Ever since Aaron Boone hit the home run, we knew it was going to come to this. We knew it would have to come to this. Red Sox-Yankees. The greatest rivalry in baseball history has gotten more intense, enriched by last year's ALCS, the possible A-Rod trade to Boston, the A-Rod trade to New York, the A-Rod-Varitek fight and more mutual dislike than ever between the teams. In the last three seasons, including the playoffs, they are 32-32 head-to-head. Each team has nine wins in its final at-bats. It can't get any better than this.
Here are five questions for the ALCS.
Are the Yankees Pedro's daddy?
Whether Pedro Martinez meant it, or is the master of gamesmanship, it's impossible not to wonder if he's intimidated by the Yankees. In his career, Martinez is 10-10 against the Yankees, 172-66 against everyone else. In the last two starts against New York, he has allowed 13 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. Pedro isn't the Pedro of 1999-2000 -- we've never seen anyone that good -- but he can still be a dominant pitcher in the postseason, even against the Yankees. Plus, he's playing for his next contract. We can't wait to see the reception that Pedro gets from the fans at Yankee Stadium, we can't wait to see how he pitches and we can't wait to see how long he is left in by Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Is there something extra special about this Yankee team?
Yes. They set a major league record this season with 61 come-from-behind victories. In seven of the 61, they trailed by four or more runs. "It's amazing," said right fielder Gary Sheffield. "We look at each other like 'how are we going to get out of this hole?' And then we do." It's a Joe Torre thing. In the Torre era, the Yankees have 69 postseason wins. In 21 of those 69, the Yankees trailed in the seventh inning or later. In Game 2 of the 2004 Division Series against the Twins, the Yankees scored twice in the 12th inning to win, 7-6. Saturday at the Metrodome, they became the first team in history to clinch a postseason series by winning the clinching game after trailing by four runs after seven innings. "You should have seen the bench in the eighth when we were behind 5-1," said third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "We just knew we were going to win. It was like a college team."
What shape is the Yankee rotation in?
Wobbly. Mike Mussina is a solid No. 1. Jon Lieber was 5-0 in September, including perhaps the biggest win of the Yankee regular season (Sept. 18) after the Red Sox had beaten Mariano Rivera the night before to pull within 2½ games. Lieber has guts, smarts and throws strikes, but he can't throw too many to the Red Sox. Kevin Brown threw six gritty innings in Game 3, but "was like a robot, stiff as a board" the next day, Torre said, because of his aching back and broken left hand. Javier Vazquez, who had a 6.92 ERA the second half of the season, and won one of his last nine starts, didn't have his good fastball in Game 4 against the Twins. His off-speed stuff won't work against Boston as it did at times against the Twins. It doesn't appear that El Duque will be a major factor in this series due to a tired arm.
Can the Red Sox beat the Yankees in October?
Yes. First, they have Curt Schilling. He agreed to come to Boston for one reason: to be the guy who brought the Red Sox their first World Series championship since 1918. The day the trade was made, he said "I guess I hate the Yankees now." The day he arrived in spring training, he had already examined the schedule and determined that he would be starting the first game of the Red Sox-Yankees series April 13 (actually, he didn't). Schilling, even with a bad ankle, gives the Red Sox a better chance than they've had in most years: He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 13 postseason starts. But ever since Aaron Boone, all the Red Sox have made it their quest to beat the Yankees this time. Varitek, David Ortiz, Kevin Millar and the rest seem to believe that they're owed something after last season's crushing finish at Yankees Stadium, and this is a chance for revenge.
What is Rivera's status?
It was unclear as of Monday afternoon. Sunday, Mariano Rivera went home to Panama after two of his wife's relatives were electrocuted while cleaning the pool at his home. Whenever he returns, how focused he will be about baseball is unclear, also. He is the greatest closer in postseason history, and on his way, perhaps, to being the greatest closer in baseball history. He has pitched in 20 ALCS games, the Yankees have won 19 of them. He is irreplaceable.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.