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Yankees and Juan Soto played some mind games in the Dodgers' 11-inning win

NEW YORK – Shohei Ohtani's dog may be named Decoy, but the real decoy on Friday night was Juan Soto.

The supersonic slugger was taken out of the lineup after he sat out Thursday night's game against Minnesota because of pain in his left forearm. For 16 hours, YankeeLand sweated blood and water and bit its nails, but the worst-case scenario didn't happen. Imaging showed that Soto's pain was merely inflammation and not structural damage. The team, its fans and Soto breathed a collective sigh of relief. Still, Yankees captain Aaron Boone decided a day off wouldn't be the worst idea.

And so the most eagerly awaited showdown of the regular season, a possible preview of the World Series, took place without one of its biggest stars.

For ten innings, the Yankees and Dodgers traded no hits, despite the fact that on paper the starting pitchers were not well matched. It was the Dodgers' $325 million flamethrower ace, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, against a gentleman named “Cody Poteet,” who was forced into action by a spate of unfortunate Yankee injuries. Yamamoto was overpowering, Poteet was cautious, but the result was the same: a no hit.

But in the 11th inning, after some tense moments in the bullpen, Dodgers outfielder Teoscar Hernandéz broke the deadlock with a double to left field that brought in two runs and closed the gap. The Yankees won in the bottom half with a single from Aaron Judge, but neither Giancarlo Stanton nor the combative Anthony Rizzo could find success against Los Angeles relief pitcher Yohan Ramírez.

The Dodgers won the first game of this three-game series with a nerve-wracking 2-1 victory.

“It was a great game,” Boone later admitted during his press conference. “Good pitching, good plays, tough at-bats. Both sides had a couple of chances to pull it off but didn't, it was just a very well-pitched game.”

When asked if his ailing superstar would have been available as a substitute, Boone smiled shyly, shook his head and said, “Not tonight.”

Throughout the evening, Soto was a fixture on the top step of the Yankee dugout, occasionally wearing batting gloves and holding a bat. Ultimately, it's clear that Boone, Soto and the Yankees had no intention of forcing the soon-to-be free agent into the game. The season is long and full of horrors. Soto needed a day, and the Yankees weren't going to put the Dodgers through that.

“We have a plan,” Soto told reporters after the game, implying that his jitters during the game were just his way of staying sane. Boone revealed that Soto didn't throw even a single batter or warm-up during the game. It was all fugazi, not that it mattered in the end. The Dodgers won because they got it done. This was also a game that called for Juan Soto. Several things may be true.

The whole scene, Soto or not, was certainly unique.

This is only the third time the Dodgers have traveled to the Bronx for a regular season since interleague play began in 1997. MLB's new, balanced schedule will make these home games a biennial event for the Dodgers. Perhaps the frequency will lose its luster over time. For now, there's still something new about the spectacle.

For a century, baseball history was shaped by these two franchises, both before and after the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Southern California in 1957. For the next 40 summers, the two clubs never saw each other as they made history in their own leagues and their own parts of the country. From time to time, the baseball gods would send the two powerhouses to the same World Series for an important reunion on both coasts.

This current series is a bit like a Fall Classic, given the current state of these franchises. The Yankees and Dodgers entered Friday night with the two best championship odds, according to FanGraphs and every trusted sportsbook. Calling this matchup a potential World Series preview is both sensationalist and reasonable. The Yankees have the best record in MLB. The Dodgers have the best roster in MLB. No one would be surprised.

48,048 spectators, the Yankees' largest paid attendance of the season, crowded into “The House That Jeter Built.” Just minutes before the first pitch, long lines formed in front of the stadium's home plate gate. Crowds of invited guests and various onlookers waited on the infield warning track during batting practice. An overwhelmingly large media presence filled the press box to the brim. A late-evening wind with a very slight freshness evoked memories of autumn weather.

But the night's decisions were a reminder that it's still June, and these games still mean relatively little. Come October, Soto would be in the starting lineup, his sore arm full of medication. At the very least, he would fill in for Rizzo as a pinch hitter in the 11th inning. But even if Soto had been available, it's unlikely Boone could have made such a ruthless statement and replaced one of his supposedly most important players.

There is such a thing as living for tomorrow.

Whether Soto will play when these two clubs play their second game on Saturday night is a different story entirely.

Boone said, “We'll see where we stand tomorrow.”