IT'S NOT HOW YOU GET THERE THAT COUNTSBy Gordon Edes
So, which was it: The Red Sox won the division in 2004 and the wild card in 2007 before winning the World Series, or was it the other way around?
Are you sure? More importantly, do you care?
For the record, the Sox were the wild-card team in 2004 and the division winner in 2007. They had to beat the Yankees twice in Yankee Stadium in the ALCS in '04 to finish off a comeback from a 3-0 deficit to advance to the World Series, and they beat the Indians twice in Fenway Park to finish a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to advance to the Series in '07.
Since 1995, the first year the playoffs had a wild-card round, eight of the 32 teams that have played in the World Series have been wild-card entries. That includes six straight seasons (2002-07) of wild-card participation, including three years in a row -- the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox -- in which the wild-card team won it all.
Yes, having the home-field advantage in a division series would be nice but isn't critical, especially for a Sox team that lost its first seven games on the road and has played at a .688 clip (42-19) away from home since.
You all remember 2005, don't you, when the Yankees celebrated winning the division at Fenway on the next-to-last day of the season, and if anything, the Sox partied even more raucously when they won the wild card the next day? Or how about 2008, when the Sox came into the final weekend needing to sweep the Yankees for any chance of catching the Rays? In the first game of that series, they started David Pauley, who had started one game all season. The Yankees lit him up.
"The important thing for us is to get our house in order and be healthy," manager Terry Francona said at the time. "We'll try to get as ready as we can be moving forward.''
And regardless of the rhetoric you might hear, especially this week when the Yankees come to town with the division at stake, that's the goal this go-round, too. Francona, pressed on the topic the other day, said it was most important for the team to be healthy and feeling good about itself going into October. That means playing well, not necessarily winning the division.
Getting to the tournament is paramount. How you get there is secondary.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE COULD MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCEBy Joe McDonald
The Red Sox want to win the AL East. The Yankees want to win the AL East.
That "all you need to do is earn a postseason berth because anything can happen in October" mentality is a bunch of you know what.
Sure, there are exceptions, but if home-field advantage means anything in the postseason, the Red Sox and Yankees are perfect examples of why it matters so much to be on your diamond.
Both clubs have a realistic chance of winning the division (just a game and a half separates them with a three-game series on tap this week at Fenway Park), with the other settling for the wild card. It's also a strong possibility that, given the teams' records, home-field advantage for the ALDS and ALCS will remain in the East.
And, of course, should these teams meet in the ALCS, wouldn't you feel much more comfortable with four games at Fenway?
Both cities have electric environments during October baseball, and yes, the 11th player -- the fans -- is a realistic entity. Having 37,000-plus at Fenway chanting: "Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck!" from the first pitch to the last out makes a difference.
Or, having 50,000-plus screaming: "Who's your daddy? Who's your daddy?" ... Oops. Never mind. Like I said, there are exceptions.
The Red Sox's home record (40-25) is slightly worse than their road record (42-26) this season. The Yankees, meanwhile, have a slightly better record at home (41-26) than they do on the road (38-26) in 2011.
The last time these clubs faced each other, players on each team talked about the importance of winning the division. Not only does the title of "division champs" mean something, but players on each team talked about the importance of home-field advantage in the playoffs.
"Being in that situation, you definitely want to win the division," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. "You want to get to the playoffs one way or another, but winning the division is pretty cool."
Pretty cool ... and pretty important.