New names, same old Yankees-Sox

New names, same old Yankees-Sox

BOSTON -- Some of the mainstays were missing, and so was much of the offense. But the classic atmosphere of Yankees-Red Sox did not skip a beat.

Thanks to Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, greatness still prowled the premises of the rivalry at Fenway Park on Friday night.

Round 1 of The Rivalry, Version 2008, went to the Yankees, 4-1. These events are supposed to be tense, taut, tight -- but they're not necessarily terse. When these two teams play on a Friday night, you sometimes don't get an outcome until early Saturday morning.

But here, thanks in large measure to some superlative starting pitching by Clay Buchholz, and even more so by Wang, the Yankees and Red Sox needed only 2 hours, 59 minutes for a complete contest, a relative blink of an eye for these two clubs.

The difference was that Buchholz lasted six innings, leaving a game that was tied at 1 at that point. But Wang, pitching with astounding efficiency, went the distance, pitching a two-hitter. Almost as impressive against a club with Boston's patience and selectivity at the plate was his pitch count -- 93.

One hit that Wang gave up was a home run, but just barely. J.D. Drew's deep fly in the fifth inning hit the tip of right fielder Bobby Abreu's glove before leaving the playing field. On Abreu's attempted leap for the catch, his shoulder hit the wall, so the leap ended up being much less vertical than he would have hoped.

The other hit was a bunt by Coco Crisp, with two outs in the ninth. It was a nice bunt, but it was also evidence that there was basically no other way to reach base against Wang on this night.

"He was as good as I've seen him," Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. "His slider and his sinker were excellent."

Girardi suggested that Wang, who has, after all, gone 38-13 in the past two seasons, was probably not given enough credit throughout baseball for his excellence, simply because he did not produce big strikeout totals. But the rest of the Yankees fully understand how good Wang is, particularly since he is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA this season.

"Every time Wang goes out there, he has the opportunity to do what he did tonight," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said.

The quality of Wang's work assured that the classic feel of this rivalry would be maintained. There had been some key components missing from both lineups. Yankees captain Derek Jeter was out with a quadriceps strain, and teammate Jorge Posada, normally behind the plate, was relegated to designated-hitter duties due to a strained right shoulder. The Red Sox's 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player, Mike Lowell, is on the disabled list with a sprained left thumb.

And, of course, the man who had managed the Yankees to the postseason in every year since 1996, Joe Torre, is now in the employ of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Torre was a staple of the Yankees franchise, and thus a staple of this rivalry. When Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked if he would miss seeing Torre, a friend of his, in the other dugout, he responded: "I'm not going to have some sentimental -- we just want to beat them."

Francona went on to describe a scene from this year's Spring Training in which he and Torre spoke pleasantly and without public interruption by the batting cage.

"It's easier to be friends because he's in a different uniform," Francona said. "And I like that."

No, this rivalry doesn't allow much room for cross-club friendships, at least in public. But while the personalities involved change, there will remain the one team in Boston and the other team in the Bronx.

Girardi, who had witnessed this rivalry as a Yankees player, said he believed that the rivalry was actually "a little bit more intense now. [The intensity] is as high as I can remember it."

The rivalry started that way again in its 2008 renewal. It was missing some of the usual principals, but it was still exceptional competition. Chalk up one victory for the Yankees and one exceptional addition to the lore of this rivalry for Chien-Ming Wang.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.