Aaron Boone tells everybody how much he missed the action of being on the field, and now he has as much action as any coach or manager could want, stakes as high as they get in baseball, a Yankees-Red Sox summer in the American League East that has all the
Aaron Boone tells everybody how much he missed the action of being on the field, and now he has as much action as any coach or manager could want, stakes as high as they get in baseball, a Yankees-Red Sox summer in the American League East that has all the makings.
Remember this about the way things are set up now: Even if both clubs win more than 100 games this season, which they both sure might, one of them will likely end up in a one-game Wild Card season. One of them will win the American League East. The other will win that.
"But that's the system, isn't it?" Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, who was managing against Boone's Yankees on Sunday, said before the game at Yankee Stadium. "You want to do anything you can to stay out of that game. But at the same time, you tell yourself: 'I'd rather being doing that than sitting at home watching.'"
A few minutes before, on the other side of the Stadium, Boone had been sitting in front of a microphone in the interview room across from the Yankees' clubhouse, a baseball in his hand. Sometimes Boone doesn't need a microphone to show you how much he missed being in the action, even in his years in the broadcast booth of Sunday Night Baseball for ESPN.
You can just see how much he missed having his hands on the game. His father played, and then managed. Aaron played for the Yankees; now he is managing them. He has some team. It is shaping up to be some season, one he is expected to win.
Boone was asked if he follows what the Red Sox are doing, even in the last week of May, even with two-thirds of the season left to go.
Boone smiled and said, "I follow the sport. At the end of the night, I know who won or lost."
The question, from Michael Kay, the Yankees' play-by-play announcer on the YES network, included the word "concerned."
"Am I concerned about them?" Boone asked. "No, I'm not. I don't concern myself with the big picture of all that. But am I aware of what the rest of the league is doing? Yeah, I am."
And then I asked him, on the day when the Yankees were about to improve their record to 33-16 with a 3-1 win over Scioscia's team, if he is happy with where his team is right now, last week of May, two-thirds of the season still left to be played.
Boone gave a long answer about his team, and where it is, and how generally happy he is with the way it has played so far, but then he ended this way:
"We need to get better if we're going to be an elite team."
He has one already. So does Boston. So do the Astros. That is the varsity in baseball. When the Astros come into the Stadium for three games starting Monday afternoon, it will feel as if the playoffs have started early, especially with Houston's ace, Justin Verlander, on the mound.
Chris Sale, the Red Sox ace, lost at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon. He gave up a three-run homer early to Tyler Flowers, and the Red Sox eventually fell behind 6-0, on their way to losing 7-1. It was the way Sonny Gray -- whom the Yankees thought was a front-of-the-rotation guy, but has turned out to be the opposite of that in New York -- got good and lit up by Michael Trout and the Angels on Saturday night at the Stadium, the Angels clubbing their way to an 11-4 victory in that one.
Masahiro Tanaka was much better for the Yankees on Sunday. The main event back in Japan, of course, was Tanaka against Shohei Ohtani, whom we thought might start this game against Tanaka before Scioscia changed his rotation midweek. Tanaka struck out Ohtani his first time up, walked him his next time up, struck him out swinging in the sixth. The Yankees scratched out three runs earlier, made them stand up on a dreary day at the Stadium, one made drearier because it was one of those days when Tanaka, even pitching well, slowed the whole thing down to a crawl.
So the Yankees have now won nine of their last 10 series. The Red Sox are right there with them. They have a winning percentage of .679. The Yankees are .673. Combined record? 69-33. They fight it out in the East knowing that the Astros, in Scioscia's division, would be the most complete team on the planet if they had a closer, which they don't, and showed it again Sunday in a wild, 14-inning, 10-9 loss to the Indians.
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For now the Yankees win another series. So do the Red Sox. Boone watches the Sox. The Sox watch the Yankees. You know the Astros watch them both. Three best teams in baseball. A lot could change over the last two-thirds. But this is the varsity.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.