Opening night adds new twist to rivalry
BOSTON – The rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is already intense. Throw in a couple of new twists and the hype soars.
Sunday night’s game between the storied franchises is the first of the 2010 season, a prime-time showcase all to themselves while other teams wait until Monday for opening day.
And New York starts off as defending champions for the first time since its 2001 opener.
“It’s special,” Mark Teixeira said. “You’re not going to be able to go into the season as defending World Series champs every single year. So when you get a chance to do that, it makes the start of the season that much more fun.”
A handful of Boston’s players know what that’s like. The Red Sox were hailed as champions after winning the 2007 World Series then had to refocus.
“We spent the whole spring telling everybody to move on, so it was kind of a mixed message,” manager Terry Francona said.
It will be hard to glean anything from Sunday night’s game, though there’s sure to be some hand-wringing by the losing team’s rabid fan base. The Red Sox won their opener last year and were swept by the Los Angeles Angels in the AL division series. The Yankees started with a loss and finished with their 27th World Series title.
“Opening Night is special regardless of who you’re playing,” Francona said. “I’m sure there will be a little extra anticipation. I think we just need to win, regardless of who we play.”
Boston’s Josh Beckett and New York’s CC Sabathia will make their second consecutive opening-day starts in what is expected to be unseasonably warm weather.
Last year’s Red Sox opener was rained out, but Beckett sparkled in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay the next day in Boston, allowing one run and two hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Sabathia’s opener? Not quite the same.
He looked nothing like the pitcher the Yankees expected when they signed him before the season to a $161 million, seven-year contract. The left-hander allowed six runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings with five walks and two wild pitches in a 10-5 loss at Baltimore. He had no strikeouts for the first time since July 25, 2005, at Oakland.
When the season ended, though, he was 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA.
“CC’s personality is perfect,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “He doesn’t get fazed by much. He wants to pitch.”
The game originally was scheduled for Monday before being switched, giving the spotlight to teams which have won three of the last six World Series – an attractive matchup for television viewers.
“Opening day, there’s always a certain amount of anxiety to go along with the excitement,” Francona said. “When’s the first pitch? 8:09? That’s a long day. There’s no way I’m going to go to the ballpark later because it’s a later (start). It just doesn’t work that way. Get there early and do a lot of sitting around.”
The Yankees made the big moves in free agency before last season, adding Sabathia, Teixeira and right-hander A.J. Burnett. The Red Sox nabbed the big name before this season by signing John Lackey, the top starter with the Angels but the No. 3 behind Beckett and lefty Jon Lester with Boston.
How is Beckett looking?
“Good, driven,” Francona said. “He’s ready to go.”
The Yankees let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon leave as free agents over the winter and traded Melky Cabrera. They picked up center fielder Curtis Granderson, designated hitter Nick Johnson and right-hander Javier Vazquez.
New York also is looking forward to a full year from Alex Rodriguez, who missed the first 28 games last year after hip surgery.
Boston lost left fielder Jason Bay in free agency but upgraded its defense by signing Gold Glovers Mike Cameron to play center and Adrian Beltre for third base. Marco Scutaro takes over at shortstop for Alex Gonzalez.
“I’ve played the Yankees before,” Cameron said. “It’s built up more by (the media) than the players. For us, it’s always big. Playing here every day is big. I’m not going to try and make it any bigger than it is.
“It’s good to see how you match up. They’ve got a lot of new players. We have a few new players.”
The Yankees also take it for what it is, just the first of 162 regular-season games.
“The motivation is simple,” Jeter said. “You want to win.”
This will be the fourth time in 26 years that the rivals have met in the opener. New York won the last two in 1992 and 2005, both in Yankee Stadium. Boston won at Fenway Park in 1985 and is opening the season at home for just the third time since 1996.
“Going there is always special,” said Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, looking forward to his 16th opening day. “It’s fun. The fans make it fun. The atmosphere is always great. The reason why it’s so great is the excitement when you walk out of that dugout, the buzz. It doesn’t get old.”
Pettitte is scheduled to face Lackey in Wednesday’s finale of the three-game series. Lester goes against Burnett on Tuesday.
— AP freelance writers Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., and Rich Dubroff in Washington contributed to this report.
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