NEW YORK — The Yankees are heading to Boston this morning to play the Red Sox in the best-of-five American League Division Series Friday at Fenway Park after a champagne celebration in their clubhouse following a 7-2 wild-card playoff win over the dangerous Oakland A’s, who simply weren’t ready for prime time.
Listening to late-game chants of “We want Boston!” and “Boston Sucks!” as Aroldis Chapman finished off the A’s in the ninth, the Yankees won the way they did a majority of their 100 regular-season wins: power hitting, bullpen and good enough starting pitching.
It wasn’t lost on Yankees manager Aaron Boone, either.
“With Cutch [Andrew McCutchen] leading off, getting on base. And then Judgey [Aaron Judge] with a big swing [a first-inning home run] and Sevey [starter Luis Severino] doing what he did, we just built some steam from there,” Boone said. “Even though he couldn’t get deep, he was good when he was in there. And then you see the bullpen coming in and being as effective as they were.
“That’s a good look at what we did when we’re at our best.”
Boone said of his team facing the Red Sox, “I think they can’t wait. They’re ready to go against the game’s best this year. We know how good they are. We have to play our best to beat them. They’re very tough at Fenway. But our guys can’t wait to get there and get it done.”
While many Red Sox fans were tired of the Red Sox/Yankee matchup and wanted something new for the playoffs, let’s face it, this is the most compelling matchup. The AL East archrivals hadn’t faced each other in the postseason since the 2004 AL Championship Series, a span of 14 years.
The Red Sox took the regular-season series this year, 10-9, but the Yankees took four out of the last six games. The Yankees have their full lineup intact and even added one of the best finds in major league baseball — first baseman Luke Voit — which has fortified an already strong lineup even more. Voit’s two-run triple in the sixth inning of a four-run Yankee outburst against A’s closer Blake Treinen broke the game open.
The Red Sox must hope Chris Sale and David Price are at their best.
There were three things the A’s couldn’t overcome:
First, the decision to go with reliever Liam Hendriks as the “opener” in this hostile environment backfired. Second, the A’s needed to keep the Yankees, who broke the single-season record for homers (267), confined to the ballpark. But, in the first inning, after McCutchen had walked, Judge hit a two-run homer into the left field seats that sent the Yankee Stadium crowd into spasms.
Third, the last thing the A’s could not afford to happen was a strong starting performance from Severino. He did just that, although his pitch count got up when a Miguel Andujar throwing error in the fourth prolonged the inning. The A’s wound up loading the bases but were unable to score. In the fifth, Severino allowed two singles and was lifted for Dellin Betances.
“We were going to bring Betances in to face that part of the lineup,” Boone said. “If Sevey had gotten the guys out in the fifth, we would have stuck with him, but we felt Dellin was the guy and he did a great job.”
We should pause here for a second to point out that Adeiny Hechavarria, a slick-fielding infielder was a defensive replacement for Andujar in the sixth, a sign of things to come as the Yankees can ill afford Andujar costing them a game in the field.
Hechavarria then made an incredible leaping stab of Marcus Semien’s sharply-struck line drive to third in the seventh inning, robbing the A’s of an apparent extra-base hit.
Severino now will not be available until Game 3 or Game 4 after going four innings (plus two batters) and allowing four walks, two hits, while striking out seven batters.
His stuff was very good as he threw in the high 90s and was sometimes squeezed by home plate umpire Jim Wolf. Betances squirmed out of the mess inducing a pair of flyballs before striking out home run champ Khris Davis to end the inning. Betances also threw a scoreless sixth as Boone was leaving no stone unturned.
In the bottom of the eighth after Davis had belted a two-run homer to right off Zach Britton, Giancarlo Stanton hit a towering homer to right.
The A’s kept things close until the sixth, but could never capitalize on a couple of opportunities.
“We’ve had a tough time with wild-card games,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, losing the 2014 game to the Royals. “They got off to a good start with the home run and we couldn’t do much to answer it and they kept tacking on. The first run is big when you’re away. And then the crowd gets into it. We settled in.
“We kept it at 2-0 and we couldn’t score when we had the opportunities. Severino pitched well at the start and that didn’t help.”
The Yankee crowd was electric.
“We tried to take the crowd out of it, but we couldn’t capitalize,” Melvin said. “We knew it was going to be loud because it’s Yankee Stadium. I thought our at-bats would get better and we just didn’t do it.”
The Yankees did what they were supposed to do.
While we’re sympathetic to those who are fatigued by the Yankees, let’s face it folks, this matchup will make for the best and most compelling division series to come.