After a few weeks of competition, only two teams remain. The squad of the century will be determined over nine innings. The good news is, since we are somewhat playing with time here, there are no weather-related disturbances. The skies over Cooperstown, New York are crystal clear and the teams are ready to play baseball. A sellout crowd has jammed into the Hall of Fame Field facilities to watch two legitimate powerhouses duke it out for the title. The MLB National Championship is finally upon us, and it will be decided among a gaggle of legendary talent. The seven-seed 1961 New York Yankees will take on the nine-seed 2018 Boston Red Sox.
The beginning of this tournament saw many different teams vying for the title. Some may have thought that the number-one overall seed (2001 Seattle Mariners) would dominate. They had a good run but were eliminated in the Elite Eight. Others might have seen an underdog like the 1998 Atlanta Braves or the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics pulling an upset run. However, it does seem that we have the most unlikely matchup here. The MLB National Championship has come down to two groups that, perhaps, nobody saw coming. Before covering the game itself, let’s see the road each of these teams has traveled to get here.
The Path to a Title Shot: 1961 Yankees
For the 1961 Yankees, life has not exactly been easy. They had to dispatch a difficult 1986 New York Mets team that featured the likes of Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter. Then, they dealt with the upstart 1998 Braves who had just defeated the two-seed 1998 Yankees. However, at each juncture, they were up to the task. In the Final Four, they faced what some might consider their toughest challenge yet. Indeed, it was their only game against a single-digit seed. The 1969 Baltimore Orioles did not go quietly. In the end, though, the ’61 Yankees did them in and moved on to the National Championship game.
For this contest, manager Ralph Houk is returning to his ace, Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. The wily veteran has already scored a victory for the Yankees once in this tournament. Now, he’ll attempt to do it again. The manner in which he pitches betrays a bygone era when hurlers pitched to contact and strikeouts weren’t the full name of the game. True, Ford did set down 209 batters in this manner in 1961. However, he also gave up 242 hits in 283 innings pitched. His great strength in this game will be keeping the often-powerful Red Sox hitters in the ballpark. This will be easier said than done, but Ford only gave up 23 homers in 1961, so he’s definitely up to the task.
The Path to a Title Shot: 2018 Red Sox
On the flip side, the 2018 Red Sox present a team that’s been in and out of trouble all through the tournament. First, they dispatched the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, then followed that impressive performance by defeating the number-one overall seed Mariners. During both games, the Sox had some shakiness. Nonetheless, they came together as a team and marched their way into the Final Four. Once there, they took down the upstart 2019 Houston Astros to carve their spot in the National Championship game. A great hope exists in the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere as the final game of the tournament approaches. This one might even be more heavily anticipated than the 2004 World Series, where they broke the hated Curse of The Bambino.
For manager Alex Cora, the decision of who starts is a very simple one. Like Houk, he’s turning to his ace: Rick Porcello. The former Cy Young winner had 17 wins on the season with an ERA in the mid-threes. While these do not sound like very dominant numbers, Porcello is one of those pitchers that can pull a solid start out of seemingly thin air. In 2018, his best pitch was his four-seam fastball, garnering a run value of -5. His slider was also in the negatives when it came to run value. If he can rely on these pitches and avoid a sinker that, at times, could give him fits of trouble, then he could do some serious damage. Should he decide on a different route, then the dynamic duo of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle could be the ones setting fires.
Three Innings of Nothing
So it is that again under crystal clear skies, these two monstrous squads meet in Cooperstown to determine the winner of the MLB National Championship. Owing both to seeding and to their proximity to The Bronx, the 1961 Yankees are enjoying “home field advantage.” However, a terrific contingent of Red Sox fans have made the journey to watch their 2018 World Series champions. This matchup has all the hallmarks of an all-time classic, between two of the biggest rivals, not only in baseball but in all of sports. Maris vs. Bogaerts, Mantle vs. Martinez, and the aforementioned Ford vs. Porcello are just a few of the one-on-one matches that will populate this contest.
The game itself is a neck-and-neck affair that truly lives up to its billing. Neither Ford nor Porcello are perfect, but each do enough to keep their respective squad competitive. The first three innings are mostly uneventful. Each team picks up two hits and both starters look fairly decent. The only offensive fireworks come courtesy of a double from Yankee, Hector Lopez with one out in the bottom of the first. Unfortunately for pinstripe supporters everywhere, Porcello manages to get through Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, leaving Lopez stranded. Aside from that, not much occurs on either side. However, the bats for both teams were just getting warmed up.
The Seesaw Accelerates
Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts led off the top of the fourth with a homer to put Boston up 1-0. He was followed by fellow outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who launched one of his own. This was part of a three-hit night where he fell a triple short of the cycle. That was all the Red Sox got in the fourth, but the Yankees answered quickly. Bill Skowron and Tony Kubek led off their half of the frame with back-to-back hits. Clete Boyer then stepped to the plate and crushed a Porcello offering into orbit, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead and sending Hall of Fame Stadium into a Bronx Bombers-induced frenzy. Porcello managed to get the next three outs in a row, but the damage has been done.
The game remains 3-2 until the top of the seventh inning. By this point, both starters have been removed. The Yankees have sent in right-hander Hal Reniff to face the heart of the Red Sox lineup. On paper, this seemed like a good idea, as Reniff had a sub-three ERA in the regular season. However, Boston greeted him rudely when J.D. Martinez doubled and Xander Bogaerts followed up with a go-ahead two-run homer. Some insurance came in the form of three straight hits from Eduardo Nunez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Christian Vazquez. In the end, the Red Sox took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the frame.
A Thrilling Ending
This was where the Yankee bats came to life, tying the game with three runs off of reliever Joe Kelly. The trio of Berra, Mantle, and Maris loaded the bases before Skowron got his second hit of the night, scoring two. Kubek followed that with a knock to pull the Yankees even. Tied at five heading to the eighth, Houk went to his setup man, Jim Coates. This turned out to be a good idea, as he was able to get the Red Sox in order. Meanwhile, the Yankees managed to push across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning.
In the top of the ninth, New York went to their closer Luis Arroyo. His task was to retire the heart of Boston’s lineup. Things looked fair for Arroyo, as he retired Hanley Ramirez and J.D. Martinez with ease. However, infield defense let him down, as what should have been the game-ending out was botched, allowing Bogaerts to reach. The next batter, Rafael Devers, shot a double into the gap, giving Bogaerts enough time to slide safely across with the tying run. Nunez followed this with his third hit of the game. After Bradley Jr. walked, Vazquez hit a fly ball that should have been caught. But poor communication lead to a second Yankee error, giving the Red Sox a 7-6 lead. This turned out to be the deciding run and Boston took home the MLB National Championship.
Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Whitey Ford, Rick Porcello, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Hector Lopez, Yogi Berra, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Bill Skowron, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer, Hal Reniff, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Nunez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, Joe Kelly, Jim Coates, Luis Arroyo, Hanley Ramirez, Rafael Devers