There is one difference this October for the New York Yankees as they prepare for game one in the best of seven American League Championship Series Friday evening at Texas. They don’t have home field advantage but the first three starters in the pitching rotation may be better than the three from championship team number 27 of last October.
It’s simple. The Yankees are on a mission to repeat as champions, and step one was accomplished with a three-game sweep over the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. Phil Hughes won 18 games this season and his first career post season start Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium was memorable. He propelled himself into a post season pitcher, and also answered the skeptics with his outing, a 6-1 win.
The Yankees for the first time as a wild card team advanced to the ALCS and for a second consecutive time in October swept the Twins in the best-of five divisional series. In doing so, they won their ninth straight over the Twins in post season play.
It is the fourth ALCS series appearance for the Yankees since 2003.And they now have a formidable three in the rotation with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hughes. Perhaps better than the three of last October that included A.J. Burnett, who struggled this season and will get the start in game 4 when the series comes to the Bronx next week. Javier Vasquez will be regulated to the pen or left off the roster.
“I really loved his stuff tonight,” said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi about Hughes after the series sweep over the Twins, “He located well. He was outstanding. This is not easy. As I said all year long this is hard work,” he said about advancing and elaborating about how his team makes it difficult for other teams to win.
“Pitching, we pitched well,” said Derek Jeter as the Yankees got a good outing from Hughes as their number three starter, and wins from Sabathia in game one and Andy Pettitte in game two. These three could make it difficult for the Rangers to win.
If the Rangers trail in the series when they come to the Bronx, or even if the Yankees come home next week trailing 0-2 in the series, there is the launching yard of Yankee Stadium that make Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher a formidable one, two, three in the lineup that can change the complexion of a game.
That has been seen time and time again, The Yankees never facing the final out in October. Gone is the horrible September stretch of losing 17 of their last 28 games as the pitching, timely hitting, and bullpen came together again in the three-game sweep over the Twins.
For the first time in the nine post season games against Minnesota, the Yankees got on the board first. Robinson Cano started the second with a triple and Jorge Posada drove him home with a single. Cano is a possible MVP of the American League and has the proficiency of hitting the Rangers pitching staff,
The single by Posada was his 41st career post season RBI surpassing Mickey Mantle for ninth on the Yankees all-time list, one of the core four of the Joe Torre managed championship teams, He wants another ring, though his ability to throw out runners is not as proficient. The Rangers rely more on the extra base hit and long ball, and will play small ball even if it means taking the extra base off Posada.
“It was a big win for us now we need eight more,” said Marcus Thames the designated hitter who became one of the prized additions that GM Brian Cashman acquired during spring training. It seems Cashman always gets the right players. Last October, and into November, it was Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr, who became unsung heroes.
The 24-year old Hughes was the youngest Yankee stating pitcher to start a post season game since Andy Pettitte in 1995. Making his first career post season start, he allowed one ball out of the infield the first three innings, giving up four hits in his first six innings of work. Hughes was able to get out of a two-out jam in the sixth, striking out Jason Kubel with two on, pitching seven shut out innings and walked one, and has made an immediate impression that he can be a post season pitcher.
“It’s World Series or it’s going to be a disappointing season for us,” said Teixiera. And that is always the attitude of the Yankees, especially when they get to October even if they have lost some momentum with a six-day hiatus before the ALCS.
And then there is the Mariano Rivera factor. He can still get the four out save, as he did in game one of the ALDS against the Twins appearing in all three games. Gone and forgotten are the blown saves in September. Until proven otherwise, Rivera has the post season experience and command to close the game, an advantage over Texas closer and rookie Neftali Feliz.
Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain have become a reliable quartet out of the pen before getting to Mariano or taking over if starters don’t go long. Though there are always questions about Chamberlain, and Wood struggled when in came in for Hughes in the clinching game against the Twins.
Texas has a problem closing games at home, so the Yankees have an advantage in the first two games at Arlington.
“They do a very good job getting those guys ready over there,” said Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire about Girardi and his coaching staff, especially in the post season as the Yankees may have the advantage in the first two games. Their pitching staff is rested, enough for Sabathia to be strong for game 1.
In the mean time Cliff Lee, the premiere starter for Texas started game 5 in the decisive ALDS Series Tuesday night. So the Yankees will not see Lee at least for a game 2, more likely game 3 in the Bronx Monday night.
It is one more step closer for the Yankees to their 41st American League pennant and defense of their world championship. But the Yankees realize there are eight more wins to go before they can get championship number 28.
The difference though is they need to win the first two on the road, or split before coming home. Not having home field advantage this time could eventually decide the outcome if indeed the series goes to a seventh and decisive game.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected].