After decades of study, scientists revealed nearly three weeks ago that a disease may help explain the long-running feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Had those same researchers asked, Red Sox fans could have suggested something much simpler.
Envy.
Sunday night's extravaganza between the Red Sox and the Yankees marked the 1,999th time the two teams met in the regular season since 1903, and rarely has it produced a more satisfying weekend in Boston. The Red Sox came from behind to win all three games, sweeping a series in Fenway for the first time since 1990. They hit four straight home runs in the span of 10 pitches in the third inning of the last one, a feat that's only been accomplished five times in major league history.
By the end of that-back-to-back-to-back-to-back sequence, it was harder to tell whether the better party was taking place in the Red Sox dugout or the stands, jammed with a crowd of 36,905, the second-largest at Fenway since World War II.
For all that, though, New York left town still holding a 179-game lead in the regular-season tally, not to mention 26 World Series titles to Boston's half-dozen. With five more series scheduled between the division rivals even before a possible playoff matchup, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell cautioned the locals not to get too excited.
``You've got to keep it in perspective,'' the hero of Sunday night's tug-of-war said. ``It's April.''
Besides, the Red Sox had just about everything in their favor. Manager Terry Francona's rotation happened to align just perfectly for the series, with Big Three starters Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka prepared to give the Yankees a preview of what to expect should the two teams meet in October.
``We didn't maneuver to have it work out this way,'' Francona said as the weekend began, ``but we're not going to apologize for having those three going.''
vano - wasn't available for anything more strenuous than playing catch.
During a mid-inning interview on TV, Torre bravely mumbled something about playing with ``the team you have'' rather than the ``one you wish you had.'' The Yankees still have the largest payroll in baseball - $195.2 million, with Boston next at $143.5 million - and four of the top seven names on the salary list. And if the guy at the very top, Alex Rodriguez, wasn't having one of the most productive months in history, general manager Brian Cashman might have his checkbook out already.
The last time the teams met in Boston, the Yankees swept a five-game series in August that effectively locked up the American League East title. Karstens still hadn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues and Wright had yet to make a start above Class AA.
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, was still in Japan, not yet the central figure in a bidding war that would eventually cost the Red Sox $103.1 million to lure him to Boston. He gave up six runs in seven-plus innings, but he got a lot more support than in his two previous starts and had the good sense to say about his good fortune, ``There's no way I can be satisfied.''
Once the buzz from the weekend quiets down, Red Sox fans would be wise to take those words to heart. Their World Series title in 2004 raised expectations considerably, and the cost of doing business by even more.
They caught the Yankees as short-handed as they're likely to be the rest of the way. They beat closer Mariano Rivera to get one win, and collected two more by beating kids who asked their new teammates for advice on how to handle the hyper-charged atmosphere at Fenway and still pitched like they didn't have a clue.
New Yorkers still like to joke that the rivalry between the two towns resembles the rivalry ``between a hammer and a nail,'' and thorough as the beating was over the weekend, there was nothing to indicate the Yankees plan on being on the receiving end for long.
``We didn't play well and we lost three games,'' Yankee captain Derek Jeter said. ``But we've got 147 left.''
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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