Yankees Workout Day Notebook: On the verge of the pennant, the mantra remains the same
HOUSTON -- Friday will mark the first time this postseason that the Yankees will enter a game with a series advantage. Yes, they're 7-4 this October, but the Wild Card Game was a one and done, and their win in Game 5 of the ALDS ended that series, so their 3-2 advantage over the Astros in the ALCS is the first one they'll carry into the next day.
It definitely feels a little different, manager Joe Girardi says, but on the eve of a Game 6 that could end with the Yankees' 41st American League pennant, the message, and the plan, is still the same as always.
"We've been on 'win today' for a number of games, so I still think the attitude will be the same: win one game," Girardi said Thursday. "That's what we've talked about and stuck to around here, and that's what we have to do tomorrow. We know we're facing a great team and a great pitcher, but you have to win one game."
The lineup has started to come around, with players like Aaron Judge (4-for-9, 3 walks in Games 3-5), Gary Sanchez (three hits in his last five at-bats), and Chase Headley (4-for-8 in Games 3-5) using the home cooking at Yankee Stadium to break out of slumps that, in some cases like Headley's, had spanned the entire postseason.
Not a surprise to Girardi, but he's happy to have the narrative of lineup failure behind the team.
"I knew eventually they were going to hit. Players throughout the years have struggled in the playoffs before getting hot, but everything is magnified in the playoffs," Girardi said. "Two games feels like forever, but you're on the big stage, so people expect you to perform every day."
Luis Severino is the starting pitcher tasked with 'win today' in Game 6, and he'll likely need to spin a gem against Houston's Justin Verlander, who tossed a complete game opposite Sevy in Game 2.
Severino's outings have all been radically different this October -- one-third of an inning in the Wild Card Game, seven strong in the ALDS and four good innings before being removed under precaution in Game 2 of the ALCS -- but Girardi never had a doubt about the last two being better than the first.
"I wasn't too concerned because I've seen him do some pretty special things this year. And, he's had some pretty big matchups that he's learned from," Girardi said. "I think the Minnesota game was emotions, but he's been able to hold that in check the last couple starts; understanding the magnitude, we will have to watch him closely, and I expect he'll be able to do that here."
"It's amazing. Last year I was watching the playoffs, and now I have a chance to pitch us to the World Series," Severino added. "I'm proud of the work I did in the offseason to help me get to where I am, and I'm proud to be a big part of the team we have. I'm excited to go out there and do my best, and I know I just have to focus on my game and making my pitches, and block everything else out."
Severino and the Yankees still have another day to think about it all, which could be a good or a bad thing -- and if you ask the skipper, it may be both.
"I think everyone would've rather played today," Girardi said, "but, we understand it, and we have been on both sides. It's probably good for our bullpen to have a day off, because they've worked hard -- we used Tommy (Kahnle) for two innings last night, and the day off probably allows us to use Tommy tomorrow -- but when you're on a roll, you never want to stop playing."
As the Yankees did not work out Thursday and only had media availability via conference calls, here are just a few more quotes from the calm before the storm:
-Ex-Yankees Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have been neutralized in this series, exacerbating the storyline of the old guard versus the Baby Bombers. Girardi was asked about how tough it was to move on from those two to begin the youth movement last year -- specifically given how their replacements, Judge and Sanchez, have caught fire -- and this was his answer: "I think we knew it was eventually going to happen, and it really started with how Gary performed late in 2016, because we knew he was probably going to be our everyday catcher. Aaron went through some struggles last year and got hurt at the end so we weren't really sure, but we thought it was time to bring in some of the younger guys and see exactly what they could do, and see where we were at. It's never easy to say goodbye to veterans. Brian and Carlos were both quality players and quality people, great teammates and great to manage, and it's difficult. But we knew we had to make some changes, and these kids have played extremely well and been extremely important in our run."
-Here's Severino on how he has used his rough start in the Wild Card Game to motivate him in his last two starts: "It hurt me. I don't want to go out and let my teammates down like I did that day, so I learned from that start. I know I made mistakes, so I worked harder to not do the same thing the next time and leave it behind. I threw a good game against Cleveland and a good game against Houston, and starts like that make me forget about the bad ones."
-The bullpen has been a big weapon in this series, and Girardi says Dellin Betances is still a part of that, despite his deployment (and quick replacement) in his last two outings: "I think with the magnitude of these games, you can't allow a player to work through some things you might let him work through during the regular season. We're going to use Dellin where we see fit, but what happens during games and the way things play out is what really dictates that, so I don't narrow my thoughts on when that might be. He's struggled the last couple times, but really, he was pretty good in the Cleveland series."
-This Yankees team has been described by many as more fun than past iterations, and here's the skipper's response when asked about that: "It's really unusual to hear a Yankees team described that way, but to me, it has been extremely enjoyable to watch them do what they do, and see the energy and excitement they bring every day. There are so many different talents that we see, so it's really enjoyable to watch these guys do their work. From that standpoint, I understand that they are easy to root for, probably more so because they're my team!"
-Last word is this from Girardi, his answer when asked what it means to come this far with a team that's radically different from the one he led to a championship in 2009, or even the ones he led to the ALCS in 2012 and the playoffs in 2015: "I think it's extremely meaningful. This has been a special year that has seemed to get better and better as the year went on. We started off playing great, then we struggled a bit, but we got ourselves out of the funk and played well down the stretch and to this point. The energy at Yankee Stadium has been awesome, and what I find myself taking in most is that energy and the memories it brings back for me. I'm happy for the players to be getting to experience it.