Wow

One of my favorite sports quotes is from Mike Tyson. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The Astros punched the Yankees in Games 1&2, but they haven’t been to answer the counterpunches since then.

Tonight it was the Yankees slaying the beast that is Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has always been a great pitcher, but he seemed to be even better against the Yankees in the playoffs. He shut them down in the 2015 wild card game and did the same in game 1 of the ALCS. But he didn’t do it tonight and the Yankees will head to Houston with a 3-2 lead.

I think I am correct when I say that the last time the Yankees won a Game 6 or 7 on the road was the 1978 World Series. Verlander is going to be very tough and the Astros should get a energy jolt from their crowd. See you Friday night.

Best-of-Three

I have been to a lot of Yankee games in my life. Among them was Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, but I don’t ever think I have seen a crowd like I did tonight. It was loud, so incredibly loud, and the crowd was so into it. I don’t think I sat down from the sixth inning on. We were screaming, stomping our feet, humming “Seven Nation Army” and just willing our team to win. And they did, oh how they did.

When Gurriel laced that bases-clearing double down, the crowd didn’t deflate. When Castro booted his second ball and the Astros went up 4-0, the crowd hung in there. When Judge hit that homer, the place started to shake. (Side note, we all thought Judge had gone insane when his boneheaded running play in the 4th was rescued by replay and he was immediately picked off. We had no idea the Astros were making an appeal play to second, and MLB should do a better job of explaining that to people at the game) From there, the Yankees were rolling.

Give Girardi a lot of credit for removing Sonny Gray when he did, but especially for his managing in the 8th. Pinch-hitting for Romine down 4-2 with a runner on first was bold. That cost them the DH but Girardi doubled down with Ellsbury pinch-running for Headley. Chapman was due up first in the bottom of the ninth.

But it worked and now the Yankees have evened things, but face the duo of Keuchel and Verlander. It won’t be easy, but we should all know to never count these guys out.

Just What They Needed

If you had asked Joe Girardi to draw up a list of things he wanted to see tonight, I imagine it would have looked like this:

1- A Win!

2- A deep start by CC

3- No need to use Green, Robertson, or Chapman

4- The bats wake up.

If that was the list, he must be really happy. This game worked out perfectly as the Yankees saved the big part of their bullpen for tomorrow and Wednesday while getting the win and seeing the bats wake up. Really the only downer was Betances, but you can’t fault Girardi for trying him out in that spot.

So, the Yankees are alive and a win away from tying things up. Sonny Gray takes the back for the first time since Game 1 of the ALDS. He hasn’t looked great recently, but we know the talent is there. Facing him will be Lance McCullers Jr. Yankee fans of my vintage remember seeing his Dad pitch in the 80’s for the Yankees. Junior got smacked around in three innings by the Red Sox. Hopefully, the Yankees can repeat that result.

Stop It!

What is it that drives us to make silly comparisons. For example, just because the Yankees came back from 0-2 against Cleveland doesn’t mean they will do it against Houston. Even worse, comparing Justin Turner’s homer to Gibson’s.

I get that they happened on the same day, and yes, Turner’s was dramatic. But let’s count the differences.

1- Gibson’s happened in the World Series not the NLCS.

2- Gibson’s home run came with two outs and the Dodgers down a run.

3- Gibson hit his home run off of one of the greatest relievers ever, Dennis Eckersley, not John Lackey.

4- That was Gibson’s only plate appearance in the World Series as he was too hobbled to play again and barely made it around the bases.

I would rank Gibson’s homer as one of the ten greatest in baseball history. Joe Carter winning the World Series, Bobby Thomson (The Giants win the pennant), Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Hank Aaron hitting 715, Fisk in 75, Maris hitting 61, Bucky Dent, it’s in that company. Turner’s was a great moment, but not an immortal one.

Momentum vs Reality

I don’t think the Yankees have a great chance to win this series. I say that for three reasons.

1- Keuchel and Verlander are killers.

2- The Astros have a great lineup that doesn’t strike out. That should neutralize the Yankee bullpen.

3- Up until August, this was clearly the best team in the AL.

So while the Yankees certainly have a chance, I’m not optimistic. I am also dismayed by a couple of decisions they made for the ALCS.

First, the rotation. I can’t argue with Severino and Tanaka in Games 1&2. Severino was their best pitcher all year and Tanaka has been great over the past few months. What I don’t get is CC in Game 3. I get that he would start a potential Game 7, but to me Game 3 is a game where the Yankees want a guy who is going to give them innings and that isn’t CC. I say that because unless it rains, Game 3 will be the first of three games without a day off. The Yankees don’t want to burn up their bullpen in Game 3, but this almost ensures they will.

