This was supposed to be a big game. The defending World Series champions. The team that celebrated an American League East title on the field in the Bronx. The hated division rival that eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs in 2018, right here in the Stadium. This was a date that was circled on the schedule and picked up by national networks.
For the Yankees, who limped into Tuesday night’s game with a major-league leading 12 players currently on the injured list, this game still held some intense emotion. At least for a guy like Luke Voit.
“Just after what happened last year. A lot of us in that locker room had a little bad taste in our mouth. We’re excited and, like I said, need to get out of our heads and go back to playing Yankee baseball the right way and do our thing,” said Voit. “Like I said, at least we’re hitting this bad streak in April and a lot of injuries and hopefully we’ll get a lot of guys back in the next couple weeks and that will help too.”
The expectation and tradition of the rivalry played a lot more into those feelings than the current state of these team.
Tuesday night, the Red Sox and Yankees came into their first regular-season meeting with a combined 12 wins. The hottest team in the division? The Rays were home hosting the rebuilding Orioles, who by the way have more wins than both of these teams.
Aaron Boone has not been surprised by the Rays, but also has not changed his opinion that the Yankees and Red Sox will be slugging it out in the end.
“The Rays are a really good team, so they are not a surprise to me by any means. I know the team we are going up against tonight, the Red Sox, are going to be a really good squad,” Boone said. “So, I look at it so much from our standpoint as, what do we have to do each and every day to be at our best. I know we’re going to be a really good club, but my focus is really on the daily grind of it all, getting ready to beat an opponent, not judging whether this team might be good.
“I know we’re up against a good team that is off to a tough start, similar to us. But we know what they are capable of and we know we have to play well to beat them.”
That gets harder and harder with each injury hit the Yankees take to their roster.
With Miguel Andujar (small tear in labrum), Giancarlo Stanton (strained biceps), Aaron Hicks (lower back pain), Didi Gregorius (Tommy John rehab) out, the Yankees are missing a lot of offensive firepower. That group drove in nearly half the runs the Yankees scored last season, a combined 410 RBI, just one shy of 50 percent, and hit 51 percent of the home runs the Bombers hit (137).
They are without their ace in Luis Severino, who is likely out until after the All-Star break with a grade-two strain of his right lat muscle, and their set-up man, Dellin Betances (bone spur), who will likely miss at least two months.
But despite the epic rash of injuries, Boone still sees this team as capable of great things this season.
“I am confident that slowly but surely we are going to get those guys that we are missing, the point that I want to drive home is that, we’re capable of winning games despite being depleted right now,” Boone said. “ That expectation doesn’t change. Yeah, it’s a little bit harder when you are missing some obviously big-time, impact players, we’re still capable of going out there and winning ballgames. That is our sole focus right now and then hopefully over time, slowly but surely we get more and more guys back that allow that to become even more of a reality.”