The 108-win Red Sox and 100-win Yankees begin their best-of-five American League Division Series Friday night in Boston, the fourth postseason series ever between the two iconic franchises.
Given that the high tension of the last two meetings — the 2003 ALCS, won by the Yankees, and the Red Sox’ cathartic redemption in the ALCS a year later — negatively affected the life span of anyone with an emotional interest, it has to be healthy to talk about what to expect in this one.
So let’s talk it out, Q&A style, just between me and the hypothetical and rather sarcastic you. First question . . .
The Red Sox and Yankees? Sheesh, not these guys again.
That’s not a question, that’s a statement. But at least you didn’t start it by saying, “Talk about . . .” like so many of my reporter friends do. Drives me nuts. Everything in the form of a question, please. Carry on, my wayward son.
OK, Trebek, here’s my question. Could you talk about how the rest of the country has heard enough about the Curse of the Bambino, and Bucky (Expletive) Dent, and the Red Sox’ exorcising of all ghosts in 2004?
That’s probably all true, so I will talk about it despite your phrasing. Historic rivalries can get stale and redundant if you don’t have a rooting interest. But here’s the weird thing: The Red Sox and Yankees have not met in the postseason since the great Red Sox redemption of 2004. It’s somehow been 14 years since their last playoff showdown despite both teams being playoff contenders in the majority of seasons since. As stressful as it’s going to be, we’re overdue for this.
Fourteen years is a long time, now that you mention it.
Sure is. To put it another way: Yankees pinch hitter Ruben Sierra made the last out of Game 7 in the 2004 ALCS. He turns 53 Saturday.
Does he still play?
No, he does not. That would be quite old for a baseball player.
All right, but are they really rivals? Both have star-studded rosters and plump payrolls. Both won 100 games. That doesn’t sound like a rivalry. That sounds like two Fortune 500 companies.
That’s fair, though this time around it’s the Red Sox with the highest payroll in baseball. Typically that has been the Yankees’ domain. And no one that has spent a couple hundred million dollars to achieve success is going to be satisfied with anything but being number one.
The lack of playoff showdowns might have tempered the rivalry a bit, but it is always simmering at the least. They do play each other 19 times in the regular season, and even had a brawl earlier this season. A postseason reunion should bring it back to a full boil.
OK, I’m up for some loathing. So what is there to dislike about the Yankees?
Let’s see, where to start? They’re the Yankees. Gross. Next question.
Gonna need more detail there, brother.
OK. There’s their cloying, hammy radio broadcast team of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. There’s their relatively new and forever antiseptic stadium (it opened in 2009), which lacks the historic ambiance of the old place. There’s their extraordinary success, with 27 World Series titles, the most recent in 2009. There’s their entitled fan base, which often behaves as though it is not a fortunate observer of that success but a reason for it. There’s . . .
Excuse me, but are you sure you’re not talking about the Patriots?
Nah, the Patriots broadcasters are fine.
You’re going to get hammered for that.
No question. Next question.
Aren’t there any villains on this Yankees team?
Not like in ye olden days — or even 14 years ago. Sox reliever Joe Kelly and Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin brawled in April, but Austin was traded to the Twins in July. And frankly, the way Kelly pitched for much of the summer, Austin might have been trying to do Boston a favor.
There is no one like grouchy Thurman Munson or arrogant Reggie Jackson or sucker-punching Mickey Rivers here. Alex Rodriguez is off practicing his authenticity as an analyst for Fox and ESPN. Derek Jeter, whose smirk was always camera-ready in October, is now the ownership face of the hapless Marlins. He doesn’t smirk that much anymore, I bet.
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is loathsome, not because he pitches for the Yankees, but because he was suspended 30 games in 2016 for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy. You have to be quite the ethical contortionist to root for that guy.
A recent nuisance is first baseman Luke Voit, who is the latest marginal player (think Shane Spencer in 1998, or Shelley Duncan in 2007) to suddenly turn into a home run king. Voit also carries himself like every meathead jock you knew in high school. There’s serious enemy potential in that one.
Otherwise, the Yankees stars are fairly likable. Heck, slugger Aaron Judge, who would be imposing if he weren’t smiling all the time, grew up a Red Sox fan. Frankly, this series is all about reigniting the loathing.
What needs to happen for the Red Sox to eliminate these quasi-villains?
It’s pretty clear. The bullpen, which has been the bane of the team (if a 108-win team can have a bane), needs to be at its best in the biggest moments after being something less than its best all year.
Closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Matt Barnes have had fine seasons statistically, but even they can be tough to watch because they both walk too many hitters. Rookie Ryan Brasier has been a pleasant surprise, but the Sox need about two or three more of him. Hopefully, in a short series, one of the starters relegated to the bullpen (Eduardo Rodriguez, perhaps) can come through in relief. They seem to need it.
The starting pitchers, for all of their individual accomplishments in their regular-season careers, still have everything to prove in the postseason. No. 1 starter Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League when he’s right, but shoulder inflammation limited him to 29 innings in the second half. No. 2 starter David Price and No. 3 Rick Porcello have both won Cy Young awards in their career. But Sale, Price, and Porcello combined are — this is almost unfathomable — 0-11 in 19 career playoff starts.
You’re giving me no hope, Finn. Yankees in three.
If you mean Red Sox in five, I’m with you. Sure, we dwell on the negative and harp on the concerns. For better or worse — and it’s worse — that’s who we are, which is why when the Red Sox were running away with the AL East this summer, the resounding tone from much of my correspondence was, “Don’t jinx them! Remember the collapse of ’78!’’
As if all of that hadn’t been redeemed and then some against the Yankees in ’04.
This is not a legendary Red Sox team, because we don’t know how the story ends. But we do know it has been a great one for seven months now, and we should not require a reminder why.
I would like a reminder why, please.
Form of a question.
You got it. Sale, Price, and Porcello are a very good big three. Manager Alex Cora is bright, poised, and relatable to his players. Presumptive Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts became the first player in baseball history to win a batting title while hitting at least 30 homers and stealing 30 bases. J.D. Martinez finished with a .330 average, 43 homers, and 130 RBIs, the first Boston player to hit all of those marks since Ted Williams in 1949. There is high-quality talent — Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and my sleeper hero pick, Ian Kinsler — all over the roster.
Also, the Red Sox never lost more than three games in a row all season. If they can get through this series, and the next one, and then the World Series after that without losing three games in any of them, they’ll have their fourth World Series title in 15 years.
Are you implying that we should make sure the duck boats’ tires are rotated and their engines have enough oil, just in case there is a parade?
Well, it is always wise to be proactive in caring for your vehicle, especially if it is of the amphibious variety. More than that, I mean this: The Yankees should be more worried about the Red Sox than vice versa. Fretting about the Yankees is so 20th century.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.