A Love Fest in the Sun

Ft. Myers, Fla., March 3, 2018; Yankees 5, Red Sox 3 — The dominant start to the Yankees’ Spring Training season received perhaps its stiffest test Saturday afternoon. The dawn/dusk, yin/yang/ ebb/flow can be hard to read over the years, decades even, of the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry. Both teams are expecting big seasons in 2018, so even though this was just a Spring Training game we were traveling almost three hours South to attend, we weren’t sure what to expect. It was my first game at Boston’s beautiful JetBlue Field complex in Ft. Myers. Enveloped in warm temps under blue cloudless skies, the vibe was more Love-In and music festival than bitter rivalry for the ages.

Doubling down on potential confrontation, we had purchased “Monster” seats, a single row of chairs atop the Green Monster’s Southern version. I tensed as I felt a light hand on my shoulder as Yankee Chance Adams, who had displayed a disappointing lack of control in his first Spring appearance, warmed to pitch the bottom of the first. “Awesome shirt, man,” a brightly garbed Sox fan said, smiling at my pinstriped Mickey Mantle top. I had a feeling I wasn’t in Kansas — or any other American state — anymore. Shaking off the unfamiliarity of it all, I was concerned when Adams walked the second batter of the first inning on four straight pitches. But he bounced back to retire six of seven through two. He threw 16 of 29 pitches for strikes, and got around a second-inning single by getting Brock Holt to pound a sinker into the ground for a double play.

Uber-prospect Justus Sheffield came on for the third with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Aaron Hicks’s home run over the Sox bullpen in right — a nice poke when you consider that Boston has tried to duplicate the conditions found at Fenway Park. Sheffield got five outs pretty easily, but gave up the equalizer when second baseman Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle Holt’s hot shot following a Mookie Betts two-out double in the fourth. There was a little Red Sox buzz, as there had been for the Yanks after the Hicks homer.

The Yankees retook the lead in the sixth on a Torres double, and Austin Romine’s rbi single, but Boston claimed its first lead of the game by scoring two off Brady Lail on four singles in the bottom half. A Yankee rally against Matt Barnes in the seventh came up empty, and we enjoyed a “Take Me out to the Ballgame” that any god, or fan, I know would approve of at the stretch that followed. The Sox went quietly against Colby Carroll, who would take home his second win of the week this day (he got the win when Miguel Andujar walked off the Phillies Monday).

The Yanks were right back at it in the eighth when Robbie Scott issued a leadoff walk to DH Danny Espinosa. Shortstop Kyle Holder doubled himself and Danny into scoring position and one out later left fielder Jeff Hendrix delivered both with a two-base hit of his own. Closing out the scoring, it was that man Andujar yet again, as he singled in Hendrix for a 5-3 Yankee lead.

All thought of the day being music festival-like ended when the not quite dulcet tones of “Sweet Caroline” preceded the home eighth, but seeing as the Sox put two on but did not score, all was forgiven. Jonathan Holder denied them with 16 throws, and finished them off with 12 more in the ninth, with Hendrix making a fine play on the left field line to end it.

Still, the game was played between traditional rivals, teams that are expected to battle for the AL East title in the coming season. And the two led the Grapefruit League as the game began; the Sox at 7-2 just behind New York at 7-1. Because we were over the Monster, we had to head back toward home and then to right field to exit to our parking lot, giving me plenty of grist to complain should one Sox fan or official grouse about their loss, about our win. (“Hey, we’re 8-1,” I wanted to scream.) But I never got the chance. Twenty “Have a nice day!” and “Safe home!”s floated over my head.

A very successful Broadway show reopened in a revival on March 3, 1994. It would run for a little over a year, with more than 500 performances, a success by any measure. Why couldn’t one of these lovely people with whom I had spent the day have referenced its title? All I wanted was one Sox fan to look me in the eye and sneer:

Damn Yankees