Yankees left fielder Giancarlo Stanton hits a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics on Oct. 3, 2018, in a wild-card playoff game at Yankee Stadium.


Keidel: Old School Trumps New Age In AL Wild-Card Game

Strong Starting Pitching, Power Bats Lift Bombers

Jason Keidel
October 04, 2018 - 9:47 am

Baseball has tried very hard to be hip. Long seen as stuck in the past, baseball has implemented new stats and slang to keep up with more progressive (NBA) and popular (NFL) sports leagues. It even penned new rules to quicken the glacial pace of its games. 

But part of baseball's charm is its old-world familiarity. Like not having a clock. Like different dimensions in each ballpark. 

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Like autumn baseball in the Bronx. Some baseball truisms don't need gadgets or widgets or language. You still need a starting pitcher to win. You still need a sublime effort to beat the Yankees in the Bronx. And even the most jaded fan has to smile at the sight of Yankees-Red Sox in October. 

The Yankees punched their ticket to Boston by beating the scrappy Oakland Athletics before an full, electric Yankee Stadium that was reminiscent of the old ballpark Wednesday night. The Athletics -- the little, avant-garde guys from the small market who are always experimenting to keep up with the aristocratic clubs in the Bronx, Boston and Los Angeles -- tried the new blueprint of throwing a conveyer belt of relief pitchers at the Bombers from whistle to gun. Meanwhile, the Yankees went old school with a starting pitcher to start the game. 

Luis Severino may not have gone Sandy Koufax on Wednesday, but he gave the Yankees some mojo first with his fastball and then his quiver of breaking balls, keeping the A's off-balance into the fifth inning, when he was pulled after 87 pitches. Overall, Severino tossed four shutout innings, yielding two hits and four walks, while posting seven strikeouts.  

As Jim Kaat once said long ago during a Yankees broadcast, no matter how many pitches we invent or reinvent, the best pitch in the sport is still a robust fastball. Indeed, nine of Severino's first 10 pitches were that very fastball that tickles triple digits on the radar gun and established him as a Cy Young candidate over the first half of the season. 

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Despite his troubling slumber in the second half of the season, the Yanks' best starter is 3-1 with a 1.66 ERA over his last four starts and has officially chucked last year's woeful wild-card start deep into his rearview mirror. Opponents are batting a meager .198 over said starts. Even more importantly, the Yanks feel they have their most dominant hurler back just in time for their longtime tormentors from the north. 

As one member of the media mentioned to Luis Severino at the postgame presser, the Yankees ace was 10 years old the last time the Sox and Yanks played epic baseball in the fall, since Aaron Boone broke Boston's heart in 2003 and the Sox broke the Bambino's hex in '04. 

And lest we forget why the Yankees are here, they flashed the kind of lightning in their lumber that made them the Bronx Bombers, reminding us why they set the all-time record for home runs in one season (267). Led by Aaron Judge, who kickstarted the scoring with a two-run blast to left-center in the first inning, then a double later in the game, the Yankees got contributions, too, from Giancarlo Stanton, who also homered. It was the first time their two hulking sluggers homered in the same game since July 4. 

Keeping with the old-time theme, there was even a Steve Balboni reference in the postgame banter on TBS. Luke Voit -- the caretaker of Balboni's jersey number -- continued his cinematic ascent since being traded from St Louis to New York, blasting the game-defining triple to stretch the bulge to 5-0. 

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The Yankees also got sublime efforts from their bullpen -- from Dellin Betances, who got Severino out of his fifth-inning jam, to Aroldis Chapman, who slammed the door on a 7-2 final score. A muscular lineup and nuclear bullpen, a familiar format, got the Yankees through 100 wins in the regular season and earned a trip to the ALDS. 

A polite applause goes to the A's, a club that somehow won 97 games despite toiling in fourth place, at 34-36, before streaking to the best record in baseball since June 15. Despite playing the second half of the season with a patchwork pitching rotation, the A's found ways to keep pace with the big boys of baseball. Yet it still seems Oakland is forever lost in the shadow of the Yankees, having lost their eighth straight do-or-die playoff game, the most in MLB history. From Jeter's flip in 2001 until Wednesday night, there are only so many ways Billy Beane can wave his Moneyball wand before his microscopic payroll bites him in October.

The Yankees are no longer the bullies of the block. Once they arrive at Fenway Park, they will face the best team in baseball, by far, in 2018. The Boston Red Sox (108-54) just had the best season in their sprawling history, and nothing would thrill their team or town more than jamming their boot in some pinstriped throats. Even Keith Foulke -- a painful emblem of that gruesome ALCS in 2004 -- threw down with a tweet Wednesday night, imploring the Red Sox to bounce the Bombers without the drama that defined that '04 playoff series. 

Major League Baseball has done a few things to lose the young fan. But its history is also what makes it so comforting, and makes it our pastime. And nothing drains the adrenal gland like a five-game series between Boston and New York, which have been at the other's throat for a century. It's the kind of epic story that only baseball can give us. 

And if the Yankees need to be reminded that they still haven't reached their goals, nothing slaps the dust off an old sport like the best rivalry in sports.  

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.