Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry: The most storied tale in baseball

The Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry is often marked by brawls.
Sara Molnick
Monday December 12, 2022

Table of Contents

The fabled story of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry is imbibed with passion and marked by the fervent desire to outclass each other. For almost a hundred years, both teams are at each other’s throats. The rivalry between the teams is marked by intense on-field fighting that has often spiraled to hate and roughness. Babe Ruth, the most famous player in baseball history, also has something to do with the teams.

The Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry began with a brawl

In fact, the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry didn’t really exhibit the intensity it is known for until 1938. During the first two decades of the 20th century, when the Red Sox won five world championships, the Yankees were not very good. During the next 20 years, Boston was a second-division team, while New York won eight world championships.

But in 1938, when Boston started to play well and New York was the defending champion, things changed. On May 30, more than 83,500 people flock to Old Yankee Stadium to watch the Memorial Day doubleheader and witnessed the most intense episode of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. In the fourth inning of the first game, the Yankees were 7-0 ahead. Then, Red Sox reliever Archie McKain hit Yankees outfielder Jake Powell in the head with a fastball. Even though he missed the first target, McKain picked a second one and hit Powell in the thigh.

Powell ran up to the mound and grabbed McKain before Joe Cronin could get there. Even someone with a lot of patience like Powell seems to run out of it at some point. The Boston manager pushed his pitcher to safety and aimed a punch at Powell with two moves that worked well together.

Cronin and Powell were kicked out of the game after players and umpires worked together to stop the fight. But the police made a mistake when they let the bad guys go on their own recognizance instead of sending friendly security guards with them on the walk back to the locker rooms.

Powell didn’t need Yogi Berra to tell him, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” He took advantage of his freedom of movement to set up a fight between himself and Cronin on the path to the clubhouses. The joint task force was quickly sent back out to finish its peacekeeping project. The Yankees beat the Red Sox 1-0 and went on to win the pennant and the World Series that year, But it laid the foundation of an intense, passionate, and often rough Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

But seeds of Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry were sown in 1920

On January 6, 1920, the Red Sox sold a young pitcher, who could also hit massive homers, for $125,000 to the Yankees. He went on to become Babe Ruth, the Great Bambino and the Sultan of Swat. With Ruth, the Red Sox won three World Series, but they didn’t win again until 2004 after trading him. In that time, the Yankees won 26 championships. The Curse of the Bambino became the most important thing in the history of the Red Sox.

While the Red Sox became a group of unlucky players that everyone liked, the Yankees became the best team in baseball. Since both teams were in the same division, they played each other a lot. Neighbors, coworkers, and families were put on different teams. Red Sox fans said that the Yankees were to blame for everything, and Yankees fans laughed at them. This sowed the seeds of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry, which continues today.

The 1940s and a new phase in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry

In 1941, the star power of both teams took the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry to another level. Ted Williams, a 23-year-old outfielder for the Red Sox, had a season for the ages. However, Joe DiMaggio, the Yankees’ center fielder, won the American League Most Valuable Player Award because he hit in a record 56 straight games. In 1941, Ted Williams lost the AL MVP race to Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees. This made the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry worse.

After getting into a fight with the Yankees’ owners, former manager Joe McCarthy retired. In 1948, he came out of retirement to become the manager of the Red Sox. Up until the last weekend, the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Cleveland Indians were all in a close race for the pennant. In the last series at Fenway Park, the Red Sox beat the Yankees and tied Cleveland for the pennant. In the last game, DiMaggio got four hits, but the Red Sox still won.

In 1949, the Red Sox needed only one win in their last series in New York to reach the World Series. But they lost two games in a row to the Yankees. On the last day of the season, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-3 and won the American League title.

In 1951, it was Bob Sheppard’s first game as a public address (PA) announcer at Yankee Stadium and a well-known episode in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. The Yankees beat the Red Sox. Sheppard would continue to work as a public address announcer at Yankee Stadium for another 56 years. On September 28, that year, Allie Reynolds, a pitcher for the Yankees, threw a perfect game against the Red Sox.

A year later, Yankee’s second baseman Billy Martin and Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall got into an argument before a game in Boston and ended up fighting in the tunnel under the stands. After Piersall took off his bloody shirt, he got into a fight with his teammate Maury McDermott. The Red Sox won 5–2, even though Piersall didn’t play.

Roger Maris’ record came against the Red Sox

Roger Maris hit his 61st home run on October 1, 1961, in the last game of the season and it was the most famous incident in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. He did this by hitting a 2-and-0 fastball from Red Sox rookie Tracy Stallard over the fence in the fourth inning. This broke Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in a single season. The Yankees won the game 1-0 to win their 19th World Series title and their 26th American League pennant.

