BOSTON — Turns out, both sides got exactly what they wanted.
Red Sox. Yankees. In the playoffs.
All that’s missing is a marquee lit up in neon outside Fenway Park, the site of Game 1 of this best-of-five Division Series between teams that have been on a collision course seemingly since late May.
“I mean, what else do you want?” Red Sox Game 1 starter Chris Sale said Thursday afternoon. “You got the Yankees and the Red Sox in the playoffs playing against each other. One of the biggest rivalries in sports ever. It’s what we signed up for.”
It is the first postseason meeting between the rivals since the epic seven-game American League Championship Series matchups in 2003 and 2004. Neither fan base, of course, needs reminding how those games turned out.
A victory in this series wouldn’t make up for the Yankees’ historic collapse in blowing a three-games-to-none lead in 2004, but their fans certainly would have return ammunition if their team takes out the Red Sox, who went a franchise-record 108-54 in 2018.
A year earlier, of course, Aaron Boone put the Yankees in the World Series with a walk-off home run in the 11th inning against Boston in ALCS Game 7. Now he’s the Yankees’ manager.
The Yankees advanced to the ALDS with a 7-2 victory over the A’s Wednesday night in the wild-card game, and the chants began reverberating throughout Yankee Stadium in the sixth inning:
“We want Boston! We want Boston!”
It was the talk after the game and all day Thursday.
“Everybody wants Boston. We want Boston,’’ Didi Gregorius said in the early-morning hours Thursday. “That’s what we play for. What gives me confidence? Just everything that we can do. From top to bottom. We have the confidence. We never lose it.’’
Boston won the season series by a 10-9 margin, but the Yankees did win five of the first nine matchups and four of the last six. In between, Boston’s four-game sweep at Fenway Park from Aug. 2-5 essentially ended the race for the AL East title as the Red Sox turned a 5 1⁄2-game lead into a 9 1⁄2-game lead.
J.A. Happ, who will start ALDS Game 1 against Boston, was acquired at the trade deadline in large part because of his career success against the Red Sox. He went 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a .564 opponent’s OPS in four starts against Boston this season, improving his career numbers against the Red Sox to 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA. He had a 7-0 record and 2.69 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees.
Sale, whose health remains a concern, went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA this season but pitched only 17 innings in the last two months because of left shoulder inflammation.
He’ll have his hands full against a lineup that seemed to get rolling toward the end of the season, hitting 14 home runs and scoring 47 runs in a five-game stretch during the final week. The Yankees set a major-league record with 267 home runs; the Red Sox were ninth in the majors with 208.
“We have to keep them in the ballpark, that’s the most important thing,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “From top to bottom, they can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Like I’ve been saying, there’s heat maps [hitting hot zones and cold zones]. There’s red and there’s blue. We have to pitch to blue. If we do that, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Boone sees his lineup, which missed key pieces such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Gregorius at various points, as finally “whole.”
“We feel like we’re a really good club right now,” Boone said.
It’s the kind of matchup that excited even 18-year veteran CC Sabathia, the likely starter for Game 4, if it’s necessary.
“I haven’t played them in the playoffs since I’ve been here, so I think it’s going to be a different experience for me, so it should be a lot of fun,” said Sabathia, a Yankee since 2009. “We get a chance to kind of finish the [season] series right now. It’s a five-game series to see who’s the best.”
Boone said Sabathia and rookie lefthanded reliever Stephen Tarpley will replace infielder Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka on the 25-man ALDS roster . . . Boone named Masahiro Tanaka as his Game 2 starter . . . What Boone characterized as a “slow-moving train” got the Yankees, who left New York at about noon, into Boston late, and they canceled their workout at Fenway Park.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox have any number of players who figure to be key in this ALDS. Two to watch for are New York's Giancarlo Stanton and Boston's Mookie Betts. A comparison of their numbers in head-to-head games this season:
Stanton Category Betts
5 HR 3
17 RBIs 15
.371 Batting .415
.423 On-base .506
1.123 OPS 1.245