They had been talking about wanting Boston, Yankee fans had, even before their team beat Oakland in the American League Wild Card Game. There was this group of young guys moving toward Yankee Stadium 45 minutes before the first pitch, out of the subway station on 161st St., crossing River
They had been talking about wanting Boston, Yankee fans had, even before their team beat Oakland in the American League Wild Card Game. There was this group of young guys moving toward Yankee Stadium 45 minutes before the first pitch, out of the subway station on 161st St., crossing River Ave., on one of those baseball nights -- one of those nights in big-game New York when the excitement started out on the street and then ran into the ballpark like a lit fuse.
"I want the Red Sox bad," one of the young guys said.
"We got to get past these other guys first," another one said.
And a third guy said, "But once we do, I want those guys."
"Those guys" for Yankees fans are always the ones from Boston. So it was no big shock inside the Stadium a few hours later, when you heard, "We Want Boston," once the Yankees scored four in the sixth inning to put the A's away once and for all. Then the chant came back even louder in the top of the ninth.
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They wanted Boston. The Red Sox tweeted out "We Want New York" later. So now everybody gets what they want -- and not just in those two cities, not if you love baseball. For the fourth time in history and the first time since Boston won the last four games of the 2004 AL Championship Series, the Red Sox and Yankees will meet in the postseason. This time it is the AL Division Series. This time one team brings 108 regular-season victories, and the other brings 100. So the two teams bring all their history, and all those wins.
There was no drama at Fenway Park last weekend when the two teams met, even though we had been pointing to those three games all summer. The Red Sox had already locked down the AL East. It used to be that two teams from the same division couldn't play in the first round. Now they can.
The Red Sox and Yankees have already played 19 games this season, the Red Sox winning 10 and the Yankees winning nine. Now they do it all over again. This weekend is different. This time, the loser in the AL East goes home.
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The rivals bring back all the memories of 1999, when the only game the Red Sox got off the Yankees was Game 3 at Fenway, when the signs handed out that Saturday afternoon said, "Cy Young vs. Cy Old," because it was Pedro Martinez against their old friend Roger Clemens (Boston won, 13-1).
Four years later it was Aaron Boone -- whatever happened to him? -- winning Game 7 in the bottom of the 11th with a home run into the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium, after Red Sox manager Grady Little left Pedro in the game too long, before the great Mariano Rivera later pitched the last three innings for the Yankees and said afterward he was ready to go four.
Then came the four nights in October 2004 after the Yankees were on the verge of a sweep, three outs away in Game 4 and the ball back in the great Rivera's hand. The Red Sox won in extra innings in Game 3 and again in Game 4, and then Curt Schilling pitched the game of his life in Game 6 wearing the famous Bloody Sock, before Johnny Damon broke open Game 7 at the old Yankee Stadium with a grand slam.
Now here they are again. The undercard for the Yankees was settled Wednesday night. Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and in that moment made the 49,000 in the new Stadium sound like 55,000 used to sound like across 161st St. at the old place. Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen in the fourth inning with two men on in a 2-0 game, and he looked like Rivera for two innings -- six up and six down and three strikeouts.
"That was the ballgame right there," Judge said.
Then Luke Voit -- without whose home run heroics down the stretch the Yankees might have had to play the AL Wild Card Game in Oakland -- nearly hit one out in the sixth, settling for a triple and knocking in the two runs that made it 5-0 for the Yankees and got them chanting "We Want Boston" at the Stadium.
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The Yankees got enough starting pitching from Luis Severino on this night, even though Boone replaced Severino with Betances as early as he did. The only thing making the night less than perfect was Zach Britton allowing Khris Davis to hit his last home run of the season later. But what you saw from the Yankees on this night, a team that Boone now calls the best he's had all season, is that even though the Red Sox won eight more games in the regular season and ran away with the AL East, the sides really will be even when they come back to Fenway on Friday. Maybe you can see a favorite. I sure don't.
For years, it looked as if we had already seen the best of the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry, because of those two amazing seven-game series in 2003 and '04. One ended with one of the most famous October home runs in Yankee history, from Boone. The one that next year produced the most famous comeback in any postseason in any sport. All this time later, they do it again, and the stakes feel as high as they ever have.
"I was excited from the national anthem on," Judge said after the AL Wild Card Game.
Imagine what Friday night will feel like at Fenway, for him and everybody else. We get another baseball October out of the Red Sox and Yankees. We all get "those guys."
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.