BOSTON — When tickets went on sale months ago for Friday night’s game between the Yankees and the Red Sox, many eager buyers might have assumed it would be a critical game between the longtime rivals. It did not turn out that way, because the Red Sox had nothing to play for after reaching every possible regular-season goal days earlier.
But there were still a couple of things at stake for the Yankees, and with another night of power baseball, they accomplished both.
The Yankees hit four home runs and pounded the Red Sox, 11-6, at Fenway Park to ensure that they would host the American League wild-card playoff game. They will play the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Playing at home does not guarantee a win, of course, but the Yankees have a .654 winning percentage at Yankee Stadium, where their sluggers feast off the short right-field fence. Securing home-field advantage became the goal of the Yankees once they clinched a playoff berth last week.
“When push comes to shove,” Manager Aaron Boone said, “you want to play that game at home.”
But the Yankees sluggers are also capable of doing damage on the road as they proved Friday in historic fashion. Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Aaron Judge hit home runs to give the Yankees 264, tying the 1997 Seattle Mariners for the most by one team.
“Now that we’ve tied the record,” Judge said, “let’s go out and break it.”
Judge’s 27th homer, a blast to centerfield that bounced back onto the field, tied the record. The ball made its way, via a Fenway Park attendant, into the hands of Yankees security. It is destined for the Yankees’ museum, and should the record fall in the final two games of the regular season, that ball most likely will go to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But there are more pressing matters ahead, like preparing for Wednesday’s single-elimination affair against the Athletics. Neither team has announced its starter for that game, but J.A. Happ, who pitched Friday, is a contender for the Yankees, along with Masahiro Tanaka.
Happ pitched six innings and gave up four runs on Friday, all on Steve Pearce’s grand slam in the sixth, which screamed over the left-field wall. If the Yankees win the wild-card game, they would face the Red Sox in the best-of-five division series, which would be their first playoff meeting since the 2004 American League Championship Series.
Boston has won a team-record 107 games and has one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball, highlighted by sluggers like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi.
But for Happ, who has pitched well against Boston over his career, the most dangerous batter is Pearce. A right-handed hitter, he has six career home runs off Happ, the most of any batter against the Yankees lefty, and twice as many homers as Pearce has off any other pitcher. Over all, Pearce is 11 for 32 against Happ.
Asked why Pearce has had so much success against him, Happ shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Why don’t you go ask him why it’s so easy for him?”
Another important element of Friday’s win was the return of Hicks and Didi Gregorius, who had missed games with injuries. Hicks, who is recovering from a strained hamstring, hit a three-run homer, and Gregorius had a single.
“Everything was good,” Gregorius said. “It felt really good.”
Gregorius tore cartilage in his right wrist while sliding home headfirst with the winning run in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, which gave the Yankees a postseason berth. At the time, it was feared he could miss the rest of the season. But Gregorius responded well to a cortisone shot, and he said he has no concerns as the Yankees get ready for the playoffs.
With a healthy lineup and eight wins in their last 11 games, the Yankees seem to be gathering momentum as they head into the playoff against Oakland. The Yankees and the Athletics split six games this year, with the home team winning twice in each three-game series.
Wednesday’s game will be the second straight American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium. Last year, the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins, 8-4, even after the Twins took a 3-0 first-inning lead against Luis Severino. But the Yankees stormed back behind an energized crowd that set the tone for their entire playoff run.
The Yankees went on to beat the Cleveland Indians in the division series and then lost to the Houston Astros, the eventual World Series champions, in Game 7 in Houston. Perhaps if it had been played in the Bronx, the outcome would have been different.
“That’s huge getting home-field advantage,” Judge said. “Especially when you saw what happened in the playoffs last year. Our fans, they come out in numbers and support us well when we play at home in the playoffs.”
Boone said he would immediately begin to figure out who would pitch the wild-card game and which players needed more at-bats over the final two games to prepare for Wednesday. But he was reassured that the showdown would be in front of thousands of supportive fans in a building designed for Yankees glory.
“I think in a lot of ways we’re built for our ballpark,” Boone said. “Our power plays to a lot of our guys, especially our right handed hitters, who use that right field to their advantage. I think it’s played out that we’re a very good team at home. I love the fact that our fans will be making the right kind of noise for us.”