Yanks hoping to earn return trip to Fenway

Need to beat A's to set up first postseason clash with rivals since '04

September 29th, 2018

BOSTON -- It was around 4:30 p.m. ET, right outside of the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park, which is still slightly larger than an elevator or a broom closet. Inside the room, we were speculating about the distance between the top of 's head and the ceiling. The consensus was 18 inches, tops.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was standing against a wall, leaning on a bat the way he often does before a game, having just finished his daily pregame radio interview.

The question I posed to Boone was simple enough: "Is this, right now, the best version of your team?"

Boone didn't think about his answer for long, before he smiled and said, "Yeah, it is."

Then, he said, "It took us a while to get back to where we want to be. But yeah, this is our best team."

Boone's team can often look as big and bad as any team in MLB when it is mashing the way it did on Friday night -- when it hit four home runs against the Red Sox to tie the single-season MLB record of 264. The best news of the evening: Judge hit his first homer since fracturing a bone in his right wrist at the end of July.

The Yankees won, 11-6, and may still reach 100 wins. If they can emerge victorious in Wednesday's American League Wild Card Game against the A's at Yankee Stadium -- where the Yanks are really big and bad -- they'll advance to face the Red Sox in the AL Division Series.

A few minutes before I spoke to Boone outside his clubhouse, I asked Red Sox manager Alex Cora what he thought about the Yankees getting a do-over against the Sox -- after the way Boston pulled away from them in the AL East.

"We knew the rules coming into the tournament," Cora said. "If we have to play them, we have to play them."

However, the Yankees have to beat the A's first. And, as proven many times this season, you can't sell the A's short.

In last year's AL Wild Card Game against the Twins, Yankees ace pitched only one-third of an inning, and New York trailed, 3-0, before it even came to the plate. But the Yanks' bullpen saved them, as they eventually advanced to being one win away from reaching their first World Series since 2009.

Of course, the Yankees don't want to put themselves in a similar hole against the A's this year, as Oakland also has a strong bullpen.

But if the Yankees win and return to Fenway Park on Friday for Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, they won't view themselves as underdogs. After concerns regarding their starting pitching, it has improved of late.

J.A. Happ, who gave up a grand slam on Friday but still earned the victory, is 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts since being acquired from the Blue Jays.

The Yanks also added former National League Most Valuable Player to the mix. And despite initial fears they lost shortstop Didi Gregorius for the season due to torn cartilage in his right wrist, he's now back in the lineup. Slugger is quietly approaching 40 home runs and 100 RBIs.

"We've got to prepare for both [the Yankees and A's]," Cora said. "To get to where we want to go, we have to win 11 games against three teams."

The Yankees and Red Sox have played three postseason series. The last came in 2004, when Boston made a remarkable comeback after losing the first three games of the AL Championship Series. The year before that, the two clubs also went to seven games in the ALCS, as the Yankees won in the 11th inning of Game 7 on a walk-off home run by Boone.

Now, there is a chance the two clubs may meet again. The A's are still standing in the Yankees' way. But, if it happens, we may get an ALDS that feels like a main event.