Mancuso: The Clinch Was Only Step One

CC Sabathia was effective again on the mound Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees hit three home runs and the bullpen finished the job. Of course the significance after a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox was the New York Yankees returning to the postseason after missing the big dance the past two years.

And what the Yankees accomplished in their regular season home finale, and how they did it was always supposed to be a part of the winning formula. They got a good start from Sabathia who deserves to get the ball Tuesday night in the wild card elimination game, and his 2.17 ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list with assistance from a knee brace deserve consideration.

The Yankees were built to hit the home run and they did, and the bullpen threw four shutout innings to preserve the win for Sabathia.

Wasn’t that supposed to be the plan when this Yankees team assembled down in Tampa Florida back in February? They return to the postseason for the first time without Derek Jeter, but got the unexpected production from Alex Rodriguez. And with the exception of the past six weeks, A-Rod has been a key component to getting the Yankees back to playing October baseball.

So the remaining question for the Yankees the next three days, as they conclude the season down in Baltimore, is who will they play Tuesday night and will they have home field advantage? One more win will assure that the game will be in the Bronx Tuesday night either against the Astros, Angels, or the Minnesota Twins.

The Yankees don’t care who they face in their quest now to advance further into October. And as they celebrated in their clubhouse, though maybe more for their accomplishment, all the emphasis was how they got back to October with a team that many times appeared to be heading nowhere.

And though they did not win what they wanted, an AL East divisional title, the Yankees accomplished what they set out to do. The realization is there is a tougher task ahead and the reality of a wild card team going deep into October. Just ask the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, two of the unexpected who have enjoyed that wild card ride of going deep into October.

Because October baseball is here, and when you get there it is a new season, don’t count the Yankees out before they take the field Tuesday night. They get a good start from Sabathia, or as assumed from Masahiro Tanaka, and if the game is in the Bronx and they hit the home run. the Yankees have that opportunity to move on.

If the bullpen steps up, as Adam Warren and Dellin Betances did Thursday night they have as good a chance as any of the other teams. And they also have Andrew Miller for the ninth inning who will have an appropriate time of rest before Tuesday.Adam Warren pitched three scoreless innings after Sabathia allowed one run in five-innings.

And as A-Rod said, in the clubhouse celebration, “We’re in the dance. Anything can happen. I like our chances. I like our confidence. For us it’s nice to put this behind us. No one thought we would go anywhere this year. But we have come together the last eight months and it has been a lot of fun.”

The unexpected and comeback year for Alex Rodriguez was a part of the Yankees now continuing to play in October There were signs that the 40-year old legs were ready for October again when he got on base twice with a hit and walk. He was the first to say that when the postseason clincher came, well the Yankees had to pop the bubbly.

And after all the adversity of injuries, and suddenly losing their formula of hitting and driving in runs, they felt they deserved to celebrate before heading to Baltimore. Securing a franchise 52 playoff appearance and 10,000th regular season win in franchise history deserved a call to celebrate.

“The one thing the Yankees have always have is great players,” said manager Joe Girardi who gets an opportunity again to assemble a postseason roster. :Derek Jeter was a great player for a long time and valuable to this franchise. The thing about it is great players retire and think about it in a sense, you have to move on.”

He added, “We will never forget what Derek did for this organization. Yogi (Berra) retired, Mickey Mantle retired, Joe D, retired. All these guys were great players but the Yankees continued to win.”

And then there is Rodriguez, and if the Yankees are to win Tuesday night and go deeper into this month he has to be a catalyst to the offense. That is, not being as bad at the plate as he was the past six weeks in this comeback season.

“For Alex to come in and have the year he had was outstanding and it was a big lift for us,” Girardi said. And the Yankees need Carlos Beltran to be that catalyst also. His home run in the second inning, number 19, was his second straight off a lefthander.

Beltran said, “We know it’s a one game playoff now but we are not thinking about it because we have three games to play in Baltimore.” And those games will determine how Girardi sets the roster for that one game. Chris Bird will be there and his home run in the seventh inning to right gave the youngster 11 home runs, 30 RBI, and all done in 148 at bats as a viable replacement for the injured Mark Teixeira.

Yes the Yankees celebrated and had every reason to have some fun. It was that type of season but the task now gets that more difficult and every team that gets to the postseason certainly deserves that.

CC was the guy who the Yankees said deserved to be on the mound for the clincher. “It feels like an eternity,” he said, and no doubt referring to the adversity of the past two years and returning with two bad knees. He wanted to assert himself again as the ace of a pitching staff that has been inconsistent, and Sabathia backed up his claim.

But as Chris Young said, after a bad September month for the Yankees, “Making it to the playoffs is an unbelievable feeling you can never take away. We believe in our club. It’s about taking these small steps now and winning one series at a time.”

For the Yankees it is one step at a time, and the underdogs all season who have that opportunity now to be the latest wildcard team that can go deep into this month of important baseball in October.

Comment Rich Mancuso; [email protected] Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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