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The 5 Most Intense Rivalries in Major League Baseball

There's no love lost between these teams—and with every brawl, battle, and bean ball, the blood of their players and fans just boils hotter.
The 5 Most Intense Rivalries in Major League Baseball

There’s no crying in baseball, but there sure is fighting.

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When your sport exists for over a century, there’s a good chance you’ll develop some rivalries. Team pride becomes ingrained in the fanbases of the club and can extend for generations, sometimes ripping families right down the middle for who they pledge their baseball loyalties to.

Whether it’s two teams in the same city battling for fans and attention or division foes fighting for a playoff spot, baseball rivalries can get very heated. The best rivalries are the ones that get everyone going crazy—the players, the coaches, the managers, and of course, the fans.

Here is a look at the most intense rivalries in baseball.

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This one goes way back—back to completely different cities.

The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have an intense West Coast rivalry now, but things were just as heated when the two teams were back in New York. One of the oldest rivalries in baseball dates back to 1890, when the Dodgers were playing in Brooklyn and the Giants were stationed in Manhattan—and, as it happens, when the two boroughs were still different cities.

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Since then, the rivalry has given birth to one of the most famous moments in baseball history: Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Around the World," which took down the Dodgers to send the Giants to the World Series. There have been fights between the two teams over the years, but nothing quite as intense as the 1965 brawl when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal fought Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a bat. The rivalry is as closely contested as any in sports—even though the teams have played over 2,300 times, as of September 22, 2016, the Giants hold just a 29-win advantage in the head-to-head standings.

Part of this rivalry simply comes down to geography—after the Giants and Dodgers both picked up and moved to California, the New York Metropolitans were established to take over in the National League. The Yankees and the Mets played against each other in exhibition games for the “Mayor's Trophy” before interleague play was established in 1997, and that’s when the rivalry really started to heat up. The teams now played against each other in meaningful games, splitting some families down the middle with their love for the Mets or Yankees.

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Things came to a head in the 2000 World Series when the Yankees and Mets faced off in what was nicknamed the “Subway Series.” On top of the fact that the championship was on the line, it put Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza in the spotlight, especially after Clemens beaned Piazza in the head in July of that season (giving the catcher a concussion), and after the Yankees won Game 1 in extra innings.

It all came to a head in Game 2. When Clemens took the mound, everyone was waiting to see what chaos might break loose as Piazza, the great Mets hero, stepped into the box. What happened next was one of the weirdest—and most memorable—moments in baseball history: Piazza hit a foul ball, splintering his bat into pieces, one of which went directly toward Clemens and bounced into his chest. Clemens then threw the broken splinter towards Piazza, who was jogging down the first base line, causing both teams to spill out onto the field, although no punches were thrown.

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None of the games between the teams have reached that level of intensity since, but in 2016 the two sides showed that there’s plenty of chippiness to go around. The benches cleared in August when Mets pitcher Steven Matz hit Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira following a three-run home run.

The “Downstate Illinois rivalry” or the "Route 66 rivalry" is a bitter as it comes in baseball—the two teams have been playing each other since 1892, and there is no love lost between them. The Cubs started off with some early dominance, but as denizens of St. Louis like to remind Chicagoans, the seemingly cursed Cubbies haven't won a World Series in over 100 years, while the Cards have brought home 11.

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The rivalry really caught fire, though, in 1984, when Ryne Sandberg helped spark a comeback for the Cubs against the Cardinals with two late-inning home runs. It heated up again in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went head-to-head in trying to break Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. The close proximity of these teams—many fans take the 5-hour drive up or down Route 66 (and, more recently, I-55) for head-to-head games—has only added to the intensity of the series.

This is a relatively new rivalry, but proves that baseball’s intensity is as high as ever. Things really started going between these teams in the 2015 playoffs, when the Toronto Blue Jays rallied back against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series. Toronto won two games in a row to tie the series at 2-2 heading into Game 5, which was a tight, back-and-forth affair. The Rangers were up 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh when the Blue Jays tied the game—then José Bautista stepped up to the plate.

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Bautista smashed a 3-run homer off of Texas reliever Sam Dyson—it was the no-doubter type, one that everyone knows is a home run the second it leaves the bat. Bautista took an extra few seconds to admire his smash and then gave a bat-flip for the ages by tossing his bat across home plate towards the Toronto dugout. In the Rangers’ eyes, Bautista flouted baseball’s unofficial rules of admiring your home runs and throwing his bat—they both were things the team would not forget.

Between the Blue Jays' devastating comeback and Bautista’s bat-flip, the Texas-Toronto series had acquired some fierce momentum by the time the 2016 regular season rolled around. After playing six games against each other without any incident, things blew up in the seventh game.

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Texas pitcher Matt Bush drilled Bautista with a fastball—seemingly out of revenge for his home run in the playoffs—but things didn’t end there. Bautista made a rough slide into second base, grazing the leg of Rangers infielder Rougned Odor, who decided to push Bautista in the chest, then deck him in the face with a nasty right hook, sending his helmet and sunglasses flying. Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also ended up taking a punch from Odor in the melee.

This might be a new rivalry, but it looks far from over.

When two teams play each other over 2,000 times, some animosity is only natural. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox rivalry is one of the oldest in sports—and one of the most intense. On top of the fact that people from Boston and New York have been debating about which city is better forever, sports just adds more fuel to the fire. The teams have battled for division titles, pennants, and free-agent players, creating an intense rivalry that makes baseball games like war.

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There are almost too many great battles and flare-ups to list, but some of them are truly epic moments of baseball history: Aaron “Bleeping” Boone’s game-winning home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the Red Sox’s revenge in 2004 by sweeping the Yankees, Bucky Dent’s home run to give the Yanks the AL East title—plus the thing that arguably started it all, Babe Ruth getting sold from Boston to New York in 1916.

Then of course, there are the fights. There have been bench-clearing brawls and one-on-one fights in this rivalry over the years, including Pedro Martinez throwing down Don Zimmer, Jason Varitek and A-Rod getting down and dirty, and Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk going at it. So yeah, these teams don’t like each other very much. This rivalry was one-sided for quite a long time—the Yankees won 26 championships while the Red Sox won zero from 1918 to 2004—but Boston has added a couple more since then. There’s no sign of this rivalry slowing down anytime soon.


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