NEW YORK — Yankees lefthander Nestor Cortes made headlines on Thursday when he questioned whether the Red Sox and Yankees were actually rivals these days.
“It doesn’t feel like what we have with Tampa now, or with Toronto now,” Cortes said. “You could argue that [the Red Sox] haven’t been who they really are the last couple years.”
He’s right about the Sox, hard to argue there. But there is still something special when the Sox and Yankees are on the same field.
A sellout crowd of 46,007 at Yankee Stadium was on its feet in the ninth inning on Friday night when Kenley Jensen came out of the bullpen charged with protecting a 3-2 lead.
He got two quick outs then put two runners on base, giving rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe a chance to play hero.
Volpe ripped a 3-and-1 pitch to left field, easily foul but close enough to raise the decibel level. Then Jansen located a hard cutter inside and Volpe popped out.
“It was loud,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “You can tell from the get-go. When I go out there at 6:30 for a 7:10 game, when you can see the people up there, in right field way up there, you know it’s going to be fun.
“It was loud. It was a great baseball game.”
In what has been a letdown season and recently an embarrassing one on and off the field, the Sox had an enjoyable night.
Garrett Whitlock, the former Yankees prospect stolen in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, allowed one earned run over 6⅓ innings in his first start against his former team.
Whitlock has a 1.85 earned run average in 13 appearances against the Yankees since he joined the Red Sox. Whitlock professed not to be caught up with facing his former team. But he did enjoy the atmosphere.
“My first win was here and this was my first start here,” Whitlock said. “It was fun — a lot of intensity when you’re out there.”
The stage also seemed to perk up Rafael Devers, who doubled off Gerrit Cole in the fourth inning and scored the first run of the game.
Then he unloaded on a low changeup in the sixth inning and hit it 405 feet to left field for his 14th home run and 51st RBI.
That’s not a pitch a normal lefthanded hitter can hit that far to that part of the ballpark.
“That was sick,” said Kiké Hernández, who homered off Albert Abreu in the seventh inning.
Devers has seven homers against Cole, his most against any pitcher and the most Cole has allowed by any hitter.
That this was the first game of the season between the Sox and Yankees was unusual.
They had not met so late into a full season since July 1, 1996. Jimmy Key beat Roger Clemens, 2-0, at the old Stadium before a crowd of only 27,734.
The Yankees went on to win the World Series that season, the first of four over a five-year period for the Joe Torre dynasty.
The Red Sox were competitive but didn’t have their breakthrough until 2004. The Yankees have only one championship in the years since.
Now the teams have reached another junction, this one more philosophical.
The Yankees are fully committed to winning, their $279.7 million luxury tax payroll second only to the Mets. They made Aaron Judge a $360 million offer he couldn’t refuse last winter when he became a free agent and retained first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
It was a sluggish first 30 games, but the Yankees are 37-28 and in the mix for a playoff berth. There’s no questioning their intent.
The Red Sox payroll is 14th at $179.6 million, lower than the White Sox and a bit higher than the Rockies. They’re buried in last place.
That the Sox lack the pitching to contend was made even more clear on Friday when it was revealed Chris Sale had a stress reaction in his shoulder blade and would be out at least until August and likely beyond.
Having five healthy major-league quality starters available over the final four months of the season will be a challenge.
So Cortes has a valid point. But hearing Red Sox fans cheering at the Stadium when Devers homered, only to be drowned out by angry boos from Yankees fans was a reminder that these games still mean plenty.