NEW YORK – Aaron Judge got the party started with a two-run homer nine pitches in. By the time Giancarlo Stanton capped the mauling with monstrous drive in his postseason debut, New York Yankees fans already were looking ahead.
“We want Boston!” they chanted.
Their wish will be coming up next.
“It’s going to be intense,” CC Sabathia predicted after the Yankees pounded the Oakland Athletics 7-2 on Wednesday night to win their second straight American League wild-card game.
New York will take a train to Boston for a best-of-five Division Series starting Friday night, a matchup of 100-win heavyweights.
“I think they’re ready and relish the opportunity to go up against the game’s best this year,” Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone said of his players.
Boone remains a dirty word among the Fenway Park faithful. His 11th-inning homer in Game 7 of the 2003 A.L. Championship Series beat the Red Sox. A year later the Boston overcame the Yankees and became the first major league team to overcome a 3-0 postseason deficit. The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918, but Boone’s drive off Tim Wakefield has not been forgotten or forgiven.
Boston went 10-9 against the Yankees this year and set a club record with 108 wins. New York became the first team since the 2001 A’s to reach triple digits in wins and fail to finish first.
“We’ve just got to do our homework and come out swinging,” said Luke Voit, who broke open the game with a two-run triple in a four-run sixth.
Luis Severino atoned for last year’s flop in the wild-card game against Minnesota, pitching no-hit shutout ball into the fifth. Dellin Betances entered with two on and got six straight outs as part of a five-hitter and the Yankees extending their home postseason winning streak to seven.
Severino let out a primal scream after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with a 99.6 fastball – his fastest pitch of the night – to strike out Marcus Semien.
Yankees fans fretted about an all-or-nothing knockout match, thinking back to last year when Severino fell behind Minnesota 3-0 just 10 pitches in. New York rallied for an 8-4 win against the Twins, but the memory remained raw.
Severino retired his first three batters in order on 10 pitches
“I think the first inning was huge for me, after all the stuff that people say on social media, all of that stuff,” he said.
Andrew McCutchen walked leading off the bottom half against reliever-turned starter Liam Hendricks, and Judge hit a drive over the left-field scoreboard, joining Reggie Jackson as the only Yankees with four home runs in their first seven postseason home games.
“I was already excited from the national anthem on,” said Judge, who hit his second homer since returning in mid-September after missing seven weeks with a broken right wrist.
Short on options, A’s manager Bob Melvin opted for baseball’s latest fad: starting a reliever. Hendriks (the loser) had not allowed a home run since June 24, the night before he was cut from the major league roster.
“Got into some bad counts and they made me pay,” Hendriks said.
Voit’s two-run triple missed a home run by inches. Stanton added a 443-foot drive off closer Blake Treinen in the eighth that landed in left field’s second deck, completing a power show by the team that set a major league record for most home runs in a season. Stanton’s drive left the bat at 117.4 mph and Judge’s 116.1 mph, the hardest-hit postseason home runs since measuring began in 2015.
A sellout crowd enjoyed one of those boisterous Bronx celebrations that used to be an October staple.
“Early in the game they’re going to be loud. It’s our job to try to take them out of it,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “This is a tough ballpark to play in.”
Oakland has lost eight straight winner-take-all postseason games since beating Willie Mays and the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 1973 World Series, and dropped all four of their postseason matchups against the Yankees.
“It’s pretty hard but I’m not disappointed at all,” said big league home run champion Khris Davis, who hit a two-run homer off Zach Britton in the eighth. “I think we showed some people we can do some things and I think next year, we’re a little bit more of a threat.”
Severino was 14-2 at the All-Star break this year but slumped badly in the second half, and Boone’s decision to start the 24-year-old right-hander against the A’s instead of J.A. Happ or Masahiro Tanaka was intensely debated – the type of argument Boone used to enjoy as a television analyst who broadcast last year’s wild-card game.
Severino made the move look like genius. He threw nine fastballs in the first inning, then switched to more offspeed. He threw 36 fastballs, 37 sliders and 14 changeups in all.
“Because they’re patient and they’re dangerous, you’ve got to be able to mix those pitches and you’ve got to be able to throw strikes with all those pitches,” Boone said.
He struck out seven his first time through the batting order, but wound up walking four as he pitched carefully. Jonathan Lucroy and Nick Martini singled leading off the fifth, and Boone signaled for Dellin Betances to relieve.
This time, Severino had a no-decision to savor.
Betances retired Matt Chapman on a liner to right and Jed Lowrie on a fly to center, then struck out Davis with a slider. Betances gleefully backpedaled off the mound.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time. Last year I was a cheerleader,” Betances said, reflecting on his reduced role last October after late-season control problems.
New York opened a 6-0 lead in the bottom half. Judge started it with a double – his grounder hit about a foot foul just beyond the batter’s box, then twisted fair down the line. Aaron Hicks followed with another doubles off Fernando Rodney.
After Treinen walked Stanton, and Voit hit an opposite-field drive to right, thinking it was a home run and raising his right arm at the plate. He chugged into third with his first big league triple and let loose with a holler.
The burly Voit tumbled across the plate, actually making a nifty slide, to just make it home on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly.
Betances (the winner) pitched a perfect sixth and David Robertson a 1-2-3 seventh. Aroldis Chapman followed Britton and finished the five-hitter.
Oakland was a little engine that could, coming off three straight last-place finishes and last in opening-day payroll before creeping up to 28th following midseason acquisitions to bolster its injury devastated pitching staff. The A’s managed to win 97 games despite a half-dozen starting pitchers getting hurt.
“We feel like with the group that we have here together that we’re going to get better each and every year,” Melvin said.
While he spoke, the Yankees were spraying Chandon in a soggy clubhouse filled with the sweet smell of California brut.
“This place was crazy tonight,” Stanton said. “Everything I would have expected and more.”
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