The 2017 Yankees have drawn comparisons to the 1996 Yankee team that marked the beginning of a streak of four out of five World Series titles.
Just like the ‘96 team, this current Yankee team was considered to be on the rise but was not expected to be at this point so quickly. Both squads featured a mix of youngsters and veterans and both lacked the pedigree of previous Yankee championship teams, but the 2017 Yankees need to draw upon the “killer instinct” that the ‘96 team had. That ‘96 team faced challenges, just like the ‘17 team, but when they had the opportunity to put a team away, they didn’t let it go by.
The 1996 Yankees began their post season run by losing the first game of the ALDS (it was best-of-five back then) to the Texas Rangers at home but they rallied to win game two at Yankee Stadium and game three in Texas. With a chance to end the series in game four, and avoid a fifth and deciding game, the Yankees took care of business with a 6-4 win.
In the American League Championship Series vs. Baltimore, after splitting the first two games, the Yankees won games three and four in Baltimore to put them one win away from their first World Series appearance in 15 years. Again, the Yankees took care of business with another 6-4 win in game five.
What followed was a two games to none deficit in the 1996 World Series against the Braves (sound familiar?) as the Yankees lost the first two at Yankee Stadium. We all know the Yankees won the next three in Atlanta and then went for the “kill” in game six. Sparked by current Manager Joe Girardi’s triple, the Yankees again avoided a do or die situation and won game six, 3-2, for their first World Series title since 1978.
Even the ‘09 championship team never had to face an elimination game.
This Yankee team has cleared a few more obstacles in this post season run than the ‘96 team had to deal with. There is no questioning their resilience but they’ll need to prove that they have what it takes to end a series that they’re in control of.
Some things to look out for tonight.
The first item on the agenda will be to have some better results against Justin Verlander tonight. The former Cy Young Award and MVP winner, who has not lost in an Astros’ uniform, comes off his complete game, 13 strikeout effort in game two. He threw 124 pitches in that game, 93 for strikes which is off the charts. Can he duplicate that kind of command in two consecutive outings, much less the same team?
Verlander has logged his usual workload of innings this season (206 IP) and he’s no youngster anymore, so it will be intriguing to see what and how much he can bring to the mound to keep the Astros’ season alive. Suffice it to say, the Yankees will need to make him work and not allow him to get into a rhythm like he was in game 2.
Brett Gardner will be counted on to set a tone while Didi Gregorius bears watching. He was the only Yankee in the lineup to not strike out, but only saw nine pitches in four at bats. Chase Headley has had good career numbers (6 for 18, .333) against Verlander and had some good swings against him in game two including just missing a home run on a 96 MPH fastball.
After some early struggles, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have gotten hot so the Astros’ starter will have his work cut out against that duo. Yankee Manager Joe Girardi ignored the cries for a lineup change (including from this columnist) and his patience has paid off. “I knew eventually they were going to hit,” Girardi said on a conference call during the off day.
Yankee starter Luis Severino was matching Verlander in game two until he was lifted after four innings. The 23-year old right hander has overcome his disastrous start in the Wild Card game and is pitching with confidence. “Last year I was watching the playoffs,” Severino said on a conference call Thursday, “and now I have a chance to pitch us to the World Series.”
The Yankees have done a good job in holding down the Astros’ offense but you have to expect Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to break out at some point. With that in mind, Severino will need to limit their opportunities. He has to stay away from walks because, even when he’s going good, he tends to give up a home run or two.
The Yankees have their “view to a kill” thanks to their franchise history and their “eye opening” overall play in the post season.
What will it be after tonight? A 41st American League pennant and a date with the Dodgers in the World Series or a seventh game in the ALCS for all the marbles, where their resilience would be put to the test one more time. Girardi realizes they can’t afford a let up. “We know we’re facing a great team and a great pitcher,” he said, “but you have to win one game.”