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Alex Speier | Instant Analysis

Red Sox starters dominated, while Yankees starters wilted

Christian Vazquez and Craig Kimbrel embraces after the Sox eliminated the Yankees. jim davis/Globe staff

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NEW YORK — The ghosts of Yankee Stadium have long since been vanquished, the notion of curses of one rival against another now seeming like history as ancient as the Salem witch trials.

For the third time in the last three seasons and the fourth in the last 15, the Red Sox enjoyed the champagne-soaked taste of victory in New York’s home park. On Tuesday night, Boston’s 4-3 victory in Game 4 of the American League Division Series sent the team past the Yankees to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2013 and the 11th time in franchise history.


As much as the modern postseason revolves around bullpen excellence, the Red Sox leaned heavily on their starters to set the tone and shut down the Yankees. Rick Porcello joined Game 1 winner Chris Sale and Game 3 dominator Nathan Eovaldi in stifling a quick-strike New York offense and positioning the Sox for a win.

Though he struck out just one batter on Tuesday, Porcello painted the edges of the strike zone with a five-pitch mix (four- and two-seam fastballs, slider, curveball, and changeup) over five innings, limiting the Yankees to one run while throwing an impressive 48 of 65 pitches (74 percent) for strikes. This was a reasonable facsimile of the Porcello who carved lineups en route to a Cy Young Award in 2016, but the one who, until Tuesday night, had never been seen in a playoff start.

In the series, Porcello, Eovaldi, and Sale combined to walk just two batters while allowing no homers in 17⅓ innings, posting a combined 2.08 ERA in the process. Their ability to command pitches and limit both homers and free passes prevented the Yankees from their familiar offensive fireworks. In particular, the work of Porcello and Eovaldi in the final two games of the series — with the Sox very intentionally setting up back-to-back starts from righties in the Bronx — yielded the rarest of pitching feats, two straight games in which New York didn’t homer. Monday and Tuesday marked just the second time all year — and the first since early-April, when the season was less than two weeks old — that the Yankees failed to hit homers in their home park in back-to-back games.


Championship-caliber execution took the Red Sox three wins and one series closer to a title. Now, they return to Fenway to rest for three days before trying to avenge last year’s ALDS loss to the Astros.

Other takeaways from a night when the Red Sox may borrow Aaron Judge’s playlist to start spreading some news:

■   Alex Cora had a really good series: One day after Alex Cora struck gold with his decisions to start Eovaldi and Brock Holt, he again hit a mother lode by sitting Holt and Rafael Devers in favor of Ian Kinsler (RBI double) and Eduardo Nunez (RBI single), and by pairing catcher Christian Vazquez (solo homer, strong game-calling) with Porcello for the first time this year. Finally, for the coup de grace, Cora navigated a perfect night from his bullpen, with Matt Barnes (6th), Ryan Brasier (7th), and Chris Sale (8th) all recording perfect innings in front of closer Craig Kimbrel.


Kimbrel comes with questions: Kimbrel nearly self-immolated in the ninth. Entrusted with a three-run lead, he walked a pair of batters, gave up a single, hit a batter, then gave up a massive sac fly to Gary Sanchez that fell just in front of the fence, narrowly averting a walkoff. He earned the save, but the wobbly performance will only reinforce questions about the Red Sox’ ability to navigate the late innings.

■  The Yankees rotation never gave the bullpen a chance: The Yankees joined the 2017 and 1999 Red Sox as the only teams in Division Series history to have three starts of three innings or fewer. CC Sabathia allowed three runs on five hits in three innings. New York, which accomplished its mission of getting under the luxury tax threshold this season in order to reset their penalty rates, now seems likely to move aggressively for rotation reinforcements this winter.

The Red Sox must have been watching 2015 Royals highlights: In the final two games of the series, the Red Sox scored 20 runs, with all but three of them coming on sustained rallies rather than the quick-strike of homers. On Tuesday, the Sox leaned on a sac fly by J.D. Martinez, a two-out RBI double by Kinsler, and a two-out single by Nunez that chased Kinsler home for a three-run third that put the Yankees on their heels. Vazquez then spread the game out in the fourth with a pop-up that snuck over the fence, but as was the case in Monday’s 16-run Red Sox explosion, most of the damage was done through key hits with runners on base.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.