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A Wonderful Year

I’m a Yankee fan who doesn’t subscribe to the mantra that it’s championship or bust. For me, this season was an enormous success. Not only did the Yankees find an ace in Severino, a stud hitter in Judge, and much more, but they advanced to the cusp of the World Series. If you can’t celebrate that, you are never going to be happy.

What happens next is the biggest question facing this team. They won’t sneak up on the league next year and the expectations will be huge. This squad was a unique one in terms of being an underdog. The 2018 Yankees won’t have that luxury.

Game 7

I hate to bring this up, but the last time the Yankees faced a Game 7 was in 2004. Before that there was 2003 and 2001. And then you have to go back to 1964. So, this isn’t a frequent occurrence around here these days.

Last night reminded me a lot of 2001 against Arizona. Huge amount of momentum going the Yankees way coming into Game 6, and then the other team battered the Yankees. We know how that ended.

What this really comes down to is the offense. The Yankees haven’t hit in Houston and it is killing them. Will that change tonight? It better if the Yankees are going to have any chance.

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.