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Rivalry watch: Why the Yankees are still dangerous to the Red Sox

The rivalry is tilting in Boston's favor. It won't last.

"The Rod"
"The Rod"
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Never trust the Yankees. Not for a second. Because in the bad times, which are defined by consistent and humiliating losses to a presumptive and eventually successful World Series-winning Yankees team, it will all come back to you, like the lava flood of a supposedly dormant volcano wiping out pop-up tourist town beneath. It’s fair to say that the last 15 years have been a day at the beach for the Red Sox, but a good Yankees team doesn’t bring storm clouds to ruin your day. It brings the fire. It burns you alive.

Fortunately for us, the Yankees are merely just fine now. There’s no seismic activity. Everything is cool. While PECOTA says the Yankees are only projected to win three fewer games over the rest of the season than the Red Sox, it seems dubious, and at the very least, it won’t make them any more interesting. As presently constituted, these Yankees seem ultimately no more harmless than a bowl of flavored oatmeal, leastwise, you know, an unstoppable hellfire.

But good Red Sox fans, do not be fooled! These Yankees may not currently be a threat, but the Yankees are still a fundamental danger to our kind. They are still a river of flame, but they are an extremely slow moving floe. They spent a whopping $0 on free agents this winter, as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported, while the rest of the league spent $2.5 billion on players who are not Bryce Harper. Harper will be a free agent after the 2018 season, and, well:

Calling the 2018-19 offseason a bonanza might be selling it short. Though it's more than two years away, teams already are banking cash in anticipation of it, multiple sources have told Yahoo Sports. The deluge of talent that could be available – Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Adam Jones and Jason Heyward – is led by Harper, the reigning National League MVP who will just have turned 26.

Nobody with the Yankees dared comment on Harper, even off the record, because their future marriage is considered so inevitable by most in the sport that the team dare not trifle with tampering charges. Considering the pains to which the Yankees are going to tighten finances, Harper as the endgame makes worlds of sense.

The river is coming. And the thing about a slow-moving river that destroys everything in its path is that it takes a long time to reap its destruction. When the Yankees get good again, it figures to be for a while. The only question then is if our Red Sox are fireproof.

I’m not just clucking. They might be.

It is entire possibly, of course, that they are not, and that this Red Sox team is just the latest temporary custodian of the American League’s throne while the Yankees lie dormant. (They are, after all, just red socks.) In just the last 40 years, the A’s, Twins, Blue Jays, and Red Sox have toppled the AL and later, the World Series, but the Yankees have always exploded and slowly wiped them away. For the entirety of baseball history, circumstances have conspired to make it at least possible, and the Yankees have taken advantage.

Nowadays, it will be harder no matter what the Yankees do. There are too many teams in the playoffs, and there is too much randomness therein, to expect any single team to thoroughly dominate the postseason year after year. If any team can pull it off, though, it’s the Yankees, but it’s also entirely possibly we’re in a post Yankees-dominance world. I wouldn’t bet on it, the same way I wouldn’t live just underneath a dormant volcano no matter how dead you told me it was.

It is possible, of course, that the Yankees’ run as a singularly dominant franchise is over, as the flattened playoffs would seem to preclude this as well, not to mention that the Steinbrenner brothers don’t seem to have their dad’s bottomless need to trump anyone or anything that stood in the way of victory, and make sure everyone knew about it. Like that time he traded for Alex Rodriguez under John Henry's nose, leaving Henry to whine about it, only to put out this gleeful statement:

''We understand that John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction,'' Steinbrenner said. ''Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston. It is understandable, but wrong that he would try to deflect the accountability for his mistakes on to others and to a system for which he voted in favor. It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes.''

All of that being said, this Red Sox team has a chance to really set itself apart from the other temporary top dogs throughout baseball history with a  fourth title in 13 seasons. (In fairness, so do the Giants, but I’m focused on the internecine violence of the AL right now.) This season is of particular value because of David Ortiz’s bat, and not just for its sentimental value -- but oh boy, would a fourth championship be delicious. It’s almost too much to ask for, and not because the playoffs have been flattened to the point of a crapshoot, but Ortiz has had the Sox playing with house money for a dozen years, so why not?

The important part is to win when things are working in your favor, as they are now, because even in the bad times the Yankees are good. Some Yankees fans will say that, actually, being a Yankees fan in the 80s wasn’t all cherries and helmet sundaes, and they ought to be commended for their three-decade-old fortitude. To this I say: bah! Do you know what team won the most games in the 80s? Do I even need to tell you? The Yankees did. Even when they’re bad, they’re good.

That’s why I suggest we enjoy our days at the beach while we can. The Sox have the upper hand in the rivalry right now, and while the playing field has been evened, I refuse to count out the Yankees’ explosive forces going forward. The empire will strike back -- maybe as soon as this year, if their veterans can put things together -- the river of fire will come, and all we can do is strap on our socks and wait for it to curl over our toes and around our feet. Only then will we know if we can withstand the heat. If we can, it will be a miracle. If we can’t, it’ll already be too late.