BOSTON -- The Green Monster, through the years of this rivalry, can be scarier for the Red Sox than the Yankees. Bucky Dent made sure of that 40 years ago.
And with the resumption of this playoff grudge match, for the first time in 14 years, this version of the Bronx bashers are capable of leaving another indelible mark in the Fenway psyche.
It’s a frightening concept. The Yankees, coming off a record-breaking 267-homer season, let loose in a hitter-friendly ballpark where otherwise routine fly balls can make playoff history. Not only that, in a break from pinstriped tradition, these Yankees feature a ton of righthanded power — their lineup for Friday’s Game 1 of the Division Series featured just one lefty, Didi Gregorius, batting sixth.
When you factor in that the Red Sox’s two best starters, Chris Sale and David Price, are both lefthanded, these first two games have the potential to be a combustible mix, with a forecast of raining baseballs on Landsdowne Street.
Even with the extensive scouting done on each other, and dissecting every microscopic weakness, frame by frame, the biggest question heading into this series figured to be whether or not Boston’s pitching staff could turn off the Yankees’ relentless power source. Red Sox manager Alex Cora repeatedly has stressed the mantra of keeping them inside the fences, but is it possible?
“That’s what they do,” Cora said before Friday’s Game 1. “I mean, they hit the ball out of the ballpark to the pull side, the other way. We just have to be good. I think in the playoffs it’s about executing. You execute pitches, you get people out.
“You start watching the games, what pitchers are doing, and with pitching it seems like there’s a switch. You see them. They start executing pitches. At the same time, hitters kind of chase. So hopefully we can execute, and they can chase. And also, if we make a mistake, that they just pop it up and miss it.”
Cora wasn’t joking. Luck can play a part, too. Given the sheer size and strength of sluggers like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and relative newcomer Luke Voit, even good pitches — in on handles, off the end of barrels — can be punched over a wall. As much as the Yankees exploit their own short porch in the Bronx, they can do the same with the Monster.
And for all of Cora’s talk about pitching to the frosty spots on a heat map, that’s easier said than done. Despite the concentration on the advanced analytics, there is a human component that can’t be overlooked here. Having to be perfect, pitch after pitch, inning after inning, is very, very difficult to do, if not impossible. Plus, the Yankees’ lineup offers no room to breathe.
By the end of the regular season, the Yankees became the first team in history to have 12 players finish with 10 or more homers. They also had 20 or more homers from every slot in the lineup, one through nine. For Friday’s opener, the Yankees had Gleyber Torres hitting ninth — after launching 24 home runs in 123 games during his rookie season.
That’s quite a minefield to tiptoe through, and the Yankees bet that it can’t be survived on a regular, reliable basis. Eventually, there is a misstep, with explosive consequences.
“I don’t think you go up there trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Aaron Boone said. “We just have hitters that have power and that’s part of their game. But it starts by controlling the zone. And if we do that as a group consistently, then usually you give yourself a chance when a pitcher does make a mistake. And if you’re doing that up and down the lineup, over time you’ll net yourself more mistakes.”
This wasn’t just a Bronx phenomenon, either. The Yankees smashed 123 homers on the road — second only to the A’s (136) — and muscled up down the stretch with 15 home runs over their final six road games of the regular season. That included seven at Fenway on the last weekend, with Torres belting the record-setter.
The flexing continued in the wild-card game, with Stanton and Judge both going deep, establishing postseason exit velo records in the process — at 117.4 mph and 116.1, respectively. That rare power is hard to contain, and the Yankees don’t settle for half-measures.
“If one guy doesn’t get you, we’re hoping the next guy can,” said Brian Cashman, who himself loves the long ball. “We have a very deep lineup.”
And just as important, lives to go deep this time of year.