By pushing back Clay Buchholz’ spot in the rotation one game in order to make room for Zach Stewart and his career ERA over six, the Red Sox let it be known whom they would prefer win the A.L. East. Even though the Orioles were the team that knocked Boston out of the postseason last year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Red Sox opted to take their best shot against the Yankees. A century’s old rivalry is thicker than the bad blood that might have been created over three games, especially when most of the Boston players who experienced that shame are no longer on the team.
Even if the Red Sox weren’t fueled by rivalry-based animosity, chances are they would still have extra motivation to scuttle the Yankees instead of the Orioles. After all, when placed in the same position last season, the Bronx Bombers decided to take their foot of the accelerator in the final weekend series against the Rays. Had the Yankees won one game against the Rays, the Red Sox would have been spared the embarrassment of an epic collapse, not to mention the upheaval that ensued. Who knows the degree to which the Yankees’ less-than-urgent approach to their final three games against Tampa impacted the Red Sox future, but it’s easy to see why Boston might hold a grudge. So, when it came time to set their pitching rotation for the final six games, it was almost as if the Red Sox hierarchy was saying, “I see your Dellin Betances and raise you Zach Stewart”.
In September, the Red Sox had used the same five pitchers in order before Stewart, who was making only his second appearance since being acquired from the White Sox in June, was thrown into the mix. Had Bobby Valentine used the same rotation in the final week, Jon Lester would have started the Orioles series, pushing Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront back one day. That would have still lined up the same three pitchers against the Yankees, but with Daisuke Matsuzaka coming before, not after, Buchholz and Lester. Assuming there was a health reason for skipping Matsuzaka earlier in the week (none was reported), that still wouldn’t explain why Buccholz, who would have been pitching on four days rest, wasn’t given the ball on Sunday. Basically, by rejiggering the rotation, the Red Sox not only gave the Orioles a gift in Stewart, but also ensured their best two pitchers would be in line to face the Yankees at the start of their showdown in the Bronx.
Maybe it’s just a paranoid conspiracy theory, but why else would the Red Sox shuffle their rotation at the end of the season? Besides, who could blame them for playing favorites? Even though the Yankees’ lineup did their part against the Rays at the end of last season, Betances, Hector Noesi, Andrew Brackman, George Kontos, Raul Valdes, Aaron Laffey, and Scott Proctor were all used in the series. Does that mean Joe Girardi was trying to lose three games to the Rays? Did the Yankees have an obligation to play the final series more straight up? The answer is no on both counts, but sometimes, what goes around comes around, so if Boston decided to take a similar tact (albeit under opposite conditions in terms of their place in the standings) by pitching Stewart against the Orioles, the Yankees really can’t complain (and, to their credit, no one in the organization has raised the issue).
There’s a good chance the Red Sox team that seemingly rolled over in Baltimore will play a much more competitive series in the Bronx. Not only do Buchholz and Lester have the ability to throw a gem, but the opportunity to knock the Yankees into the wild card in front of the home crowd should provide a jolt to a team that has been dragging toward the finish line for over two months. So, the Yankees shouldn’t expect any favors from the Red Sox this week. Of course, if the Rays fall out of the race before the last game, they’ll still be in a position to help the Bronx Bombers by beating the Orioles. If it comes down to a battle of clichés, the Yankees will be hoping “one good turns deserves another” carries the most weight.