The plot of the 2004 American League Championship Series—during which the Red Sox overcame a three-game deficit to vanquish the archrival Yankees and win their first World Series in 86 years—is so cinematic, it’s practically unbelievable. No one who played in that epic series is still on the field, and many of 2004’s most famous faces have settled into new identities altogether: Derek Jeter the owner; Alex Rodriguez the studio darling; David Ortiz the de facto mayor of Boston. But despite how far removed that series of 14 years ago seems, its legacy looms large over the East Coast rivals, particularly during a season when the intensity of the teams’ relationship reached a fever pitch.
The Yankees–Red Sox rivalry returns in full force.
Of course the Yankees, with their 27 World Series titles, $4 billion valuation, and interminable pinstripe swagger, will never be a true Cinderella story. But it’s been nine seasons since the Bronx Bombers last hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy, and while many fan bases scoff at calling that stretch a drought (sorry, Milwaukee), it’s an eternity in New York.
A quick Google search of underdog turns up words and phrases like humble, long shot, and dark horse. It’s laughable to attach any of these monikers to the contemporary Yankees, whose roster boasts talent in spades. With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup, Aroldis Chapman in the bull pen, and tens of millions of dollars in the bank, the Yankees are stacked for years to come. But high-profile people regularly default to calling themselves underdogs long after they’ve reached the apexes of their fields. Being the underdog is appealing because there’s romance in an improbable, hard-fought victory. And as several psychological studies have concluded, people love to root for a presumed loser. Could the franchise non-ironically referred to as the “Evil Empire” ever take up that mantle? And, more important, would such a historically confident team even want to?
Perhaps not, especially within the broader Major League landscape, populated by teams like the San Diego Padres and the Miami Marlins. But in comparison to their archrivals, there may be hope yet for the glitzy and glamorous Yankees to engender some underdog goodwill. Since the Yankees last won the World Series, in 2009, they’ve been about even with the Red Sox, besting Boston 85 times in the past nine regular seasons and falling to the team 83 times. But unlike the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2013, the Yankees have left October empty-handed ever since. New York hasn’t even made it past the ALCS this decade, and it hasn’t topped the division since 2012. The fan base is hungry for the Yankees’ 28th title, and the so-called Baby Bombers are under pressure to deliver.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, started the 2018 season with an incredible 17–2 record and finished it with a league-leading 108 wins. But it’s not just the outstanding on-field performance that suggests a shift in the Yankees–Red Sox dynamic. It’s the attitude, too.