It’s been a long time since the Yankees beat the Red Sox in a playoff series.
How long was it?
It was so long ago, the Yankees were only three years removed from a World Championship. It was so long ago Barack Obama was an unknown Illinois State Senator and Donald Trump was still a Democrat.
It was so long ago that Derek Jeter had hair.
It was so long ago that the hero of that 2003 ALCS, Aaron Boone, had no clue that 15 years later, he would be sitting in the manager’s office at Yankee Stadium.
A lot has happened to both teams since Boone’s home run off Tim Wakefield leading off the 11th inning of Game 7 sent them into the World Series against the Marlins. It was so long ago, they were still called the Florida Marlins – and a lot has changed.
In the ensuing 15 years, the Yankees have won one World Series. The Red Sox have won three, snapping an 86-year drought. The Yankees have won the AL East six times, the Red Sox, five. Over that span, the Yankees record is 1,397-1,033. The Red Sox are 1,353-1,077.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. Hidden is the history of intense rivalry, and sometimes hatred, between the two clubs that stretches back nearly a half-century.
Few of the current Yankees know of the brawls between Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer, or between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek, or Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia throwing down with a Fenway Park groundskeeper in the bullpen, let alone the scuffle Thurman Munson had with Carlton Fisk in 1973 or the one between Lou Piniella and Spaceman Bill Lee in 1976.
But they do know that when these two teams get together in the regular season the tempers are a little hotter, the fuses a little shorter, the collars a little tighter.
So when the Yankees and Red Sox meet in Game 1 of the ALDS Friday night at Fenway – their first post-season meeting since 2004, when the Yankees blew a 3-0 ALCS lead, ushering the Red Sox into the World Series and their first world championship since 1918 – they can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like between these two teams.
“We wanted Boston, we were trying to win this game to get to them, and now they’re next,” Dellin Betances, who watched that 2004 ALCS as a high school kid in Brooklyn, said after the Yankees 7-2 win over the Oakland Athletics in the wild card game Wednesday night.
“I’m just excited for the series,” said Aaron Judge, who was a 12-year-old kid living in Linden, California in 2004. “They got a great team over there, great pitching staff, great offense, I’m going to celebrate tonight and then get ready for Boston.”
The young Yankees got a small whiff of the rivalry back in April, when Joe Kelly hit Tyler Austin with a pitch in a retaliation for what the Red Sox thought was a dirty slide at second base, precipitating a “baseball fight” – a lot of guys running onto the field, some pushing, shoving and woofing, and no real punches thrown.
But now, Austin is gone, traded to Minnesota for Lance Lynn, who might see some action in long relief, and Kelly faced them a half-dozen more times in the regular season without incident. So in one sense, the fire that once burned between these two teams is flickering at best.
But in another, this series is yet another referendum on what would otherwise be considered outstanding seasons for both teams.
Only this time, the heat is all on the Red Sox.
Unlike the wild card game, in which the Yankees ran the risk of seeing their first 100-win season since 2009 rendered meaningless with a loss to Oakland, this time it will be Boston that is called upon to prove their 108 regular season wins, a franchise record, were not gained in vain.
With three of the five games to be played at Fenway, where they played .700 ball this season, the pressure will be all on the Red Sox to vanquish the Yankees and move on to the ALCS.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have already validated their season by getting to the DS; there will be no disgrace in losing a best of five series to the team with the best record in baseball on their home field.
And yet, the indications are that, home-field advantage aside, the Yankees have the edge in this one.
Not only should they be riding the momentum of their wild-card win while the Red sox have sat idle since the regular season ended on Sunday, for the first time in months they are arriving at a visitor’s doorstep with their roster largely healthy and intact.
Both teams can hit the hell out of the baseball and both play in ballparks that baseballs routinely fly out of, so scoring should not be a problem.
But Boone’s gamble of starting Luis Severino against the A’s insures that J.A. Happ, who has enjoyed great success against Boston throughout his career and in particular, over the past two seasons, will be lined up to start two of the five games.
With Boston ace Chris Sale looking diminished since coming off the disabled list with a sore shoulder in August – his fastball topped out at 90 MPH in his final start of the season – and David Price a basket case when it comes to facing the Yankees, there’s little doubt that the better pitching staff resides in the Bronx.
And with Dellin Betances regaining his footing late in the season and in an overpowering two-inning stint against Oakland, the Yankees bullpen appears more formidable, too.
The guess here is that the Yankees will up to the task of beating Boston in say, five games, and advance to the ALCS. And that will only start the flow of overheated Yankees-Red Sox emotions all over again, bringing an entire new generation ballplayers into baseball’s version of the Hatfields and McCoys.
It’s been a long time since things were like this between the Yankees and Red Sox.