SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale and For The Win’s Ted Berg tell us who they think is the favorite to win the upcoming ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros.
NEW YORK — The Boston Red Sox, who spent nearly a century cursed by their hated rivals — the rich and powerful New York Yankees — have turned Yankee Stadium into their personal nightclub.
The Red Sox, for the second time in 19 days, danced and partied on the Yankee Stadium infield, sprayed champagne over one another in the visiting clubhouse, and partied Tuesday night like the ball was dropping on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
The Red Sox, after clinching the American League East Division title in New York just three weeks ago, returned for the after-hours party, winning the AL Division Series with a 4-3 victory over the Yankees, taking the best-of-five series 3-1.
The Red Sox will return to Boston to open the AL Championship Series on Saturday night against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
But this game wasn’t as easy as Game 3. The Yankees rallied in the ninth and scored twice. The game ended when Gleyber Torres grounded out. The Yankees asked for a review of the call at first, but the replay showed Torres was out by about half a step. It marked the first time a postseason game ended on a replay call.
The Yankees, after falling one game short of the World Series a year ago, will be staying home for the long winter, with a 100-victory season feeling oh-so-empty.
The Red Sox, actually considered the underdogs in this series because of a rotation that had never won a postseason game and a shaky bullpen, instead showed why they won 108 games during the season, thoroughly dominating the Yankees.
After splitting the first two games in Boston, the Red Sox punished the Yankees inthese two games at Yankee Stadium, humiliating them in Game 3, 16-1, in what was the Yankees’ worst postseason defeat ever, then burying them in Game 4.
The Red Sox outscored the Yankees 20-4 at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were futile with runners in scoring position all series with just five hits in 26 at-bats.
Rick Porcello, the 17-game winner and 2016 Cy Young winner, was the latest Red Sox starter to suffocate the Yankees’ powerful lineup. Porcello, who grew up 40 miles from Yankee Stadium in nearby Morristown, N.J., gave up just one run and four hits in five innings. The Red Sox pitching staff kept sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton from reaching base until the ninth inning. The Red Sox bullpen did the rest, and even added a new weapon, bringing in ace Chris Sale for the eighth inning. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning, a tune-up before his Game 1 ALCS start.
What was supposed to be an exhilarating, epic series between the greatest rivals in all of sports turned out rather dull, with no brawls, arguments, or even so much as a lead change.
The Red Sox couldn’t care less. All they know is they’ve got bragging rights for a year, and a chance to go where the Yankees can only dream.
The Red Sox, a lineup so deep and powerful that one night after second baseman Brock Holt became the first player to hit for the cycle in a postseason game — he’s hitting .447 with a 1.394 OPS since Sept. 11 — was benched in favor of Ian Kinsler. Naturally, Kinsler drove in a run with a double, and came within a few feet of a first-inning grand slam.
“I told him it’s a tough league,’’ Boston manager Alex Cora cracked before Tuesday’s game.
Certainly, it’s a tough business when the Yankees can finish the season with 101 victories, hit more home runs than any team in baseball history, and still be booed by their hometown fans as they walked off the field for the final time.
There’s just something about seeing the Red Sox celebrate in front of their eyes, not just once but twice within three weeks, that had Yankees fans smoldering with rage.
But, oh, how sweet it was for the Red Sox to be celebrating at Yankee Stadium.
“This is a special place,’’ said Cora, a member of the Astros coaching staff last season. “Early in the season we clinched here, and like I mentioned, it was like full circle for me. I still remember that interview last year at the [New York] hotel in October, and that was the beginning of this.
“There’s a lot of [my] family members here. There’s a lot of people from my country [Puerto Rico] that live here and moved here. My parents lived here for 30 years at one point.
“That’s a cool part of it.’’
The Red Sox, who are now in the ALCS for the first time since 2013, when they last won the World Series, plan to make their postseason stay a lengthy one, despite being underdogs to the mighty Astros.
“We set our goals, and our goals are way up there,’’ Cora said, “way up there. Obviously, it starts with the Division, and then the best record and home field advantage. But now we got a challenge with the Houston Astros, and if we do that, we’ll play the Brewers or the Dodgers.
“Our goal is to win 11 games in October, and right now, we’ve taken another step.’’
The first one, though, was a doozy.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale