NEW YORK — Inside the visiting clubhouse of Yankee Stadium, Brock Holt was having trouble answering a question. Days before, at Fenway Park, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge had walked by Boston’s clubhouse blasting Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Now, the Sox were playing the song in New York’s house for the second, or third, or maybe even fourth time and Holt couldn’t focus.
“Good, good song,” said the utility player who hit for the cycle last night. He lost his train of thought and grinned. “We’ve been waiting to play this one. I can’t even focus right now. Just listen to it. We saw [Judge] play the music and we were like, ‘Okay, whenever we clinch it in New York we’ll be blaring it when we’re popping champagne.’”
The wafts of clubhouse air smelled like a college house party as cans of Boston Lager lay strewn about the floor. Players’ held bottles of Chandon and they sloshed through the puddles of alcohol that had pooled on the plastic tarp covering the carpet and blanketing the walls. Shirts, pants, red socks and sandals were soaked in victory and alcohol.
Boston made relatively quick work of New York in the ALDS. After battling it out all season, after each team won over 100 games, after J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton launched baseballs into orbit, the Yankees lost the war. Boston started the series with a win, then New York took the second game at Fenway. Two days later, the Sox handed the Yankees their biggest postseason loss ever in Game 3 and finished the job one day later.
It was easy to get caught up in the romance of a Yankees-Red Sox series. After all, this was their first October meeting since the legendary fall of 2004, when Boston beat New York and went on to win the team’s first World Series in eight decades. The 2018 season seemed like the beginning of the rivalry’s next chapter, when both teams would be on completely even footing for the first time ever.
At the conclusion of the season, it was clear they weren’t. There’s nowhere to hide in October. Sure, Boston has major bullpen issues—Game 3 made that clear—and starting pitcher David Price really needs to learn how to throw a ball into the strike zone once the regular season ends. But the team was able to do what they’ve done all season; it scored runs.
The Yankees weren’t. Yes, the Sox’s first-year manager Alex Cora had a much better strategy than the Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone. And sure, Boone has been raked across the coals for leaving Luis Severino on the mound as long as he did in Game 3. And yeah, Boone should’ve replaced Severino with a reliever whose job is to get out of a jam rather than toss in former starter-and-not-great-pitcher Lance Lynn to clean up the mess. And fine, Boone was once again too conservative with his bullpen in Game 4, allowing the Sox an early lead.
But his team just didn’t show up. You can’t score four runs in 18 innings of baseball and except to win the divisional series.
The truth of the matter is that the Yankees got outplayed. It wasn’t until the ninth inning of Game 4 that we got a glimpse of the tense, nail-biting, where’s-the-Xanax baseball many fans both hoped and feared these games would be. For one inning, everyone—whether you bleed red or pinstripes—was terrified, as Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel loaded the bases with Gary Sanchez up at bat. Sanchez crushed one to left field, and time stopped.
Even for the players.
“When Gary hit that ball down the left field line, everybody in the dugout held their breath,” said Sox pitcher Nate Eovaldi. “It felt like the ball hung up in the air forever.”
It didn’t. It just missed the stands and turned into a sacrifice fly. Then Gleyber Torres hit a grounder to third. Eduardo Nunez made quick work of getting it to Steve Pearce at first, who made an incredible grab for the final out of the night. The Yankees challenged, the call wasn’t reversed, and the Red Sox flowed out of the dugout, onto the field and into a giant group hug. They celebrated in enemy territory.
“We’ve known we were good the whole year,” Holt said. “We’ve known that they’re were good the whole year. We know they’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. I feel like baseball’s better when the Yankees and the Red Sox are battling it out. That’s probably what’s going to happen for years to come.”
Hopefully it will be. The Yankees have too much talent not to figure out how to harness it. Part of that’s on Boone as he learns to manage his young team. No one in Boston is under any illusion that this season was easy, or that New York isn’t once again inching closer to becoming the rival it used to be. But the Red Sox are still better, as they have been on average for a decade and a half now.
Perhaps the Yankees can come back next year and claim the title. One thing’s for sure: It’s highly unlikely the Yankees will forget that the Red Sox came into their house and played their song in their basement. And that’s going to make the next few years a whole lot of fun.