I wasn’t nervous when I woke up on Saturday morning. I knew the Yankees had to win Game 2 later that night to avoid putting themselves on the brink of elimination the way they had after two games in last year’s ALDS, but I wasn’t worried. It felt weird to not be nervous or worried about a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game, but I hadn’t been the night before for Game 1 and I wasn’t on Saturday for Game 2.
A lot of optimism and confidence for this series came from the idea that I still was unsure how the Red Sox won 108 games. I mean technically I know how they won 108 games, they beat up on and piled up wins against the bad teams (and there were a lot of them this season) while the Yankees struggled to. But when you look at their 25-man roster as a whole it’s puzzling how this team could be the best regular-season Red Sox team in history. I guess that just shows you how bad most of Major League Baseball was this season.
As the game drew closer, I still wasn’t nervous or worried and when I sat down in my seat at Fenway Park, after glancing over toward the Pesky Pole, I was completely confident the Yankees would win Game 2.
The Yankees as a team were batting .300/.365/.544 in 269 career plate appearances against David Price, and the highest-paid pitcher in history had never won a playoff game, not with the Rays, Tigers, Blue Jays or Red Sox. Now he was being asked to beat the Yankees, who he rarely ever beat, in the playoffs, where he never had won, to prevent his team from going to the Bronx tied 1-1 with Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi most likely starting the next two games. Why wouldn’t I be glowing with confidence?
Ten pitches into the game, my confidence was rewarded as Aaron Judge sent a 1-2 pitch high over the Green Monster in left-center field where few have ever hit a ball. The Yankees had an early 1-0 lead and all of the Red Sox fans who had talked themselves into Price finally showing up in the playoffs were quietly sitting down as Fenway Park turned into a church.
Gary Sanchez entered the game 6-for-13 in his career against Price with five home runs and 11 RBIs, and leading off the second, he crushed the third pitch of the inning over the Monster to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. The exact game I had envisioned was unfolding as the Yankees’ right-handed power was knocking Price around and the career postseason failure was laying another egg in October. As Sanchez’s home run was still in the air and headed for Back Bay, Fenway Park broke out in a “Yankees suck” chant, another embarrassing moment for the fan base.
After a pair of ground outs, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner put together back-to-back walks and then Andrew McCutchen lined a single to left field to score the Yankees’ third run. That was it for Price as Alex Cora took the ball from him and gave it to Joe Kelly with Price still responsible for the two runners on. Luckily for Price, Judge’s 109.8 mph line drive off Kelly was hit right at Mookie Betts in right field or his pitching line for the night would have been even worse that it was and it was still really bad: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2 HR.
Price had most likely wished he had been scratched from the start with a mysterious injury or illness the way he had earlier in the season when he took himself out of a start at Yankee Stadium because of a video game-related injury. But instead, he had recorded five outs and allowed three hits, two walks, two home runs, three runs and forced his bad bullpen to get 22 outs. I guess $217 million doesn’t buy you what it used to.
Masahiro Tanaka did what he has always done in the postseason as he kept putting up zeros, giving the offense a chance to extend their 3-0 lead. But unlike Game 1, the Yankees weren’t able to push across any runs despite four baserunners in three innings against Kelly, Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman. Xander Bogaerts hit a solo home run in the fourth to make it a 3-1 game, and at the end of the sixth with the game still 3-1, I started to feel uneasy. The Yankees had been unable to tack on to their early three-run lead, which had become a two-run lead, and I began to wonder if this would be a reversal of the previous night with the Red Sox now looking to slowly get back in the game.
I have defended Sanchez all season. I have supported him through his historically-awful offensive season, his injuries, his passed balls and the perception that he is lazy and doesn’t hustle. I have stood by the franchise catcher because that’s what he is: a franchise catcher. When healthy, he’s the best catcher in the world and we saw that for the last two months of 2016 and all of 2017. One bad injury-plagued season shouldn’t be enough for Yankees fans to turn on him and call for Austin Romine to start or for the Yankees to trade Sanchez for someone like J.T. Realmuto. Game 2 of the ALDS should end all of the anti-Sanchez crap.
Cora must have felt he had gotten enough out of his actual relievers after three scoreless innings, so he called on starter Eduardo Rodriguez with two outs in the sixth and Rodriguez had retired both batters in the inning. Rodriguez was back out for the seventh, but after Judge singled to lead off the inning, Luke Voit drew a walk and the Red Sox’ left-hander, who was pitching in an unfamiliar role was in a serious jam. With two on and no one out, the Yankees had the middle of their order coming up and a chance to break the game open and tie the series. To no surprise, Giancarlo Stanton did what everyone expected him to do by weakly grounding out, and thankfully it was weakly as it was nearly a double play, and that brought up Sanchez with Judge on third and Stanton on first.
Sanchez got ahead 2-0 on Rodriguez and than swung through a pitch outside the zone, clearly trying to break the game open. Now a 2-1 count, Rodriguez challenged Sanchez, and this time he didn’t miss, destroying a 93-mph fastball for a 479-foot, three-run home run. Sanchez had given the Yankees a 6-1 lead, his bat accounting for four of the six runs, and had erased his struggles of the last six-plus months. The Red Sox were now down five runs with nine outs to their name, but that didn’t stop Fenway Park from chanting “Yankees suck” following Sanchez’s second home run of the game had just ripped out the heart of Red Sox fans.
The game was essentially over, and despite the run allowed in the bottom of the seventh, it was. Dellin Betances, Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow one run over four innings, and the Yankees won Game 2 of the series, 6-2.
My personal strategy for the series was going exactly as planned. The Yankees had won a game in Boston and were heading, where these Yankees don’t lose in October, with their best starting pitcher going in Game 3 and with home-field advantage for what is now a three-game series. The 108-win, best regular-season Red Sox team in history? They’re in a lot of trouble.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!
The book details my life as a Yankees fan, growing up watching Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams through my childhood and early adulthood and the shift to now watching Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and others become the latest generation of Yankees baseball. It’s a journey through the 2017 postseason with flashbacks to games and moments from the Brian Cashman era.
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