In the spring of 2017, I started writing a blog post that I (thankfully) never ended up publishing about how the Boston Red Sox’ rivalry with the Baltimore Orioles had eclipsed the then-stagnant rivalry with the New York Yankees. There had been a couple of chippy April games between the Sox and O’s complete with hard slides and star players getting the ball thrown at them.
This was coming off a 2016 season in which the Red Sox won the AL East, and the Orioles made the Wild Card Game, but Buck Showalter decided not to use his closer and their season ended. At that time it looked like Showalter, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado might be the center of Red Sox fans’ disdain the way Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada were the generation before. Couple that with the fact that their general manager is Dan Duquette, the former Red Sox GM, who built the frame of the team that Theo Epstein would take to the World Series in 2004, and never got the right amount of credit.
It was as much about how boring things had gotten between the Red Sox and Yankees, who still have not met in the postseason since the epic 2004 ALCS, when I was a high school freshman, but there was some real competitive animosity between the Sox and O’s. Boy, was I wrong.
Since then, the Yankees have returned from their brief affair with irrelevance, and are as strong as ever. Aaron Judge happened. Didi Gregorius happened. They trade for Giancarlo Stanton, and hired Aaron Boone as their manager, I’m assuming to troll Red Sox fans as much as anything. In that same span, the Orioles went from fringe-contender to fringe-Major League team.
Leaving Zach Britton in the pen may go down as the last high-leverage managerial decision Showalter ever got to make. Baltimore’s precipitous drop could not have come at a worse time when it came to the future of their generational superstar. But somewhere along the line Chris Davis forgot how to hit, and their organizational inability to develop starting pitching for decades held them back. When it became clear that there was not a good enough team in Baltimore to keep Manny Machado on a hometown discount, the clock started ticking on being able to trade him.
The Oriolies traded Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers (who lost their own superstar shortstop Corey Seager early in the season) after the All-Star Game, and later dealt Britton to the Yankees. Things went from bad to horrendous for the O’s. The Red Sox and Orioles are playing each other right now as September and the regular season wind down, and things could not be more different.
Reinvigorated by first year manager Alex Cora and free agent newcomer J. D. Martinez, the Red Sox have won 107 games so far, the most in their history (they won 105 when Fenway Park opened in 1912). Without Machado and without Britton, with the futures uncertain for Jones, Showalter, and Duquette, the Orioles have lost 112 games so far, the most in their history (they lost 111 in 1939, when they were still the St. Louis Browns). I don’t know any Orioles fans in real life, but The Ringer‘s Mallory Rubin (who has gotten me through countless hour at work the last two summers with Binge Mode, the brilliant Game of Thrones and Harry Potter podcasts she and Jason Concepcion host together) had a raw and devastating reaction get broadcast to the world.
Baseball teams cycle in and out of contention. The Red Sox are at a high point in their cycle, and the Orioles are at a low point, but it is not clear how soon things will get better. Manny Machado was supposed to be the great hope for the future, and that was not long ago, having made his Major League debut in 2012. He still is only 26, and is going to get paid a lot of money by a team this winter. So much went wrong so fast, and even though they are a division rival of my favorite team, I feel bad about it.
I am a Red Sox fan because I grew up in Massachusetts and so did my parents. Like the Buffalo Bills, who I seem to write about all the time these days, my dislike for them is not as strong as some of the other teams in the division. They have awesome uniforms, and their legendary former manager Earl Weaver is one of my favorite personalities in all of sports, living or dead. Manny Machado rubbed a lot of Red Sox fans the wrong team, but I know that if he were on my team he would absolutely be my favorite player. Buck Showalter is a polarizing guy that a lot of people hate, but I really like his dogs.
I hope they are not down for long, but things just do not look good. It’s both amazing and devastating how quickly fortunes can turn.