This Red Sox-Yankees series feels like a precursor to a playoff showdown

Isn’t it strange that they haven’t met in the postseason since 2004 and The October That Made It All Worth It?

J.D.Martinez, Gary Sanchez
J.D. Martinez and the Red Sox are 4-5 against the Yankees this season. –Jim Davis / Globe Staff

If the Red Sox and Yankees don’t collide again the playoffs any time soon, I guess that’s cool. The ending was perfect last time. Can’t improve upon that, brother.

Still, isn’t it strange that they haven’t met in the postseason since 2004 and The October That Made It All Worth It?

The last time a Red Sox pitcher faced a Yankees batter in the playoffs, it brought a scene to remember: Alan Embree retired Ruben Sierra on a groundout to Pokey Reese, which promptly led to collective rejoicing in New England and the vacuuming of all ghosts at Yankee Stadium into the visitors’ proton packs.

Advertisement

If you need further evidence that 2004 was a long time ago now, Embree is 48 and has been out of the big leagues since 2009; Sierra is 52, his career ending in 2006; and Reese, now 45, never played another major league game after that glorious 2004 postseason.

The Yankees have made the postseason nine times in the 13 full seasons since 2004, winning it all in 2009. The Red Sox have made it seven times, winning two World Series (2007, 2013). And yet they’ve never come especially close through the years to a postseason showdown.

2005: They each went 95-67, but the Yankees won the division due to the tiebreaker. Both teams were bounced in the divisional round, with the eventual champion White Sox sweeping the Red Sox.

2006: The Yankees won the division at 97-65, in essence putting away the injury-plagued Red Sox with a five-game sweep in August. With a rotation that included Boston immortals Jason Johnson and Kevin Jarvis late in the season, they Sox would finish in third place with 86 wins.

2007: The Red Sox won 96, beating the Yankees by two games for the division title. The Red Sox would go on to beat the Angels, Indians, and Rockies en route to their second World Series title in four years with what might be the most complete team they ever had.

Advertisement

2008: This time it was the Red Sox that finished two games back . . . but of the Rays, who would beat them in seven games in the ALCS. The Yankees missed the playoffs, winning 89 games.

2009: The Sox were swept by the Angels in the divisional round. The Yankees won their first World Series since 2000 — or, if you prefer, their only one of this century. I bet you prefer.

2010: The Sox finished with 89 wins and missed the postseason in what I remember as the Adrian Beltre year. The Yankees won the wild card (man, the Rays were good once) but lost to the World Series-bound Rangers in the ALCS.

2011: Chicken, beer. Let’s move on.

2012: Bobby V. Let’s move on further.

2013: Boston strong. The Yankees were, well, weird, with Vernon Wells, Jayson Nix, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay all regulars on an 85-win team. Wells is the only one I actually recall playing for the Yankees.

2014: First to worst for the Sox, who won four fewer games (71) than they have so far this season through Monday (75). For the Yankees, it was about Derek Jeter’s retirement, re2pect, and mi22ing the po2t2ea2on.

2015: The Yankees lost the wild-card game to the Astros. The Red Sox finished last again, with the he’s-the-ace nonsense in the starting rotation backfiring in a 78-win season. Wade Miley was the Sox’ top winner with 11.

2016: The Sox won the division, but were swept by Terry Francona’s Indians in the divisional round. Gotta respect the karma there. The Yankees missed the playoffs with 84 wins.

Advertisement

2017: The Sox won the division for a second straight year, their 93 wins putting them two games up on the Yankees at the end. Both teams were bounced by the eventual world champion Astros, though the Yankees took them to seven games in the ALCS.

Thirteen seasons. A combined 16 playoff berths. And not one reunion, not one single clash, barely even the tease of a possibility of a showdown that would put the juice back in baseball’s best rivalry.

It feels like that is going to change this year, and it has felt this way since . . . well, if not the offseason, when the Yankees acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the Sox countered with bargain slugger J.D. Martinez, then certainly the beginning of the season. The Red Sox jumped to a 17-2 start, the Yankees caught fire and caught them at 25-10, and it looked like they would be trading spots at the top of the standings — and as Joe Kelly and Tyler Austin demonstrated, trading a few punches too — all season.

The Sox are the class of the sport at 75-34, but the Yankees are still potent even with a five-game deficit in the division. The four-game series that begins Thursday feels like the precursor to the precursor (a three-game season-ending series in the Bronx) to an eventual postseason showdown.

Both teams added help before the deadline, the Red Sox picking up Steve Pearce, Ian Kinsler, and Nathan Eovaldi, while the Yankees bolstered their pitching with J.A. Happ, Lance Lynn, and Zach Britton. Both are dealing with potentially problematic developments, too.

Red Sox ace Chris Sale went on the disabled list Tuesday with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, and his attempts to soothe fans’ concerns will be heeded only when he’s back pitching like Chris Sale again. Meanwhile, Yankees ace Luis Severino (19 runs in 19⅓ innings over his last four starts) has been brutal lately, Happ has a case of hand, foot, and mouth disease, and slugger Aaron Judge is out for a couple of weeks with a broken wrist.

There’s enough schadenfreude for both sides right now. But even without Sale, the advantages tilt toward the Red Sox. Martinez and Mookie Betts are Most Valuable Player candidates, and if they can lead the Red Sox to, say, three wins in four games, we could start to wonder if that three-game set at regular season’s end will even matter. A Red Sox sweep would probably eliminate the wondering altogether.

But right now, Red Sox-Yankees comes with plenty of anticipation, and it’s fun to have that going on. I don’t necessarily want them to meet in the playoffs — let’s let 2004 linger as long as possible — but I think we can all agree a playoff rematch is years overdue.

Close

Get the latest sports alerts sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.
Bruins
Where is Tuukka Rask?
November 12, 2018 | 3:27 PM