(Reuters) - Baseball fans got the dream match-up they wanted as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox provide the start to a Major League Baseball post-season that any World Series would be hard pressed to top for hype and history.
As far as opening acts go there is none more compelling or mesmerizing than the Yankees and Red Sox, given the storied rivalry considered to be among the sporting world’s greatest.
They have faced each other over 2,200 times in regular season play but Game One of the American League Division Series on Friday at Fenway Park will mark just the fourth time in over a century that they have clashed in a playoff.
Given the rarity of these meetings, the fans might feel cheated by the fact that the league division series are best-of-five affairs while the league championships and World Series are both best-of-seven battles.
“I think they (Yankees players) can’t wait,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone after New York secured a spot in the division series with a 7-2 win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card game on Wednesday.
“We know how good they (Boston) are. I know our guys can’t wait to get there and try and get it done.”
And baseball fans are no less giddy with anticipation.
The last time the Red Sox and Yankees met in the post-season in 2004 it produced a classic, a seven-game thriller that saw Boston become the only Major League team to erase a 0-3 deficit to claim the American League pennant and then rumble on to win the World Series and end the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino”.
Patience is a rare quality among Yankees supporters who are seething for pay back for 2004.
As early as the sixth inning of Wednesday’s Wild Card game against the A’s, Yankee Stadium rang with chants of, “We want Bos-ton”.
But Red Sox fans also know how to carry a grudge, with Beantown still aggrieved over the sale of Babe Ruth — The Bambino — in 1920 to the hated Yankees for $100,000, giving rise to the curse and a nearly nine-decades long World Series drought.
History aside, this series stands out on statistical merit.
Boston led the majors with 108 wins (the most in franchise history) while their AL East rivals followed with 100.
The Red Sox scored a league best 876 runs, the Bronx Bombers blasted a single-season record 267 homers.
They met 19 times during the regular season, the Red Sox taking 10 wins and the Yankees nine, including a contentious April clash won by New York that featured a dugout-clearing brawl.
This edition of the Red Sox might be the best to ever call Fenway home.
They are led by right fielder Mookie Betts, the AL batting champion, and J.D. Martinez, who hammered 43 homers, both considered among the favorites for AL most valuable player honors.
Boston manager Alex Cora can roll out a starting rotation that includes Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello and has an elite closer in Craig Kimbrel.
In the other dugout the Bombers are back, Giancarlo Stanton slamming a team high 38 homers with Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks and Miguel Andujar all chipping in with 27.
Starters Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka are backed up by one of the major league’s most dependable bullpens.
“We’re excited,” said Judge. “They won the division. It’s going to be a fun series. This place (Yankee Stadium) is going to be rocking, Fenway is going to be rocking.”
Editing By Ken Ferris