On July 24, 2004, the Yankees were cruising. They had an eight and a half game lead over the Red Sox, who were tied with the Twins for the wild card. They beat the Red Sox 8-7 the night before. A month before that they swept Boston in the Bronx. On this Saturday, New York was up again, 3-0 in the top of the third when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate to face Bronson Arroyo.
A-Rod wasn’t yet the pariah he would become. Yes, a lot of people hated that he made the money that he made, but he had yet to be implicated in the PED story. He had yet to be caught cheating on his wife and dating pop stars. He had yet to strike narcissistic poses in glossy magazines and be on the outs publicly with his team. He was merely the best player in the game at that point who had maybe-a-bit-too-publicly forced a trade to a contender the previous winter. But heck, the Red Sox were actually the front-runners for him. Even struck a deal with Texas to acquire him, only to see it nixed by the union because A-Rod –selflessly! — had offered to rework his contract to make it happen.
But A-Rod had driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Yankees victory the previous night and the Sox were a tad frustrated. Then this happened:
It was a pretty good brawl as far as these things go. Not the half-hearted shoving you typically see these days. But it wasn’t a terribly special brawl. We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Sometimes we see them with more haymakers. But one thing did make this brawl special. This picture:
Rodriguez and Varitek were both ejected, and the Red Sox won a wild game, 11-10. Of course, this was the year the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and won their first World Series since the War of 1812 or something.
But more significantly, July 24, 2004 firmly established a Yankees-Red Sox narrative, a cultural marker that we're still stuck with, ten years later, when almost everybody on both of those teams is out of baseball (the only players still with the two clubs are Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and, of course, Rodriguez), and neither team is particularly good. It's come to define baseball rivalries, and the networks show clips of the brawl when they do their endless promos for their endless series of Boston-New York televised games.