The Red Sox are set to take on the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series tonight. First pitch in the Bronx is set for 7:40 p.m. Right now, the series is tied at one game apiece. The Red Sox took Game 1 on Friday night, but lost Game 2 on Saturday. Alex Speier covers baseball for the Boston Globe. He spoke with WGBH News’ Judie Yuill about the series and the history of the Sox and Yankees rivalry. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Judie Yuill: So the series is tied, but even though the Red Sox won Game 1, they looked shaky, with the Sox bullpen nearly blowing it. Who has the upper hand in the series at this point?
Alex Speier: Particularly with New York back in its own ballpark, where they've been tremendously successful both in the playoffs in the last couple of years and during the regular season, the odds do favor the Yankees.
Yuill: Can the Red Sox even count on their pitching? Ace Chris Sale looked good on Friday, but David Price was just bad on Saturday, and the bullpen has been hit and miss. What should we be looking for from the pitchers?
Speier: The Red Sox did look shaky at times, although they also showed some improvements over the course of Game 2, at least from their relievers. So they're going to be faced with a tall task. The Yankees are terrific playing in Yankee Stadium, where a very, very short right field porch allows the right-handed hitters to just kind of flip balls into the air and hit them out for home runs. What the Red Sox need to do is essentially make Yankees hitters uncomfortable and stay out of the middle of the plate, kind of pitch to the edges of the plate. So they do have a tall order in needing to be very precise in their command if they do want to bring the series back to Boston or, for that matter, win it New York.
Yuill: Now what else should we be looking for in tonight's game?
Speier: Certainly you're looking for Mookie Betts, the Red Sox superstar, to be a catalyst. He has not done that thus far in his playoff career. He's someone who should win the Most Valuable Player Award in the American League this year, but thus far, the Yankees have done a pretty good job of limiting him. In fact, in Game 2 on Saturday night, he was hitless in four at-bats, and it was the first time in his eight game postseason career, or rather nine game post season — one of the top five players in the American League this year — also doing damage behind him, then the Red Sox will be in a much more comfortable position. But if they're playing from behind, it becomes really challenging to do so successfully in this ballpark, with a crazy fan-base behind the Yankees.
Yuill: Now let's take a minute to talk about the history of this rivalry. It's been a while, 14 years, since the Red Sox and the Yankees played each other in the postseason. But it used to be kind of a regular occurrence, right?
Speier: There was a small window from 1999 to 2004 where the two teams met up three times in October, each time in the American League Championship Series. In 2003 and 2004, it was particularly compelling theater. Both of those series went down to seven games, with the Yankees winning memorably in Game 7 in 2003 in extra innings, after Pedro Martinez was left in the game to long by then-Red Sox manager Grady Little. And then in 2004, one year later, with the Red Sox more or less exorcising their proverbial demons by winning on Yankee Stadium soil in what was kind of a landmark event throughout New England.
Yuill: Now looking ahead in the playoffs, is this a Sox team that seems destined for greatness? Do they have what it takes to win the World Series, compared to the other playoff teams?
Speier: I don't believe in the idea of "destined for greatness," because I think that October generally comes down to a matter of execution in the highest pressure moments. I do think that the Red Sox have a team that's certainly capable of winning the World Series. I'm not sure that they're the best rounded-team in the playoff field right now. I think that Houston looks like a terrifically talented team. But it's not necessarily the team that is on paper the best as much as it's the one that executes in the most significant situations that wins the World Series. I do think that the Red Sox have the talent base to be able to execute in those moments to give them a chance of being a championship-caliber team. I mean, you don't win 108 games during the regular season by mere coincidence.
Yuill: OK. Thanks for joining us, Alex.
Speier: Thank you, Judie.
Yuill: That's Alex Speier. He covers baseball for the Boston Globe, and he was talking with us about the American League Division Series between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The series is tied at one game apiece. Game 3 is tonight in the Bronx. First pitch is at 7:40. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.