Oh, it’s on.
A day before he is scheduled to face the Red Sox in the AL wild-card game, New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole dropped the name that dare not be spoken within the confines of Fenway Park — at least not since the last one-game playoff between the longtime rivals was decided by a light-hitting shortstop popping the go-ahead homer over the Green Monster.
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“Bucky Dent, right?” Cole said when asked what he knew about the history between the teams. “You’re dreaming about putting yourself in that position, and coming through for your team. And here we are.”
Forty-three years after Dent’s homer helped the Yankees beat Boston to break a tie for the AL East title, the teams meet again for one game, with the winner this time advancing to face the Tampa Bay Rays in an AL Division Series.
Cole (16-8) faces Nathan Eovaldi (11-9) in Boston, where Dent homered, where ‘Tek shoved A-Rod, where Roger returned, where Pedro pushed Zimmer and where Dave Roberts stole second to make everyone all-but forget about everything that happened up until then.
“There’s a buzz here,” said New York manager Aaron Boone, himself a Boston beater with an 11th-inning, walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.
“It matters here. It’s fun to compete in games here. It’s tough to compete in games here,” Boone said. “Yeah, I think there will be some tension, electricity. Everything you could hope for for a winner-take-all game in the playoffs and two outstanding franchises and teams.”
It will be the fifth time the teams have met in the playoffs — the 1978 tiebreaker counted as part of the regular season — with each club winning twice. In postseason games, New York leads 12-11, but Boston has won seven of the last eight.
Twice series have come down to a win-or-go-home seventh game, in the 2003 and ’04 ALCS. Each team has won one of them.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who arrived in Boston as a player in 2005, right after the most recent heyday of the rivalry, said back then it was fueled by players such as David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.
“It was more about the characters, the players, bigger-than-life,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, these guys are unbelievable.’
“They used to fight, too, back in the day, so I think that gave it a little bit more for the fan base,” Cora said. “We have great players … two teams are playing for the same thing. Throughout the season, it’s been a roller-coaster ride.”
With baseball returning to a full, 162-game schedule after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Red Sox held the edge over the Yankees for most of the year but fell behind after a New York sweep in Boston from Sept. 24-26. The Red Sox swept the Nationals on the final weekend while the Yankees lost two of three to the AL East champion Rays to finish tied at 92-70; Boston earned home-field advantage by virtue of its 10-9 head-to-head record against New York.
That helped avoid tiebreakers that would have necessitated a Game 163 on Monday in Boston.
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It’s a good thing, too.
Rain fell steadily in the city, and the tarp never came off the Fenway infield for what became a workout day for the wild-card qualifiers. The Yankees made it optional, with about half the team coming to the ballpark but doing their work indoors; about a dozen Red Sox played catch in the outfield.
The forecast for Tuesday is for the rain to stop in the morning and temperatures in the high 50s.
Boone said he expected infielder Gio Urshela, who bruised his thigh making a sensational catch of a foul ball Sunday in the clincher against Tampa Bay, to be able to play against Boston. Cora was noncommittal about slugger J.D. Martinez, who slipped on second base as he was running out to his position in the outfield against Washington on Sunday.
Cora said he expected to play Christian Arroyo at second and Kevin Plawecki at catcher. There’s “a good chance” Jarren Duran will be on the roster, Cora said.
Left-hander Chris Sale, who threw 62 pitches on Sunday but is coming back from Tommy John surgery, tried to make the case for a spot on the roster in case he is needed in the bullpen, but Cora shut it down.
“He actually threw today. He felt good. He stopped by the office and (I was) like, ‘No, we’re not doing that,'” Cora said. “Hopefully he has a chance to start again here in October.”