Yankees-Red Sox rivalry reaches peak

It had been nine long years since the Yankees did something really objectionable in the minds of New England baseball fans.

You know, win the World Series.

But now the Yankees are the defending world champions, meaning Red Sox fans are certain to resume their regularly scheduled rancor. And this year, for the first time since 2004, those jeers should last into October.

That’s right: We’re due for another postseason meeting between the game’s economic leviathans.

In one sense, this is an unprecedented time in baseball’s biggest, haughtiest, most extravagant rivalry.

The Yankees won their first World Series in 1923 — and then 25 more by the time Boston claimed its next title in 2004. Then the Red Sox won again in ’07. Now the Yankees are back on top.

So, this is the first time the Red Sox and Yankees have each won a world title during the same three-year span.

At long last, we have a back-and-forth. For the sake of the rivalry, that’s a good thing. What fun would Michigan-Ohio State be if the same team won all the time? (OK, a bad example.)

In all seriousness, I’m curious to find out whether there will be any extra venom among Red Sox fans Sunday, when a national television audience tunes in to watch the old rivals play under the lights at Fenway Park. (Sounds like October already.)

We know New Englanders loathe the Yankees. But will the curse words bubble forth a little more often, given the built-in resentment toward any reigning champ?

The Yankees haven’t played at Fenway while holding the title belt since Sunday, Sept. 2, 2001. That’s better known as the night Carl Everett broke up Mike Mussina’s perfect game bid with two out in the ninth inning.

New York won, 1-0, thanks to Enrique Wilson’s double that scored Clay Bellinger. David Cone took the loss for Boston. Joe Kerrigan was managing the Red Sox.

You get the idea: This was a long time ago.

The rivalry reached its high ebb shortly thereafter, with those colossal seven-game encounters in the ’03 and ’04 American League playoffs. The teams have played memorable games since. But there’s no way they mattered more.

We won’t see anything like it again, because Boston’s 86-year interregnum (and all the anxiety that went with it) was a subtext to every pitch.

But the bile and the pride and the passion?

Still there.

“Nothing has transpired to diminish the intensity of the rivalry,” said Dr. Andrew Zimbalist, the sports business expert and economics professor at Smith College. “It is there in full glory.”

“The intensity will never waver,” asserted Dr. Harvey Frommer, a sports author and professor at Dartmouth College. “There is a strut in New England and a diss attitude in New York and a lot of vulgarity passed down through the generations.”

And yet … Five autumns have come and gone without the Red Sox and Yankees meeting in an ALCS. It was Boston’s fault last year; the Angels swept their division series.

The drought is hard to figure. But it’s not going to last.

This is the year.

Note the lower-case “t” and lower-case “y.” Nothing profound. Nothing biblical. Nothing about curses or spells or any of that stuff.

It’s far simpler than that: The Red Sox and Yankees are the two best teams in the majors. Sooner or later, they are going to end up in the same tavern.

And the noise will be earsplitting.

“The rivalry can’t get any more heated than it has been,” said Todd Greene, a backup catcher for the Yankees in 2001. “The Sox fans have a huge dislike for the Yankees. The Yankees fans will absolutely gloat and rub this latest championship in their face. However, Sox fans have reason to believe that they will be back in the World Series.”

The casts have changed since last year — and certainly since the teams’ last postseason encounter, back when Ruben Sierra was a Yankee and Pokey Reese a Red Sox.

The Red Sox signed John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron.

Theme: pitching and defense.

The Yankees dealt for Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez, signed Nick Johnson, Chan Ho Park and Randy Winn.

Theme: seasoned pros who don’t make loads of money.

Tampa Bay deserves all the positive attention it receives, but the Rays won’t be able to keep up this year. The financial chasm is simply too great to overcome. In time, we will appreciate how great, and how rare, their 2008 pennant really was.

The Red Sox are my pick to win the division and World Series — I’m a sucker for pitching and defense — but both titles will come by the barest of margins. Remember that the 2009 season series finished 9-9, and that was after the Red Sox won the first eight.

This year, the series will stand 13-12 when it’s all over. Advantage: Boston.