As much as I love to see the Yankees lose, and as fun as it would have been to see the Bronx Bombers blow a two-game lead and fall out of the playoffs, I’m glad that Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card game will be another edition of the greatest rivalry in sports.
For a Boston fan, it may be playing with fire to want the Yankees right now. New York swept the Sox last week and has won seven of their last ten, and Judge and Stanton are raking.
But I couldn’t help myself.
Boston-Seattle or Boston-Toronto just didn’t have the same juice. If we’re gonna have to win a one-game playoff, it might as well be against the Yanks.
It’s hard to believe that this is the first time that the Red Sox have been in the Wild Card game since the playoffs expanded and the sudden death contest was added in 2012.
Boston has won the division four times since then, leading to a pair of World Series titles, and missed the playoffs the other five years. The Yankees have been in the Wild Card game three times (2-1), but this will be the first time they have had to go on the road as the lower-seeded team.
It’s also hard to believe that this is only the fifth time the two teams have met in the playoffs. Of course, they weren’t eligible to meet in the divisional series for a long time, before finally squaring off in the 2018 ALDS when the Yankees came out of the Wild Card game. New York won the first two series, in 1999 and 2003. Boston has won the last two series (2004, 2018). After four playoff series, this year will be a one-game rubber match.
The world has gotten three winner-take-all games between Boston and New York prior to this year’s Wild Card contest. They have all been classics:
1978 – One Game Playoff (The Bucky Dent Game)
Not technically a playoff game, but a 163rd regular-season game to break the tie for the AL East Division title. There were no Wild Cards and the winner of this game would advance directly to the ALCS. The Sox took a 2-0 lead at home, but Yankee shortstop Bucky “F-ing” Dent hit a three-run homer. It was just the fifth home run of the year for Dent, who only hit 40 bombs in his 12-year career. The Yankees went on to beat the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS and the LA Dodgers to win their second straight and 22nd overall World Series.
2003 – ALCS Game 7 (The Aaron Boone Game)
The man who will be managing the Yankees into this year’s Wild Card game has long been hated by Red Sox fans before he took the job. In one of the most crushing defeats in Red Sox history, Boone launched a walk-off home run on the first pitch of the 11th inning to send the Yankees to the World Series. Boone’s homer has drawn comparisons to Dent’s, and many Red Sox fans similarly would go on to refer to him as Aaron “F-ing” Boone. This is also the game that got Grady Little fired after he left Pedro Martinez in too long, leading to the hiring of Terry Francona and a pivotal turning point in the history of the Red Sox franchise.
2004 – ALCS Game 7 (The Comeback Complete)
The only comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in MLB history was capped by a Game 7 win. After the drama of Game 4 (David Roberts steal in the ninth), Game 5 (14th inning walk-off by Ortiz) and Game 6 (Schilling’s Bloody Sock Game), game 7 was less dramatic on its own, but more notable for its place in the history of the series.
Bucky Dent threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees, but it was the Red Sox who left the yard early and often. Ortiz hit a two-run homer in the first and Johnny Damon hit a Grand Slam in the second to put the Sox up 6-0. Damon later added a two-run homer for a six RBI game in a 10-3 Red Sox win.
2021 AL Wild Card Game – ???
What stories about this game will people tell for decades to come? What legends will rise to the occasion? Who will be the next player to be christened with an expletive-laced nickname by the opponent’s fan base?
Love it or hate it, the magnitude of a one-game winner-take-all Wild Card playoff game cannot help but produce dramatic moments and historic performances. But it’s never played host to the biggest rivalry in sports.
Finally, it’s Red Sox-Yankees again for all the marbles. Let’s play ball.
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