Boone On Yankees Ahead Of Boston Battle: “We feel like we’re a really good club right now”

Aaron Boone authored one of the biggest moments in the long history of their rivalry with the Boston Red Sox when he hit the game-winning walk-off home run in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2003.

Boone, now the Yankees Manager, is set to lead his team into battle against a 108-win Red Sox team in the Division Series, starting Friday night at Fenway Park.

This is the first time the Yankees and Red Sox have met in the playoffs since 2004, when the Red Sox stormed back from 3-0 down in the ALCS to win in seven games.

Boone was not part of the 2004 series as he hurt himself playing basketball that offseason, ruling him out for the season, and the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez to take his spot at third base. The rest is history.

This is also the first time the Yankees and Red Sox will meet in the Division Series, something made possible by the expansion of the playoffs to five teams in each league (two wild cards) in 2012.

On Thursday afternoon in Boston, Boone was asked what he remembered about that series and if he watched the 2004 ALCS at all, and he said, “I think I watched quite a bit of the ’04. Obviously, I remember to some degree the comeback and everything. But you know, remember it more like a normal postseason that you kind of watch casually.

“The week of ’03, you’re asking? You know, I remember I kind of shaped in my mind that momentum, I kind of throw out the window in this thing. Because it felt like every time obviously in those years both teams were so good. And one team would kill the other team one day, and you would think, “here we go.” And the next day the other team would answer back.

“And in a lot of ways, our series this year during the regular season has played out a little bit that way. There’s been some lopsided games. Obviously, they beat us up here this summer in that four-game series. But otherwise it’s been a little back and forth like that.”

J.A. Happ will start Game 1 for the Yankees on Friday night, and Boone saif how successful the lefty has been against Boston, “Well, I mean, J.A. is a really, really good accomplished pitcher. But ultimately it comes down to – especially for him because he relies so heavily on the fastball, the ability to command it – the ability to — especially when as a left-handed starter where you know you’re going to be facing a lot of right-handed hitters, when you pitch with your fastball, you’ve got to be able to get it in. He’s able to do that. He’s able to elevate it. He’s got that little bit of life on his fastball that plays up a little more, especially when he’s locating it.

“So I would say that’s the biggest thing, he can command and repeat pitches with his fastball to some good right-handed hitters.”

Here is the rest of what Boone had to say ahead of the big series:

Q. You had a good season with 100 wins. Do you think this right now is kind of the best version of the team that you’ve had over the course of the whole season, just because of the health factor and adding McCutchen and the bullpen being ready? I mean, you could say it’s peaking at the right time.
AARON BOONE: Yeah. We feel really good about where we are, and especially for much of the second half obviously dealing with different injuries and guys being down. You know, it’s arguably as whole as we’ve been all season long. And with the additions that we’re able to make, we feel like we’re a really good club right now.

You know, we played pretty well down the stretch the last week or ten days or so when we needed to play well. And obviously got off to a good start last night. But I think the guys are in a good place or in a good frame of mind, and are playing with some confidence.

Q. Do you think playing that extra game can actually help in some ways in energizing a team before the series? It’s always been seen as a hindrance. I was wondering, the kind of win you guys had last night —
AARON BOONE: I think there’s a benefit in playing. The fact is the final week of the season we were still playing for a lot and playing against tough competition in going to Tampa, and having to deal with them, and then having to come here and then playing obviously a win or go home last night, where there’s a lot on the line. I think there is some benefit to that in being in those games, playing in meaningful games, playing with a lot on the line each and every day. Hopefully that’s something that serves us well.

Q. I can’t remember a time there were four talented teams like this in the American League playoffs; each can win the World Series and no one would be surprised. Only one of those franchises has 27 World Series. Is it one of those years where it’s World Series or bust, a season of failure if you don’t win the World Series given the circumstances and the talent around you?
AARON BOONE: I don’t even define it like that. At the end of all this, I’m sure we’ll look back and reflect on a lot of things. And hopefully we’re doing that at the end of the month. But right now you’re just kind of living it and in the grind of it and in the preparation of it each and every day, and each and every series. I’m certainly aware, as I’m sure all the other teams are, of any of these teams are capable of being great and capable of doing some special things.

