It is arguably the greatest rivalry in professional sports, the Red Sox and the Yankees, boiled down to a nine-inning fight for survival. One team will advance to face the Rays in the American League Division Series, and the other will go home.
What could be better than that? This year's American League Wild Card Game promises to be one for the ages, played on the storied turf at Boston's Fenway Park tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN, with an alternative "Statcast broadcast" on ESPN2.
"That's going to be a fun game right there," said the Yankees' Aaron Judge. "It's going to be action-packed. You know they're going to bring their 'A' game. We're going to bring our 'A’ game. It's just going to go down as another great game in this big rivalry we have.”
Forty three years ago, the Red Sox hosted the Yankees in a one-game playoff that is still chronicled and dissected to this day, best remembered for Bucky Dent’s go-ahead homer that cleared the Green Monster and helped send New York toward its 1978 World Series championship.
Someone will be the hero on Tuesday, and if it’s anything like the long ball that earned Dent a permanent middle name within New England, it might just define their career.
“We’ll be ready,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It should be fun. I think baseball enjoys it. I think our fans will show up on Tuesday and make Fenway feel like home.”
How have both clubs fared against each other in the postseason in the Wild Card era?
• H2H Record: Yankees 12 - Red Sox 11
• Runs Scored: Red Sox 118 - Yankees 112
• Home Runs: Red Sox 31, Yankees 29
• Pitching K's: Yankees 180, Red Sox 175
• Postseason Appearances: Yankees 23, Red Sox 14
• AL Pennants: Yankees 7, Red Sox 4
• WS Titles: Yankees 5, Red Sox 4
What are the starting lineups?
This is the new-look Yankees lineup with DJ LeMahieu having landed on the injured list with a sports hernia that will require surgery after the season.
The Red Sox will be without a key bat in J.D. Martinez, who isn’t on the roster due to a left ankle sprain. This will give Cora the chance to play his best defensive alignment, as Schwarber replaces Martinez in the DH spot. The Sox were spotty at the plate over the season’s final 10 days, but they took some of their best swings in clinching Game No. 162 against the Nats. That will need to carry over if Boston is going to put a dent in Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Why Plawecki over Vázquez behind the plate? Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi had a 3.28 ERA this season in 96 innings when paired with Plawecki. With Vázquez, he had a 4.77 ERA in 66 innings. Schwarber, who is leading off, hit .297 with a 1.216 OPS and 17 homers in 117 plate appearances out of that spot in the regular season.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Yankees: Gerrit Cole
The ace right-hander will be pitching on regular rest, one start removed from a solid effort to defeat the Red Sox at Fenway on Sept. 24, when he picked up his 16th victory of the year. Cole allowed a three-run homer to Devers in that outing. Cole is 2-2 with a 6.15 ERA over his last five starts, a span that likely allowed the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray to grab the Cy Young Award. Cole has dealt with a left hamstring injury and some wonder if he is showing signs of fatigue from a 181 1/3-inning workload, though he said there is plenty left in the tank.
Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi
Backed by a deep pitch mix and health, Eovaldi enjoyed his finest overall season in 2021. In his first five starts against the Yankees this season, Eovaldi allowed two earned runs or less each time out. Then came the fateful sixth on Sept. 24, when the Yankees crushed him for seven hits and seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings. Eovaldi has mainly mastered the Bombers since coming to Boston in '18. Anyone who watched the ’18 postseason remembers that the October spotlight is clearly not too bright for Eovaldi.
Stars of the rivalry
These two clubs are very familiar with one another, both due to their common division and their historic rivalry. Who are some players who have hit well in previous head-to-head matchups between them?
For the Yankees, look no further than Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sánchez. Stanton, who has been red-hot of late, is usually red-hot against the Red Sox -- in 48 career games against Boston, Stanton has hit .287/.366/.532 with 10 doubles, a triple and 10 homers. And Sánchez has launched 18 homers to go along with an .860 OPS in 68 games against the Red Sox.
The Boston hitters with the most success against the Yankees are J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers. In 86 games against the Yanks, Martinez has hit .291/.346/.528 with 17 homers. And Devers has enjoyed some of his finest moments at the plate while facing New York (remember the missile of a homer he belted against Aroldis Chapman's triple-digit fastball as a rookie in 2017?). His .250/.302/.449 slash line against the Yanks doesn't really stand out, but his 13 homers in 71 games certainly do.
