NEW YORK – Fourteen years later, the greatest comeback in sports history finally gets its sequel.
The players from the 2004 American League Championship Series are long retired, the highlight reels worn from overuse, the lore well-established. And yet for all the billions in salary they’ve spent and all the stars they’ve grown and imported, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have not faced one another in the playoffs since Boston overcame a three-games-to-none deficit nearly a decade and a half ago.
Friday will change that. The Yankees ambushed the Oakland A’s in the AL wild-card game Wednesday night, riding monster home runs from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and 13 strikeouts from their pitching staff to a 7-2 victory. Starting in the middle innings, the crowd of 49,620 at Yankee Stadium chanted: “We want Bos-ton!” No, it wouldn’t be for a World Series berth like any of their previous three playoff matchups, but the message was clear.
Yankees-Red Sox is back. And the baseball world will be rapt with attention.
An expected struggle for the American League East championship turned into a runaway crowning of the 108-win Red Sox. The Yankees weren’t slouches by any means, winning 100 games and securing home-field advantage in the wild-card game, where they’d face an A’s team that won 97 games despite not having a starting pitcher it considered worthy to face New York.
Instead, the A’s went with reliever Liam Hendriks as its so-called opener. The only thing Hendriks opened was a deficit. On his ninth pitch of the game, Judge turned around a 96-mph fastball at 116 mph. The ball soared through a perfect night at Yankee Stadium: the weather temperate, the crowd hot, even the gags on the jumbotron slightly amusing. It landed nearly 430 feet later and put the Yankees on top, 2-0.
Starter Luis Severino, who bombed in last year’s wild-card game, threw four of the shakiest shutout innings imaginable. His stuff was top notch, his command not so much. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, then gave up back-to-back singles to start the fifth. Dellin Betances, who was so awful last fall he sat for most of the Yankees’ run to the AL Championship Series, cleaned up Severino’s mess and worked another scoreless inning.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were securing their spot in the division series against Boston. Back-to-back doubles from Judge and Aaron Hicks to start the sixth extended their lead to three runs. Hicks and Stanton, who walked, scored on Luke Voit’s Yankee Stadium special, a high-arcing triple off the short-porch right-field wall. When Voit scored on a sacrifice fly, it was 6-0.
Major league home run leader Khris Davis did his best to bring the A’s back into the game with a two-run home run to right field. Then Stanton dropped the coup de grace: a 443-foot moonshot down the left-field line that left his bat even harder than Judge’s, 117 mph. It was almost a warning shot to Boston: You may have Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and others. Don’t sleep on us.
The Red Sox wouldn’t dare. They saw the Yankees 19 times this season and understand in a best-of-five series, the better team can falter. They know that when Chris Sale throws the first pitch at Fenway Park on Friday at 7:32 p.m. ET, all the talk of 2004 goes away. They’re here to make new memories.
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