AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
NEW YORK YANKEES
BOSTON RED SOX
BILLY MARTIN vs. DON ZIMMER
JOE TORRE vs. TERRY FRANCONA
AARON BOONE vs. ALEX CORA
This ALDS is as much about these two first-year managers as anyone else. The respective general managers clearly made off-season moves with the other in mind. That said, each field manager knows it's out the frying pan and into the fire they go knowing full well a brutal post-series narrative awaits should either of them fall.
Entering the 2017 season, the Yankees are considered still in the midst of rebuilding and upgrading their overall minor league talent. However, patience and pragmatism pay early dividends. To the surprise of many, Joe Girardi's new Bombers finish the regular season in second place behind Boston. Their 91-71 record earns them a Wild Card berth and the right to host Minnesota in the one game playoff. The Yankees defeat the Twins despite an ineffective start by Luis Severino.
In the ALDS, the Indians win games One and Two, but the Yankees storm back with victories in games Three and Four at the Stadium, then seize the clincher at Cleveland. After which, they face the Houston Astros in the ALCS and come within one game of reaching the World Series. It is the Astros who advance, and go on to win their first World Series championship in franchise history.
During the ensuing off-season Brian Cashman decides a change of manager is in order, and informs Joe Girardi his expiring contract will not be renewed. To the astonishment of many, Cashman hires Aaron Boone, whom has no previous coaching or managerial experience on his resume.
A segment of fans would argue throughout the regular season how certain players get away with things once deemed unacceptable by former manager Joe Girardi. While visiting Boston back in April, I listen with great amusement as local sports radio accuse the Yankees of (paraphrasing) playing asleep and that Aaron Boone has no pulse. Truth be told, for much of the regular season the Yankees do little in my opinion to change that narrative. Yet, Aaron Boone leads his team to its first 100-win season since 2009 - which not coincidentally is the same year Girardi leads the Yankees to their last World Series championship. This is their fifth 100-win season of the new century. But once again, the only thing coming between the Yankees and the A.L. East title is the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox clinch last year's A.L. East with a 93-69 record, but fall to the Astros in the ALDS. Boston in turn fires manager John Farrell, and replaces him with first time manager Alex Cora - who in 2007 played for and won a World Series championship with the Red Sox. Unlike Boone who is tasked with elevating last year's overachieving Yankees to the next level, Cora is charged with leading last year's underachieving Red Sox up the same summit.
Aaron Boone is in the broadcast booth last season when the Yankees ultimately bow to Houston. Alex Cora on the other hand is A.J. Hinch's right hand man in the Astros dugout. Having thoroughly scouted both Boston and New York during last year's playoffs, Cora accepts the Red Sox job with an incalculable amount of information on all three clubs. Knowing his club's weaknesses perhaps better than his own general manager, the Red Sox this season under Alex Cora go on to post the most victories (108) in franchise history.
The Yankees meanwhile set the MLB record for home runs, and in their 163rd game of the season show everyone they're wide awake, and quite well. Like Alex Cora, Aaron Boone was born into a baseball family. His pulse is in rhythm with the game. It's just that up until and through Wednesday's Wild Card game against the A's, he never let you see him sweat.