NEW YORK -- Get ready, America, whether you wanted it or not. Call it Red Sox-Yankees III if so desired, the long-awaited follow-up to the epic American League Championship Series battles of 2003 and 2004. Or maybe that's going too far. After all, that was a generation ago in baseball years, and the bad blood of that time has long since receded for the most part. The Red Sox ended the curse, added two more titles, and Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez moved on to other phases of their lives.
Still, it's the Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees in the postseason for just the fourth time ever -- and the first time when both are 100-win teams. As Aroldis Chapman recorded the final outs, Yankees fans started chanting, "We want Bos-ton! We want Bos-ton!"
"It's going to be fun," Yankees reliever Dellin Betances said Wednesday night after the team's 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game. "A lot of people in baseball wanted this. We wanted this. We [get] a chance to go head-to-head with them. We've been doing it all year, so this is going to be a fun, exciting series."
The Yankees advanced to the division series before a loud and enthusiastic Yankee Stadium crowd that was on its feet three pitches into the game. Aaron Judge provided the early lead with a first-inning, two-run screamer of a home run to left field. Luis Severino and Betances shut down the Oakland offense with 10 strikeouts and two hits through the first six innings. A four-run sixth inning that Judge started with a little bouncer over first base for a double put it away, and Giancarlo Stanton iced the team's second straight wild-card win with a towering, 443-foot moon shot just inside the left-field foul pole.
How ready are the Yankees for the Red Sox? The blasts from Judge (116.1 mph) and Stanton (117.4 mph) were the two hardest-hit home runs in the postseason since Statcast began tracking them in 2015.
And, yes, the Yankees want the Red Sox. They heard the chants at the end of the game.
"If you didn't hear that, you're probably deaf or something," Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius said. "Everybody heard that and that's definitely what we want."
So it's on. Maybe this storied rivalry still has plenty of juice left in it after all. The season series was close, the Red Sox winning 10 of the 19 games and outscoring the Yankees 116-102. The Red Sox essentially wrapped up the division in early August when they swept New York in a four-game series at Fenway to extend a 5½-game lead over the Yankees to 9½ games -- although Yankees fans eagerly will point out that Judge was on the disabled list for that series. The Yankees did win four of six games in September, although those weren't of much importance to the Red Sox.
The one person on the Yankees who knows all about the history of the rivalry is manager Aaron Boone, who hit the walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series.
"I think they can't wait," he said of his team. "I think they're ready and relish the opportunity to go up against the game's best this year. Obviously, we're very familiar with them. We know how good they are. I mean, we know we have to play our best if we're going to have a chance to beat them."
The Yankees enter the series in their best health in months. Judge's home run was his hardest-hit ball since he returned from the wrist injury. Gregorius is in the lineup after suffering his own wrist injury the final week of the regular season. The bullpen is loaded. Plus, the team has two secret weapons: Yankee Stadium and Luke Voit, who continues to do his best Shane Spencer imitation.
The Yankees are 7-0 at home the past two postseasons. The Yankees won't have home-field advantage in this series, but if they can win one at Fenway, maybe it doesn't go back to Boston. Maybe the new place doesn't have the ghosts that seemed to haunt opponents at the old stadium, but Yankee Stadium in October is still pretty special. Boone talked about it before Wednesday's game, and his thoughts still hold as the team moves on.
"I think it's a big deal," he said, recalling watching last year's playoff games on TV. "I remember watching with my sons last year and seeing for the first time to me where Yankee Stadium was coming across the TV. It was alive. It was palpable watching at home to see a home-field advantage really happen. And I think that's a tribute to the fans. I think it's a tribute to our players and the connection that this group of players -- that this kind of new generation as we've gotten younger -- have with our fan base."
Severino is one Yankee who has thrived all season at home. He has a 2.74 ERA at home, 3.99 on the road. The crowd was behind him Wednesday from the first pitch.
"It was amazing," he said. "Electric. I don't know how to say it in words. When I stepped to the mound, every time I had two strikes, they were going [crazy]. It was so thrilling."
Of course, Fenway Park offers its own kind of home-field advantage and the Red Sox were 57-24 there. The Yankees were 6-3 at Yankee Stadium against Boston while averaging 6.0 runs per game. They were 3-7 at Fenway and averaged 4.80 runs per game. Overall, the Yankees hit .260 and slugged .474 at home and hit .238 and slugged .430 on the road.
The other secret weapon is Voit, acquired in July from the St. Louis Cardinals for two middling relievers. He hit .333/.405/.689 in 39 games with the Yankees with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs. His two-run triple in the sixth off the right-field wall turned a 3-0 lead into a 5-0 margin.
Voit spent much of his spring and summer in Memphis and Scranton. Now he's a hero of the moment for the game's most storied franchise. "It's the coolest thing," he said. "Words can't describe it. I'm just having the time of my life. If you're not having fun, you shouldn't be playing this game."
His teammates continue to be impressed.
"What he's been doing in a short period of games is unbelievable," Gregorius said. "He came over here and in a month and a half has been destroying balls and just making plays. He brings the energy."
There will be plenty of energy in Fenway on Friday night. Severino, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, might not remember those two earlier series -- "I think at that time I didn't even have TV," he said -- but Boone remembers. And you know the fans remember.
Red Sox versus Yankees in October. That'll work.