation to his job and Stanton’s transition to his workplace will face their toughest tests yet against a Sawx team that hasn’t really been tested at all, its 8-1 record built on the backs of the Florida tandem tankers — the pitching-starved Rays and Jeter’s woeful Marlins.
But this Yankees initiative goes beyond merely this season, in which their 5-5 start, an injury epidemic, Stanton’s strikeout epidemic and Boone’s bullpen results have shaken some nerves. In building their farm system into a player-development machine (to steal the phrase popularized by former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein), they intend to be a thorn in Boston’s side for another generation to come and, by doing so, create more legendarily reviled figures.
Boone, of course, already has made a name for himself in New England: Aaron “Bleeping” Boone,” a cousin of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent, by virtue of the walk-off homer he hit off Tim Wakefield to lead the Yankees over the Bosox in the thrilling 2003 American League Championship Series.
“I’ve been treated really well there,” Boone said of Boston, where he went often as an ESPN broadcaster. “I’ve got to say, since they’ve won as much as they have since ’04, I feel like a lot of the ribbing I get up there is good-natured. At least that’s how it appears to me.
“I’m sure now that I’m back in uniform, it won’t be as good-natured. That’s part of it. That’s one of the things you love about that rivalry.”
For sure, to gain true enemy status in a such a historic sports city, you have to inflict repeated pain upon the locals. Can Boone hang around long enough, and win enough games, to graduate from a one-off to an all-timer? If he can, he would leap ahead of Dent, the hero of the 1978 play-in game who faltered as Yankees manager and got fired, ironically, at Fenway in 1990.
Stanton comes in with arguably a better case for scorn than Boone. A huge-money slugger from a bad team who muscled his way to the Yankees and showed no interest in the Red Sox? He’ll hear it in his first at-bat Tuesday night, no doubt. Of course, after getting hammered by Yankees fans on Sunday as he struck out five times, tying the career high he set only five days prior, this road-game tune will likely be more soothing.
Other Yankees hope to get in on the hate, naturally. Aaron Judge presents an intriguing mix of Alex Rodriguez (awe-inspiring power) and Jeter (an understated approach) that adds nuance to his reception, and he started to witness some of that last year as he made his name. While Didi Gregorius’ high energy and talent have evaded detection so far, he carries a higher profile nowadays after his October heroics. Aroldis Chapman would be more of a target if he performed better against the Red Sox.
For this week, though, the scrutiny will continue to fall on the Yankees’ neophyte skipper and their welcome-to-prime-time slugger. Can Boone and Stanton find a steady altitude in the game’s most challenging environment? At the moment, the Yankees will settle for that and fantasize about something bigger: Working their way up to all-time nemeses.