By Matt Straub
It was September 18, 1993. The Yankees, battling for the AL East title, faced a fading Red Sox team. Boston had the lead in the ninth inning and the last out recorded when they learned time had been called, nullifying the last play, after a fan ran on the field at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees got new life, rallied to win the game and stayed in the race. The Red Sox were devastated and the Yankees acted as though they had already won the World Series.
As it turned out, the Yankees would go on a losing streak starting the next night, when the now-finished Red Sox romped them to start their tailspin. Neither team made the playoffs, but the game demonstrated how wild September baseball can be in the most famous rivalry in baseball and how badly the teams want to beat each other.
Turn the clock ahead 21 years (which is scary because I still remember exactly where I was for that game) and the teams are about to face each other again in what is, for now, the biggest series of the season. If the Yankees can win two of three or even sweep, they will stay right in the thick of the wild card race. The Red Sox, meanwhile, will be trying as hard as they can to knock their rivals out of contention, just as they did in the 1993 series. Boston was only eight games out on the night the fan ran on the field instead of nearly 20 as the Sox are now, but they’ll be trying just as hard to be the ones to put the final nails in the Yankees’ postseason coffin.
For New York, the chance to beat up on young pitching and regain their stride when it matters most is enticing. If they can, they’ll look back at beating Boston as the week the saved their season and create another interesting chapter in the rivalry. If they can’t, Boston will ruin New York’s year, just as they helped do the night after the fan ran on the field.
Whatever happens, you can be sure to see some emotional, hard-fought baseball this year. As 1993 proved, the teams don’t have to be the two best in the sport to create lasting memories in September. We’re virtually guaranteed to see something exciting over the next three nights, so let’s look at the series’ key players and trends.
Boston Red Sox (60-77, 15 GB of second WC)
at New York (70-65, 4 GB of second WC)
Tuesday 7:05 p.m.
Joe Kelly (2-3, 4.14) vs. Shane Greene (4-1, 3.09)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Anthony Ranaudo (3-0, 4.50) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (9-8, 3.88)
Thursday: 7:05 p.m.
Brandon Workman (1-8, 4.93) vs. Chris Capuano (2-3, 4.24)
Playoff Picture: This series couldn’t be bigger for the Yankees, who need to at least get two for three from the lowly Red Sox if they want to remain serious contenders for the second wild card. New York is three back of Detroit in the loss column for the last playoff spot coming into the mid-week tilt with their oldest rival. While the margin is certainly manageable over the final month, the Yankees don’t want to be wasting days on the schedule or losing ground in games which should serve as chances to do just the opposite. Anything but getting swept keeps the Yankees alive for another week, but anything but a series win would be extremely disappointing for the men in pinstripes. For the Red Sox, the playoff implications of the final month involve trying to knock teams like the Yankees and Rays out of the playoffs.
Momentum: Speaking of disappointing losses, the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead Sunday in a loss to the Blue Jays in a game which had to take some wind out of their sails. The loss also resulted in a series loss, which the Yankees can’t afford right now. New York must hope the off day was a good chance to clear some heads and get back on track. New York has followed a five-game winning streak with three losses in their last five games.Boston has won two or more in a row just three times since the All-Star break.
Who’s Hot: For New York, Jacoby Ellsbury was the hottest hitter in baseball before getting hurt Friday, but had a hit Sunday and Monday’sday off should have him ready for Tuesday’s opener. Martin Prado had nine hits in the last seven games, and Ichiro is over .300 for the week. Brett Gardner had a huge game in the tough loss in Toronto Sunday, and appears to be becoming a leader for this team when it needs one (besides the captain, of course). For Boston, Yeonis Cespedes is giving Boston the offense the A’s could have used from him before they traded him to Boston for Jon Lester. He’s hitting .361 in his last 10 games with nine RBI and has tied a game or put the Red Sox ahead after the sixth inning five times in his month in Boston. Versatile outfielder Daniel Nava has been decent, but Boston hasn’t done much else at the plate Kelly pitched well in his last time out, giving up two runs in six innings against Toronto.
Who’s Not: Brian McCann has just five hits in his last six games for New York with six strikeouts. Derek Jeter is just 6 for his last 30, and Stephen Drew has morphed back into the player Red Sox fans know and hated, going 3-for-24 in his last 10 games. For Boston, Dustin Pedroia will miss the series with a concussion, and the rest of the team save for Cespedes and David Ortiz has been rather uninspiring at the plate. Will Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli have been particularly depressing to watch of late, though Napoli did have a big hit Monday.
Looking Ahead: The Yankees stay in the Bronx and face the Royals, who are contending for the AL Central title (no, really, look it up) while Boston flies home to host Toronto.