As far as the pitching matchup for Tuesday is concerned, Enrique Hernández has had the most success against Cole, with five hits in 11 at-bats, including a home run. On the Yankees side, Aaron Judge is 8-for-20 with two doubles and a homer off Eovaldi, and Anthony Rizzo is 5-for-9 with three doubles against him.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
The Yanks’ relief corps has taken on a new look in recent weeks with the returns of Luis Severino and Domingo Germán, both of whom provide manager Aaron Boone with multi-inning options. Boone’s late-inning circle of trust centers heavily upon Jonathan Loáisiga, Chad Green and Clay Holmes, with Wandy Peralta drawing the most crucial left-on-left assignments. Michael King has been excellent and could provide four outs or more if needed, with all of them leading up to closer Aroldis Chapman.
This can be tricky for the Red Sox, as Cora has mainly mixed and matched with his relievers ever since Matt Barnes lost the closer’s role in August. Don’t try to predict who Cora will use in the ninth inning, because it could be just about anyone. Garrett Whitlock, who just came back from a right pectoral strain in the final game of the regular season, has been Cora’s best reliever all season.
Boston got good news on Tuesday, adding top left-on-left pitcher Josh Taylor to the roster. Taylor hadn’t pitched since Sept. 22 due to a low back strain and held lefties to a .381 OPS this season. Rookie Tanner Houck has an electric power arm and fired five perfect innings on just 53 pitches on Saturday.
Ryan Brasier had a late-season resurgence, so he will likely be asked to get some big outs. Adam Ottavino and Garrett Richards are other righties Cora will go to in important situations. Austin Davis gives Boston another strong left-on-left option behind Taylor. Cora loves using starting pitchers as relievers in October, and he can do just that in this game with righty Nick Pivetta and lefty Eduardo Rodriguez on the roster. They each recorded three huge outs in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Any injuries of note?
Gio Urshela tumbled down the steps of the visiting dugout at Yankee Stadium while making a terrific play on Sunday, later saying that he was experiencing soreness in his right thigh as well as his elbow and calf. Urshela expected Monday’s off-day to help him recover and he was in the Yankees' starting lineup on Tuesday. DJ LeMahieu is out until at least a potential AL Championship Series with a sports hernia, and Luke Voit’s season ended Sunday when he was placed on the 60-day injured list with left knee inflammation.
Martinez tripped over second base while running out to play defense in the final regular-season game and sprained his left ankle, leaving him inactive for this crucial game. Other than that, the Red Sox are completely healthy.
Who is hot and who is not?
Giancarlo Stanton was a one-man wrecking crew during the Yankees’ most recent visit to Fenway, when he crushed three homers and drove in 10 runs across the Bombers’ three-game sweep. Since Aug. 23, Stanton is batting .295 (41-for-139) with 15 homers and 36 RBIs. Judge is hitting .325 (13-for-40) in his last 12 games, including three doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs.
Gerrit Cole is 2-2 with a 6.15 ERA in his last five starts, compared to 14-6 with a 2.73 ERA in the 25 starts before that. Joey Gallo has two hits in his last 23 at-bats, and one was a bunt single.
Rafael Devers, the best hitter on the Red Sox, got hot again in the final weekend of the season. That’s great news, as Devers can carry a lineup when he’s hot. He was 4-for-5 with two homers in the final regular-season game.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston’s team leader and owner of two World Series rings, is the definition of "not hot." Bogaerts has looked out of sync at the plate since Sept. 24, notching just five hits in his final 32 at-bats of the regular season and none for extra bases.
Should the game go to extra innings, will there be an automatic runner at second base to start each half-inning?
The answer is no. Each half-inning will start with a clean slate, and that is in effect for each round of the postseason, including the Wild Card Games.
How do rosters work for the Wild Card Game?
Each team must submit a 26-man roster by 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday. That roster is good for this one game only. Whichever team wins can reset the roster for the Division Series, which will start on Thursday at Tropicana Field against the Rays. Given that this roster is only for one game, it will be interesting what the position-player/pitcher allotment will be for both rivals.
Anything else fans want to know?
The Yankees have played in three of the eight AL Wild Card Games since its inception in 2012. New York lost to the Astros in '15, then defeated the Twins in ’17 and beat the Athletics in ’18. This is the first time the Yanks will play in the Wild Card Game on the road. This is the first time the Red Sox have played in the Wild Card Game.
While the Red Sox and Yankees played ALCS Game 7s at Yankee Stadium in 2003 and ’04, this will be the first win-or-go-home contest between the squads at Fenway since game No. 163 in 1978. The Red Sox were a strong team at home this season (49-32), but the Yankees were nearly that good (46-35) on the road.