It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Red Sox stormed the field at Yankee Stadium when they clinched the American League East on Thursday night. Perhaps a word like sauntered would be more accurate, or even strolled.
And it’s not that this team isn’t excited — the jubilant, champagne-soaked celebration proved that — it’s simply that after a season of domination, Thursday’s crowning glory seemed like more of a technicality than an outright victory. The Red Sox, winners of 104 games after an 11-6 victory over the Yankees, simply claimed what they felt was rightfully theirs for weeks now. And for the Yankees, any true win over their rival will have to wait for October, because a win in the wild-card game means a date with the Red Sox in the ALDS and a chance to make their historic season moot.
“When you get to October, the record doesn’t count anymore,” J.D. Martinez said, in between getting sprayed with bottles upon bottles of Chandon — to the point where he indicated that he might just drown in the sea of champagne. But for one night, “it’s going to be fun. We’re going to enjoy it, but we know we’ve got work to do still.”
Outside the plastic-soaked room, Alex Cora stood in the tiny visitor’s office. He’s been on both sides of this now, he said, and for now, he’s staying calm. As he spoke, his phone dinged and dinged and dinged. It hasn’t stopped since they clinched, he said. The 104 victories are second most with a rookie manager, behind only Ralph Houk and the Yankees in 1961. That team won 109, and the Red Sox are certainly within shooting distance with nine games left in the season. They’re one game behind the most in franchise history.
“I came here with an idea and we did it as a staff and I thank ownership for giving me a shot . . . [and for] a while, I didn’t think [getting the manager’s job] was going to happen,” Cora said. Now, “we have three weeks of rest. That makes me proud . . . And we have a shot to win 11 games in October.”
And it holds a special significance for him, on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, where he was born. “For our country, it’s great,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are proud of me . . . I know it means a lot to them. They’re happy, they’re happy. Every time we win, somebody is happy back home and that’s great. I’m proud of that.”
And reviews were mixed about whether it meant a little more to clinch in the Bronx. Martinez insisted it didn’t — and went as far to say that they try not to think about the rivalry too much at all. Blake Swihart acknowledged that it was a good feeling. “We wanted to do it here,” he said. “It’s special to do it in New York.”
And Cora, the manager who has planned this all out from the beginning, noted there was a reason that when his team celebrated on the mound, it was muted, almost casual.
“Winning the division is not enough,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys where this is their third straight division title and they know there are bigger things and we set that up in spring training.”
And now, they get to take it for a test drive in October.