Here we are, on Oct. 8, looking forward to Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Red Sox and Houston Astros in friendly Fenway while the Yankees will be hosting the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of their Division Series. Almost lost in the drama of the two series to date is the fact that the teams with, arguably, the greatest rivalry in all of sports, are on a collision course, some might argue that it looks more like a near miss at this point, for a dramatic replay of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

In the 49 years since the playoff system began, in 1969, these two rivals have met in the ALCS just three times. (There were actually only 48 series played in that time as there was no postseason in 1994 because of the strike.) In the first 30 years, they never reached the Championship Series in the same year.  Then, in the six years from 1999 until 2004, they met three times and haven’t met since. 

In 1999, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, four games to one and swept the Atlanta Braves in four games. In 2003, the Yankees won again, four games to three but lost the Series to the Florida Marlins, four games to two. Of course, in 2004, in one of the most dramatic series in history, the Sox came back after losing the first three games to beat the Yankees four games to three and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals.

It is interesting to note that, in all three of those years when the two teams met in the ALCS, the Red Sox had gotten into the playoffs as a wild card team and gone all the way to meet the division winning Yankees in the ALCS. The tables are reversed this year with the Red Sox getting into the postseason as the division winner and the Yankees as a wild card.  

The only time the Yankees have gotten into the ALCS as a wild card was in 2010 when they lost the series to the Texas Rangers, four games to two.  Other than the three times the Red Sox have played the Yankees as a Wild Card team, they only got to the ALCS as a wild card in 2008, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays, four games to three.

Despite the fact that, since the wild card was established in 1994, there have been 10 years in which at least one wild card team has made it to the World Series, only two American League wild card teams, the 2004 Red Sox and the 2002 Anaheim Angels have won the World Series. National League clubs getting to the NLCS as Wild Cards have had better luck, winning the World Series four times, twice by the Florida Marlins in 1997 and 2003 and once each by the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and 2014 San Francisco Giants. 

Since the playoffs began, the Sox have been in the ALCS 10 times, winning five and losing five and winning three of the five World Series they played in.  The Yankees have been in the ALCS 15 times, winning 11 and have won seven of the 11 World Series they have been in.  

In the 48 years the ALCS has been played, either the Yankees or the Red Sox, or both, have participated 22 times, 46% of the time, and either the Yankees or Red Sox have been in the World Series 16 times or exactly one third of the years. Yankee and Red Sox fans have certainly had their share of postseason activity and the possibility for another ALCS meeting between the two is still there. 

This year, the teams battled all season for the regular season crown with the Sox clinching it on the next to last day of the season. If they should meet in the ALCS, their pitching is as evenly matched, statistically, as it has ever been. The Boston pitching staff, as a whole, has an ERA of 3.70, fourth best in baseball, while the Yankee staff was fifth at 3.72. The Red Sox have an advantage in the bullpen where their relievers had a 3.05 ERA compared to the Yankee relievers at 3.34.

Yankee hitters averaged .262 on the year, seventh in baseball, compared to the Red Sox .258, 13th.  The Yankees scored the second most runs in baseball, 858, and the Sox were 10th at 785 and, in the power department, the Yankees led all of baseball in homers with 241, while the Sox were 27th with just 168.  Aaron Judge had more homers by himself, with 52, than the two highest producers for the Red Sox, Betts with 24 and Ramirez with 23, combined.

Head to head, the Yankees won this year’s season series between the two, winning 11 and losing eight, while outscoring the Sox 82-59. Of course, the Yankees got in to the playoffs by winning the Wild Card Game in impressive fashion, coming back from a 3-0 deficit and hitting three homers while their bullpen handled the Twins offense easily for 8 2/3 innings.

In a five-game series, anything can happen and all the statistics often become meaningless. As long time infielder Toby Harrah once said, “Both bikinis and statistics show a lot but not everything.”

Every Yankee and Red Sox fan knows that, if these two teams should meet in the ALCS, anything can happen. The only sure thing is that it will be as entertaining and hotly contested as just about every game these two teams ever played against each other.

Carl Johnson lives in Sanford and writes a weekly baseball column for the Journal Tribune Sunday. Contact him at [email protected] and check out his blog at baseballworldbjt.com.


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