BOSTON — The best rivalry in sports is back in a big and violent way, which is always good for business and has to have MLB offices on Park Avenue awash in smiles.
Marketing the heck out of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge is good for business, but that is a distant second to the Red Sox and Yankees hating each other and firing fists at one another.
It wasn’t Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee getting dumped on his throwing shoulder by Graig Nettles. Nor was it Jason Varitek disfiguring Alex Rodriguez’s mug with a catcher’s mitt. And it certainly didn’t come close to Pedro Martinez slamming Don Zimmer to the ground.
Yet, a seventh-inning brawl in Wednesday’s 10-7 Yankees victory was sincere and a strong indication the hatred between the Red Sox and Yankees is not only back but real, even though the main event didn’t involve undercard names.
When Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly drilled Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin in the back with a fastball in the seventh inning at Fenway Park the benches and bullpens emptied for the second time. Unlike in the third inning, this melee had more action and the contact made by Kelly on Austin was far from soft.
Austin, who hooked Red Sox shortstop Brock Holt in the leg trying to break up a double play in the third, a play which also which emptied the dugouts and bullpens, slammed his bat on the ground in front of home plate and rushed toward Kelly. From there the action moved toward the first-base line with CC Sabathia, who is on the disabled list and likely facing a suspension for leaving the dugout, infuriated at the Red Sox and needing to be restrained. On the bottom of the pile Kelly missed Austin with a punch then connected high.
When things settled down, Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin and Austin were ejected. The Red Sox, who had a nine-game winning streak snapped, lost Kelly.
Something in Aaron Boone’s bones told the Yankees manager the club’s best overall hitter, Gary Sanchez, was about to escape a horrific slump that was strangling the middle of the order.
“Gary, I feel like has been actually close the whole time. I think if you look back at his at-bats he has hit a number of balls on the screws right at guys. He has just missed on some pop-ups or fly outs where he is close,’’ Boone said of Sanchez before the catcher hit two homers and drove in four runs after having one hit in the previous 33 at-bats. “He probably has been a little more aggressive. It’s early in the year and you are not getting a lot of hits so you get a little more aggressive trying to get hits instead of trying to win the at-bat. I feel Gary is close and hopefully on the verge of breaking out.’’
It will take more than a three-hit game, which also included a double, for Sanchez to leave the horrific slump behind. However, for one night, Sanchez put the bite back in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup that had been missing some teeth. Sanchez hit a two-run homer off David Price in the four-run first, doubled and scored in the second off Bobby Poyner and hit another two-run homer off Heath Hembree in the fourth when the lead swelled to 8-1.
The Yankees, who had dropped four of five and were coming off a 14-1 whipping on Tuesday night, are 6-6. The Red Sox, who removed Price after one inning for precautionary reasons dealing with his left hand, are 9-2.
Masahiro Tanaka survived a nervous first inning when he gave up a run but was rocked for five runs — four on a J.D. Martinez grand slam — in the fifth when the Red Sox made it 8-6.
The Yankees answered with two runs in the sixth against Matt Barnes, who hurt himself with two wild pitches. Giancarlo Stanton drove in one run with a sizzling line drive to center and Didi Gregorius’ second sacrifice fly plated the other to make it 10-6.
Chad Green took over for Tanaka at the start of the sixth. In five frames Tanaka (2-1) gave up six runs, seven hits, walked two and fanned three.
Judge, Stanton, Gregorius and Sanchez combined to go 8-for-17 with two homers and nine RBIs in front of 32,400 chilled customers at Fenway Park where the first-pitch temperature was 42 degrees.