NEW YORK – Might as well dive right in, start the season in style. Yankees-Red Sox: Ring the bell for Round 3. After 52 hard-fought games the past two years, baseball's best rivalry resumes tonight with the 2005 major league opener. And it's a marquee matchup on the mound — Randy Johnson will make his New York debut against ex-Yankee David Wells (search).
"I don't think the intensity can get any higher for an opener," New York's Tino Martinez said Saturday.
That's partly because the roles are now reversed. After nearly a century of being tormented by the Yankees, Boston finally came out on top last October, becoming the first major league team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the postseason. The Red Sox (search) won the AL pennant in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium (search) and went on to sweep St. Louis for their first World Series (search) title in 86 years.
Now, they are the hunted, and New York is looking for revenge.
"It feels like we were here yesterday," Boston outfielder Johnny Damon said. "They want that title back. They're going to go after us strong and they're going to try to bury us as early as possible."
The last time the Red Sox opened a season as defending champions, they routed the Yankees 10-0 at the Polo Grounds on April 23, 1919. Babe Ruth hit the game's only home run and Carl Mays pitched a four-hit shutout, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
A little more than three months later, Mays was traded to the Yankees for Allan Russell, Bob McGraw and $40,000. Ruth was sold to New York before the 1920 season — and the rivalry was born.
"This is going to go on forever," Damon said. "This rivalry is a big reason this game is going strong."
Wells, the boisterous lefty who pitched a perfect game for the Yankees and helped them win a championship, is now on the other side. He got the start because Boston ace Curt Schilling is still working his way back from November ankle surgery and will begin the season on the disabled list.
It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Wells gets. Always comfortable under the spotlight, he was a fan favorite at Yankee Stadium during two stints in pinstripes from 1997-98 and 2002-03.
The 41-year-old Wells will wear No. 3 with the Red Sox in tribute to Ruth, one of his favorite players.
"It will probably be a little weird seeing him in a Boston uniform," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.
Johnson, who also has a perfect game on his resume, was acquired from Arizona in January to put the Yankees back on top of Boston. The 41-year-old left-hander is 8-6 lifetime against the Red Sox and 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 12 opening day starts.
"I'm sure I'll have some nervous energy. It's a great honor to take the ball opening day," he said. "Hopefully, going out there opening night will set the tone."
It will be the second time in baseball history that two pitchers at least 40 years old face each other in a season opener, according to Elias. Pittsburgh's Rip Sewell, 41, beat Dutch Leonard, 40, of the Chicago Cubs 1-0 at Wrigley Field on April 19, 1949.
The weather could be an obstacle — more rain was in the forecast for Sunday after showers washed away workouts for both teams Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Players took batting practice indoors and played catch in the outfield, eager to begin playing games that count.
"Opening in New York, that's only going to get magnified, no matter who wins," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Last year won't help us this year."
Jason Giambi will start at first base and bat seventh for the Yankees. He has all but admitted to using steroids in the past and is coming off a season wrecked by illness and injury, so everyone will be watching him closely.
"I had a good spring and I'm excited to get going," Giambi said. "I don't think you could ask for a better opening day."
Martinez won't play against Wells because he is 6-for-34 (.176) with eight strikeouts against the big left-hander.
By contrast, switch-hitting Ruben Sierra is a .371 career hitter against Wells (23-for-62) with two homers and five doubles. So Sierra will be the designated hitter and bat cleanup.
After three games in New York, the teams meet again at Fenway Park on April 11, Boston's home opener.
And while players on both sides sounded excited about revving up the rivalry again, they know Sunday night is just the first of 19 meetings this season — maybe more.
"If we win these three, they're still going to get their rings opening day," Jeter said.