After the Red Sox lost to the Yankees 13–3 on July 26, 1962, Red Sox star Gene Conley got off the bus and tried to leave the country and go to Israel. This exemplifies how deep runs the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

At Yankee Stadium in 1967, Boston starter Billy Rohr was one strike away from throwing a no-hitter. In the ninth inning, Elston Howard hit a single with two outs and two strikes against him. This broke the no-hit streak. “Brawl in the Bronx” was the name of the second game in the series and one of the most violent games of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. It happened when Red Sox player Joe Foy was hit by a pitch from Yankees pitcher Thad Tillotson. But he hit a grand slam.

In the next inning, Jim Lonborg, a pitcher for the Red Sox, hit Tillotson in the head. The two pitchers yelled at each other, which led to a fight. Boston’s Reggie Smith tossed Tillotson to the ground with his entire body. Before Joe Pepitone of the Yankees and Rico Petrocelli of the Red Sox started fighting, the dugouts slowly started to empty. Both men were born and raised in Brooklyn. Two months later, they played the game with the most innings ever played at Yankee Stadium. New York beat Boston 4–3 in 20 innings before Jim Lonborg hit Tillotson with a pitch to get back at him.

The designated hitter rule was put into place by the American League in 1973. Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was the first player in Major League history to hit as a designated hitter on April 6, the first day of the season at Fenway Park. But Boston starter pitcher Luis Tiant walked him in his first at-bat.

Later that year at Fenway Park, both were at 2-2. The Yankees’ Thurman Munson hit Red Sox’s Carlton Fisk and it started a fight. In the fight, Munson punched Fisk in the face. In the 1970s, the rivalry between the fans got worse. Just one year later, in 1974 at Fenway Park, a dart hit Yankee’s first baseman Chris Chambliss making it a low point in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

Two years later, in the sixth inning of a game at Yankee Stadium, Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella ran into Fisk head-on while trying to score. While Piniella and Fisk fought at home plate, the two benches were cleared. After the fight seemed to end and order seemed to be restored, Yankee’s third baseman Graig Nettles and Sox center fielder Mickey Rivers started talking to Sox pitcher Bill Lee, which led to another fight. Lee hurt his left shoulder in the collision, and he had to miss the next 51 games of the 1976 season.

The Boston Massacre

It was the most memorable point of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. In 1978, the Red Sox managed by future Yankees coach Don Zimmer was considered a strong contender for playing the World Series. In mid-July, with less than three months left in the regular season, they were 14 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. Just as the Red Sox started to lose, the Yankees turned their season around. By September 7, the Yankees had cut the 14-game gap to just four games, just in time for a four-game series at Fenway Park in Boston. All four games of the series were won by the Yankees by scores of 42–9. This set of books got the name “Boston Massacre.”

On September 16, the Yankees were ahead of the Red Sox by three and a half games and a half games. However, the Red Sox won 12 of their next 14 games and tied with the Yankees for first place. There was a tie for who would win the AL East pennant in 1978, so a tie-breaker game was set up in Boston. For the division, there was a one-game playoff. In one of the most well-known parts of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry and New York won 5-4. The hopeless Red Sox once again found a way to lose. The next day, the headline of The Boston Globe said it all, “Destiny 5, Red Sox 4.”

In the 1980s, there were some great moments in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. Dave Righetti, a left-handed pitcher for the Yankees, shut out the Red Sox on July 4, 1983, at Yankee Stadium. Wade Boggs, who had one of the best bats in the game, struck out to end the game.

When he saved both games of a doubleheader against the Red Sox on October 4, 1986, Righetti made history again. Don Mattingly, a teammate of Righetti’s and the reigning Most Valuable Player of the American League, was hitting.352 going into the last game, which was second in the league behind Boston’s Wade Boggs.

Boggs was not playing, so Mattingly had to go 6 for 6 to win the batting title. Mattingly hit a home run in his first at-bat and a double later on, but it wasn’t enough to win the batting title. Instead, Boggs did. Mattingly was named the best player of that season by the press, but Roger Clemens, Boggs’ teammate, won the AL MVP award. The winner in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry remains undecided for that reason.

The “1918” taunting by Yankees fans

In 1990, Dan Shaughnessy, a columnist for the Boston Globe, wrote a book called The Curse of the Bambino, which is inevitably linked to the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. In it, he criticized the Red Sox for selling Babe Ruth and made the curse known. When the Red Sox played at Yankee Stadium on a weekend in September 1990, Yankees fans started chanting “1918!” to make fun of them and remind them of the last time they won the World Series. “1918!” was chanted in a meaningful way every time the Red Sox went to Yankee Stadium after that. Yankees fans also made fun of the Red Sox by holding up signs that said “1918!” and “CURSE OF THE BAMBINO” and showing pictures of Babe Ruth. They also wore “1918!” T-shirts every time they went to the Stadium. This added a new dimension and intensity to the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

Wade Boggs left the Red Sox for the Yankees in 1993. He had been a fan favorite there for eleven years. Later in September 1993, the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium thanks in the last minute. With two outs and the score 3–1, Mike Stanley seemed to fly out, but the play was called back because a fan ran onto the field before the pitch was made. The umpire called time out, and when the game started again, Stanley hit a single. On a single by Mattingly, the Yankees would score three runs and win the game. Boston fans decried this as an infamous episode in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

The teams met in 1999 in the ALCS. Even though the Yankees won the series in five games, it was just a warm-up for what was to come. The only good thing for the Red Sox happened in Game 3 at Fenway Park, when ex-Boston star and then Yankee Roger Clemens faced off against the opponent’s best pitcher, Pedro Martnez.