But you also relish that. You know you have to be at your best if you’re going to win a series against any of the teams remaining in the American League. What it all means and defining this and that, again, that’s something I would leave to you guys and something that’s for reflection when it’s all over.

Q. Given how Dellin struggled down the stretch last year and the beginning of this year, how important was it to get him back to being his old self, and I was thinking of last night helps him being able to do what he did in a win-or-go-home game?
AARON BOONE: I talked a lot early in the season, even when he had a couple of hiccups, I felt like he was in a really good place mentally and just with his delivery and how he was throwing the ball. And that manifested itself during the season.

It’s huge for us, because he’s so talented. You know, he’s capable, when he’s on top of his game, of dominating really good hitters. And obviously him with what he went through last year for him, to go out last night and kind of be the first man out of the pen in a huge situation, and come in and just be on point and dominate is hopefully something that will be a little springboard for him into this postseason.

I know I’m proud of the effort that he gave, but I’m not surprised either because I feel like he’s been in a really good place really all season long for us.

Q. Given that this is Giancarlo’s first postseason, when he has a moment like that last night, what can that do to springboard him as he gets going into the rest of the postseason?
AARON BOONE: We’ve seen, I think, his at-bat quality over the last week ten days really tick up, too. He’s been taking his walks, having better consistent at-bats, and then to really clear one last night. You know, I think what’s been so impressive about G is just his focus and his intent and his purpose from the day he showed up in Spring Training, about kind of the mission he’s on and just kind of — his professionalism and his focus day in and day out no matter what the result was of that day has been really, really something that’s been admirable the way he’s gone about his business and the kind of teammate he’s been.

So to see him go out in that kind of atmosphere last night at Yankee Stadium and have results was pretty cool to see.

Q. Aaron, the kind of night that Sanchez had defensively last night, does that give you even more confidence in him going forward?
AARON BOONE: Yeah. I mean, but I’ve talked to you guys a lot about that question obviously over the last couple of weeks. And as I’ve said, I feel like there’s been so much good back there that I felt like he’s been very close to kind of having that complete game last night, and we saw it last night. He was absolutely a factor in helping contain and hold down a really good Oakland offense. I felt like just the look he had from the time he got to the ballpark yesterday to really diving in with the game plan and with Sevy, I thought they were clicking.

It’s a huge factor for us and really important for us that he plays at a high level behind the plate if we’re going to get to where we want to go. And I feel he’s capable of that. I feel like he got off to a great start.

Q. You defensed very early last night for Andujar. Was that at all a product of the two plays he made or can you see yourself doing it early enough in the game the rest of the way here?
AARON BOONE: No, it was more kind of the plan last night as far as if we had gotten to a certain point in the game and had a lead, it kind of just played out. He had hit and we hadn’t had to make any other moves. So putting Ech in there and then having Walker behind, if something went awry and needed a hitter. We just felt in that situation where we had a little bit deeper bench for the Wild Card scenario, felt like we’re going to be a little bit aggressive with that.

That’s kind of one of those things that you may see it some nights, middle-later part of the game or you may not see it, but less to do about those plays.

Q. Could you do it as early without as deep a bench?
AARON BOONE: We’ll see. You know, the game will kind of dictate that and where we are in the lineup, score, when guys hit, all those things, who is in the pen. There’s a lot of factors that go into me making that kind of call.

Q. Aaron, considering your travel problems this past season, what was the delay today?
AARON BOONE: Slow-moving train. I actually drove up, so I was here. But I guess it was a pretty slow-moving train that just kind of added to the travel adventures of the 2018 Yankees.

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