Second, why keep the roster the same as the one ALDS? Are they really going to use Jordan Montgomery? Why not add a hitter? Wade could help as a pinch runner. Clint could help as a DH.

Put a gun to my head and I predict the Astros in five. I just think they have too much talent. I hope I am wrong.

Shocked

In terms of Yankee surprises, this one has to be near the top. Beating Cleveland was always a tough task, beating them after falling behind 2-0 was much, much harder. But they did it and now we get to see them in the ALCS versus Houston.

There were so many great moments, but four stand out to me.

1- Tanaka’s start on Sunday. The Yankees needed a pick me up and he gave them seven dominant innings.

2- Bird’s homer Sunday. No explanation needed

3- Kahnle’s six outs on Monday that saved the game. What a big performance from a guy who has been under the radar.

4- Didi turning that DP tonight in the fifth. Yes, he hit two homers in the game, but I would argue that was a bigger moment as he kept things at 3-2 and snuffed out the Cleveland momentum.

What a comeback. Someone please let George Costanza know that plans have changed.

Back to Ohio

Don’t minimize what the Yankees have to do Wednesday to win. First, they have to survive another start by Kluber. Next, they have to survive a crowd that will be amped to say the least. And finally, they have to beat a team that won 102 games and hasn’t lost three-straight games since July. It’s a huge task, but the fact that the Yankees have an opportunity to play the game says a lot too.

This team has shown resiliency and heart when it matters most. Different heroes keep emerging. Sunday it was Tanaka and Bird. Monday it was Severino, Kahnle, and the clutch hitting of a number of guys. If you believe like I do that this team is the start of something bigger, this playoff seasoning can only hasten that development.

The blueprint for Wednesday will be the same as Friday. The bullpen will be deployed early and the Yankees will hope the lineup can produce against Kluber. I expect they might try Holliday at DH because Headley and Ellsbury are not getting it done, but expect little else to change. We shall see.

The Future?

It shouldn’t surprise us that Greg Bird was the hero last night. Here’s a guy who has 20 homers in 304 big league ABs, which is a lot of power. Injuries have been and will be the biggest obstacle to his greatness. But if he is healthy…look out. Imagine the next five years with a healthy Bird hitting between Judge and Sanchez and you have quite a lineup.

Tonight we get to see another possibly huge piece of the future in Severino. One of my biggest problems with the ALDS rotation was the fact that the season might have ended with Severino thinking about that start all winter. Now he gets a chance to erase the slate. Let’s see what he does with it.

Dumb-UPDATED

Joe Girardi blew it tonight. He managed the sixth inning like it was the seventh game of the World Series and then he stopped. Let’s reset and look at some really bad choices.

Sabathia stumbled early, but retired 11-straight to enter the sixth and while he walked the lead off hitter, he got the first out after that. He’s at 77 pitches and Girardi selected him to pitch Game 2, how do you pull him with an 8-3 lead?

But the criminal thing is not challenging the HBP with Chisenhall. Girardi said it was because he didn’t want to break the pitchers rythmn, but that’s crap. That was a play where his catcher, the position Girardi played, told him it wasn’t a HBP. That should have been enough for him to challenge the call. Even if it wasn’t, consider the situation. Challenge and you may turn bases loaded with one outs into runners on second and third with two outs, how do you not challenge? (My memory failed me here, the inning would have been over. How the hell does he not challenge!)

I’ll excuse Girardi for leaving Betances in for the end of the game. Options were narrowed by then and Betances is better than anyone else they have. Joe blew this game, and he really did, in the sixth. That’s on him, but it’s up to the team to rally back from 0-2.

Tough Night

Yes, the Yankees are in trouble if their starters don’t do better than they have so far, but last night was more about a lack of hitting than anything else.

Trevor Bauer owned them. He struck out 8 and took a no-hitter into the sixth. The Yankees whiffed 14 times and only managed 3 hits in the game. Their offensive futility made a 4-0 hole seem deeper than it was. The fact is that once Gray left the game the bullpen did its job, but the bats never got going and that made the game unwinnable.

Now the Yankees face a tough test. Kluber has been great all year, but especially since the All-Star Game with a 1.79 ERA. He had a 1.59 ERA versus the Yankees in two starts this year and is 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA against them in his career.

I bet we see Ellsbury in the lineup today and probably Headley at DH. They each got a hit against Kluber in their last time facing them. The Yankees will need to show a lot of fight to scratch out a win today. Let’s see if they can.