BOSTON (CBS) — Even with all the wild scenarios that could have played out on the final day of the MLB regular season, most baseball fans had an inkling that it would be the Red Sox and the Yankees — two of the biggest rivals in all of the sporting world — duking it out in the AL Wild Card game. That is exactly what Major League Baseball will get Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
It’s win or go home for both teams, as the winner will advance to the ALDS to face off against the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams won 92 games during the regular season, but the Red Sox are hosting Tuesday’s Wild Card game because they went 10-9 against the Yankees. Considering Boston took seven straight against New York to start the season, the tides have turned a bit in the second half. The Yankees are riding a six-game win streak against the Red Sox, including a three-game sweep at Fenway Park just a few weeks ago. It was that series that brought an end to Boston’s yellow jersey magic, and had the Sox fighting for their postseason lives over the final week.
Now the two will square off for a trip to the real postseason. Tuesday night will mark the first playoff clash between the longtime rivals since the 2018 ALDS, which the Red Sox won in four games as they marched to a World Series title.
The Red Sox have never played in the one-game Wild Card game, while the Yankees are appearing for the third time since its inception in 2012. This will be New York’s first Wild Card game on the road.
While this game was always on the books, it does bring back reminders of the one-game playoff the two teams engaged in back in 1978, when Bucky Dent crushed the souls of Red Sox fans by hitting one into the net atop the Green Monster. Today, that ball would have likely ended up back on the playing field, soaked in the tears of one unlucky Boston fan.
Here’s everything you need to know heading into Tuesday night’s Wild Card showdown at Fenway Park.
On The Bump
The Red Sox will send Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75 ERA) to the mound, and he’ll be opposed by Gerrit Cole (16-8, 3.23 ERA) for the Yankees. It’s the type of pitching matchup you want to see for a one-game playoff.
Eovaldi was spectacular for Boston this season, turning in the best campaign of his career. He was solid against the Yankees too, holding New York to two runs or fewer in each of his first five starts against them. His last time out wasn’t as successful, as New York tagged the righty for seven runs off seven hits over just 2.2 innings on Sept. 24. Overall, Eovaldi was 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA against the Yanks, striking out 34 and allowing 15 runs (14 earned) over 34 innings of work in six starts.
Like Eovaldi, Cole was also 2-2 against his divisional foe this season, though he sported a 4.91 ERA against Boston. The Red Sox tagged him for 13 runs (12 earned) over 22 innings off 24 hits and nine walks. That’s a lot of baserunners allowed by a perennial Cy Young candidate. His worst outing against Boston was on June 27, when the righty surrendered six runs over five innings off eight hits — including three homers — in a 9-2 Yankees loss at Fenway. He got the win when he opposed Eovaldi a few weeks ago in Boston, allowing three runs over six innings, but Cole has also shown some signs of fatigue as of late with a 6.15 ERA over his last five starts overall.
Cole allowed five homers to Red Sox hitters in his four starts against Boston.
At The Dish
Three of those five homers off Cole came off the bat of Rafael Devers. He just so happens to be Boston’s hottest hitter at the moment, and is the reason the Red Sox are in the Wild Card game and didn’t have to play one-game play-in against the Blue Jays at Fenway on Monday night. Devers mashed two homers and drove in four runs in Sunday’s Wild Card-clinching win over the Nationals, including a monster two-run shot to break a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth.
Enrique Hernandez was Boston’s best hitter against Cole during the regular season, going 5-for-11 with two doubles and a homer against the New York righty. But overall, Hernandez hit just .209 (14-for-67) against New York.
There are concerns with the Red Sox offense though, as they’ll be without DH J.D. Martinez after he rolled his left ankle taking the field in Sunday’s regular season finale. And there are some slump concerns with Xander Bogaerts, who has been cool at the plate since July. Boston’s de facto leader has hit just .200 over the last 15 days with just one extra-base hit. If there’s any time for him to break out of his funk, it is now.
For New York, the Red Sox have to try to keep Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the ballpark. Both have been crushing the ball lately, and Stanton led the charge for the Yanks in their recent Fenway sweep with three homers and 10 RBIs in the series. Judge has three doubles and four homers over his last dozen games, driving in 13 runs, and he hit .400 off Eovaldi (8-for-20) during the regular season.
And in a small sample size, Anthony Rizzo also hit Eovaldi well for New York, going 5-for-9 with three doubles.
Getting To Closing Time
The Yankees have a fireballer closer in Aroldis Chapman, and their bullpen has really rounded into shape over the final month of the season. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are still shuffling their pen following Matt Barnes’ demotion from the closer role. That could make things tricky for Alex Cora on Tuesday night.
But Cora loves to use his “rovers” in the playoffs, a role that was personified by Eovaldi during Boston’s 2018 World Series run. Now Cora will look to the likes of Garrett Whitlock and Garrett Richards to emulate Eovaldi’s success from three years ago, though Richards has logged a lot of appearances over the last week and Whitlock is fresh off the IL. Hirokazu Sawamura and Adam Ottavino are reliable righties that Cora can call upon, and Ryan Brasier has been pretty solid over the last few weeks. All three could receive the call to get some high-stress outs on Tuesday as Boston looks to bridge the gap to… whoever Cora tasks with closing things out. Ottavino and Brasier could also get the ball in the ninth if Cora doesn’t want to put Barnes in a high-pressure situation at the moment, with Tanner Houck a wild card candidate as well.
The Yankees, meanwhile, recently got Luis Severino and Domingo Germán back to help solidify the pen. Both can go multiple innings, as well as Michael King, and Chad Green, Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga provide a sturdy bridge to Chapman.
Chapman held Boston hitters to a .169 average during the regular season and was 3-for-3 in his save opportunities against them, though Devers, Martinez, Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec all took him deep.