Sox bring familiar faces to rivalry
Few changes after losing out on Teixeira sweepstakes
BOSTON -- Everyone roaming in or around Fenway Park this weekend will know when Mark Teixeira is at the plate just by the emphatic "boos" that are certain to make their way around the ballpark.
The rivalry always seems to add new points of enticement, and Teixeira is the juiciest new character this season.
He, after all, made the choice to sign with the Yankees instead of the Red Sox during the winter, when he was one of the most sought-after hitting free agents in recent memory.
But instead of combating that move -- not to mention the lucrative pitching additions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett -- with some of their own glamorous acquisitions, the Red Sox will have largely the same cast of characters they've trotted out there the last two seasons for the renewal of the rivalry on Friday night.
After all, that group was good enough to win the World Series in 2007, and good enough to come within a victory of getting back to the Fall Classic last year.
With an enviable mix of youngsters and veterans, of pitching and hitting, the Red Sox didn't need a whole lot of tweaks. And they are eager to test their mettle against the much-improved Yankees.
If Teixeira had wound up in Boston, Mike Lowell would have almost certainly been traded once he proved to suitors that his surgically repaired hip was fine.
And then the Red Sox wouldn't have been benefiting at the moment from Lowell's hot start. The third baseman leads the team with 16 RBIs, to go along with a .315 average and three homers. He is also a core member of a cohesive unit that has been together and won together for the last few years.
How does Lowell always seem to capitalize on his RBI opportunities?
"I don't change the way I hit," Lowell said. "When guys are getting on in front of me, it doesn't feel any different. I didn't dwell on it that much. I'm in a position to drive in a lot of runs. That's what I like to do and want to do."
Teixeira surely would have done that in Boston too, but at a much higher price per RBI.
"He's a great player," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said of Teixeira. "He adds a lot. He's hitting in the middle of their lineup, he's going to drive in a lot of runs. He plays Gold Glove defense too."
Why didn't Teixeira choose the Red Sox?
"There were opportunities for every team I dealt with," Teixeira said. "Every team had a chance to make their best offer. In the end, the Yankees made the best and it was a great fit for me. I'm not going to get into specifics on negotiations, but the only thing I can say is I enjoyed talking to the Red Sox all offseason and I'm very impressed with Theo Epstein. There's no question why the Red Sox are in the position they are. He's an incredible GM and they have a great organization."
Just as Teixeira is willing to toss out verbal bouquets to his rivals, the Red Sox similarly won't say anything to fuel the fire.
"He's a very good player," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "You can't take anything away from his abilities. I still believe in pitching."
In other words, as much of an offensive stud as Teixeira is, the success of both rivals should again be determined more by their arms.
The Red Sox are confident with their group, led by the first two pitchers who will start in this series -- Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. In the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon is aiming to be an All-Star for the fourth straight season and may one day grab the baton from Mariano Rivera as the most accomplished closer in the league.
"I don't try to pattern myself after anybody, but I'm definitely a guy that looks up to him as far as what he's done for our role and what he's done for the game," Papelbon said. "I think every closer should look up to him for what he's done."
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was asked what the Yankees needed more -- Teixeira or their marquee mound upgrades. The designated hitter didn't hesitate.
"I would say pitching is going to be the biggest move they made," Ortiz said. "That's because last year they had good hitters. All of them hit pretty good but they would score 10 runs and the other team would score 12. They let some good hitters go so they definitely had to go for another good hitter. But pitching-wise, they really needed some help before they got those guys. Their pitching out there now, they look pretty good."
Per usual, both teams are loaded with premier players.
"It's always fun to play those guys," said Papelbon. "When you put two competitive teams on the field, it's always going to make for an interesting game. We definitely have two teams that are going to compete, and two teams that have a lot of talent on them. It should be a fun series, like always."
"It's a big thing for baseball and it's always fun to be a part of," Varitek said.
As a direct correlation to Teixeira choosing Pinstripes over the Red Sox, Lowell still is a part of it.
"The energy level and the excitement of a Red Sox-Yankees game is always a notch above most other games," Lowell said.
"I think it adds to the mystique of the rivalry. It's good to have the first series here at Fenway. I think it's going to be fun."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.