– Alan Embree represents the Red Sox-Yankees baseball rivalry as well as anyone.

The relief pitcher was a pivotal figure in one of the greatest moments in Red Sox history, getting Ruben Sierra to ground out for the final out in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

He was also part of the bullpen trio that sat watching while Grady Little let Pedro Martinez twist in the wind of a Game 7 ALCS meltdown one year earlier. Little opted to let his ace keep throwing on an empty tank while Embree, Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson never got the call. The Sox, of course, never got the win.

How well does Embree know the rivalry? Heck, he even pitched in 24 games for the Yankees in 2005.

Now he’s trying to pitch his way back onto the Red Sox staff, hoping to be in that bullpen when Boston opens up the season against — who else? — the Yankees on Easter Sunday.

The Red Sox brought Embree back into the fold with a minor league contract on Saturday.

To be sure, the announcement came as a surprise. Embree hadn’t signed with anyone this offseason and had an ERA of 5.84 with Colorado last season before a line drive hit his leg and ended his season in July.

At best, the Sox have one or two relief spots available for the coming season. Joe Nelson, Scott Atchison, Boof Bonser and Brian Shouse are veteran pitchers already competing for those spots.

With two or three of them already destined for Triple-A Pawtucket, it seemed the Sox had enough depth to build a bullpen for the start of the season.

Embree is a left-hander, and a team that faces the New York Yankees 18 times a season can always use a few extra lefties.

Counting switch-hitters, New York could have seven lefties in the lineup when they take the field.

Embree could be just the man to face those key left-handed hitters in late-game situations.

He has appeared in 47 games against the Yankees, limiting them to a .225 batting average.

With all due respect to Shouse, having Embree and Okajima in the bullpen would give Terry Francona two dependable options against left-handed hitters this season.

Francona wouldn’t have to think twice about bringing one of them into a fifth- or sixth-inning jam with Robinson Cano at the plate.

He’d have the other reliever ready for later in the game if, for example, Curtis Granderson had a key at-bat.

That is, if the 40-year-old Embree can get himself into game shape without suffering one of those overuse injuries that plague older athletes. He says he can.

The Red Sox have risked very little to see if he’s right. This is a guy that was making $2 million last year, and the Sox can walk away from the experiment with no more than a few bucks lost.

There is less than two weeks left in spring training. It’s a time for teams to finalize things, to sweat over the 25th man on the roster.

Every year a reliever surprises us and becomes a key part of the much needed bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Sometimes, it’s a young arm like Ramon Ramirez in 2009. Other times, it’s a journeyman like David Aardsma in 2008.

This year, it could be a 40-year old lefty who was hanging out with the family a week ago, wondering if he’d ever again pitch in a professional baseball game.

He’s a man with a chance to return to the rivalry that made him a baseball hero to legions of Sox fans back in that unforgettable autumn of 2004.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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