Martnez pitched for seven innings and didn’t give up a single run. Clemens, on the other hand, took a lot of damage and only lasted two innings in the Red Sox’s 13–1 win. The Yankees came back to win Games 4 and 5, which gave them the American League pennant and sent them to the World Series, where they beat the Atlanta Braves in four straight games. The only time the Yankees lost in the playoffs was when they lost to Pedro Martinez. The next year, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 22–1 at Fenway Park, which was Boston’s worst home loss ever in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

The new era of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry

In 2003, the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry saw its next level. The teams played against each other again in the ALCS, but this time it went for seven games. In the eleventh inning of Game 7, Aaron Boone hit a home run that won the game for the Yankees.

The teams met again in the ACLS in 2004. But the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the series, which was almost enough to beat the Sox. Then the Red Sox did the impossible to win the next four games to get to the World Series. They were the first team in sports history to win a seven-game series after being down 3-0. They won the World Series for the first time since 1918, freeing Red Sox fans from their demons. Their moral booster made the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry more splendid to watch.

At Yankee Stadium on April 3, 2005, the teams’ first meeting since the 2004 ALCS, Yankees fans started new taunts, saying “The Curse of 1918 is finally over (86 years) (86 years). Start the new curse of 2090.” In 2006, the Yankees beat the Red Sox in five games at Fenway Park. This reminded people of the “Boston Massacre” in 1978, which marked the high point of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. The Yankees increased their lead over the second-place Sox in their division from 1 12 games to 6 12 games. Dan Shaughnessy, who writes for the Boston Globe, called it the “Son of Massacre.” The Yankees won the second game of the series, 14–11, and it took 4 hours and 45 minutes to finish. This makes it the longest nine-inning game in MLB history.

In the third inning of a game in 2007 at Fenway Park, homers by three of their batters helped the Red Sox come back from a three-run deficit and beat the Yankees in three games at Fenway Park for the first time since 1990. Boston fans began to cherish more such moments in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry.

In August 2009, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 20–11. In that game, both teams scored 31 runs, which was the most runs ever scored in a game in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. In 2011, the Red Sox had a 12–6 record against the Yankees. They beat the Yankees’ best pitcher, CC Sabathia, four times and swept two three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

On April 20–22, 2012, the Red Sox played the Yankees in a three-game series to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. The Red Sox played the Yankees to open the park in 1912. On April 20, both teams wore uniforms from 1912 to push the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry into a historical perspective, and the Yankees won 6–2. The next day, the Yankees came back from being down 9–0 to win 15–9. This was the biggest deficit they had ever come back from. They beat the Red Sox 13–5, which is the best record they’ve had against them since 2001.

The Boston comeback

In 2013, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 13–6 in the regular season. The first game of the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry in 2015 took place on April 10 at Yankee Stadium. It went into extra innings and ended up being one of the longest games ever played, lasting 6 hours and 49 minutes, and 19 innings. The Yankees tied the game three times in the bottom of the ninth, fourteenth, and sixteenth innings. The game was won by the Red Sox, 6–5. The Yankees beat the Red Sox 11–8, and they were 7–2 at Fenway Park.

In September 2016, near the end of the season, the Yankees were only four games behind the Red Sox for first place. They lost all four games and were swept. In three of the games, they lost leads late in the game. In the first game, they gave up five runs in the ninth inning. The sweep has been called “Boston Massacre II” in the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry, after the four-game sweep the Yankees did to the Red Sox at Fenway in 1978.

After the Yankees won the AL Wild Card Game, the two teams met in the 2018 ALDS. The Red Sox won the series 3–1, taking Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium by a combined score of 20–4. Like the April fight, this series became a trending Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry topic on Twitter.

In the 2021 American League Wild Card Game, which was played on October 5, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 6–2.

The London Bridge

In May 2018, the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry went to London, where the teams would play a two-game series at London Stadium during the 2019 season. It was the first time that these two teams played each other outside of either New York or Boston during the regular season. Both games were won by the Yankees. The Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry witnessed batting explosions on both sides. In just 18 innings, 50 runs were scored.

What do you think about the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry?

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