Published 8:07 AM EDT Oct 8, 2019
MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Boone is lying completely sprawled out in the hallway outside the New York Yankees clubhouse late Monday evening at Target Field.
Inside the clubhouse, the Yankees celebrated their American League Division Series sweep over the Minnesota Twins, spraying champagne and beer, but it was as if someone called the cops and shut the party down for violating a noise ordinance.
The party lasted for no more than 30 minutes until the ripping sound of plastic protecting the lockers came off the wall, and just like that, they looked barely more excited than if they just swept the Baltimore Orioles in July.
The Yankees entered this series four days ago with the task of shutting down baseball’s greatest power-hitting team, conquered, and swiftly dismantled the Twins by a combined score of 23-7 as if they just stole a car, stripped it down, and sold it for parts.
Now, after winning their 106th game of the season, comes the real challenge: Winning the next round and advancing to their first World Series in a decade.
For the Yankees, the drought feels like it has lasted forever.
Now, they’re poised to make their own history.
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They don’t have anything resembling the 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Houston Astros. Yet, they’ve got one of their most complete teams since the turn of this century, able to beat you with power ball, small ball, defense, pitching and a clubhouse culture that has the biggest heart in the land.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,’’ Yankees All-Star infielder DJ LeMahieu says quietly in the corner of the clubhouse, surveying the scene alone. “Early on, I felt it one of going to be one of those years. No matter who it is, they’re going to get the job done, and that’s a special feeling.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of deep talented players here, but it’s so selfless. Everyone checks their ego at the door. And roots for everyone.
“We not only have the talent, but that chemistry, and that can sure can take you a long way in this game.’’
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge says he has never seen anything like it, and when he spoke to the team after the game, hoisting his beer, he made sure to give the game hero’s championship wrestling belt to 22-year-old Gleyber Torres, the youngest star of them all.
“I never been in an organization like this before where you’re surrounded by so many All-Stars, superstars, MVPs and Cy Young winners,’’ Judge says, “and they check their ego at the door. When we come in here, we all fight for one thing, and that’s to win the ballgame today.
“When you’ve got an environment like that, there’s no better place to play and thrive.’’
The Yankees have reached the postseason 18 times, winning six pennants and four World Series championships since Brian Cashman became the GM in 1998, and yet, this group may be the most unique of them all.
They had a record 30 players on the disabled list this season. Their regular lineup didn’t play their first game together the entire season until Game 1 of the ALDS. Giancarlo Stanton, their $325 million player, played 18 games all season. Their ace, Luis Severino, pitched only 12 innings until Monday night’s clinching game. Their prime setup man, Dellin Betances, pitched two-thirds of an inning before his season ended.
Their leading winner, Domingo German (18-4), was suspended the rest of the season for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy.
So it was only fitting Monday night that reliever Zack Britton walked off the mound in the eighth inning with a tender Achilles tendon, closer Aroldis Chapman’s left hand was wrapped in ice when he fist-bumped Cashman, and veteran starter CC Sabathia pronounced himself ready for the ALCS after missing the division series with a strained shoulder.
This isn’t a baseball team, it’s a cavalry in spikes.
“It’s got a lot of resiliency, a lot of heart, and a lot of talent,’’ Cashman says, “but in terms of what’s going to make it unique, it’s got to climb the final two mountains to compare it to our other teams.
“Obviously, a storyline will be written. We want it to be a positive one. So we’ll wait and see.’’
The Yankees were cautious not to divulge who they prefer to play in the ALCS between the Astros and Rays, but let’s be serious, there will be no bigger Tampa fans on Tuesday night.
If the Rays win, they force a Game 5, meaning that Cole would be unavailable until Game 3 in the ALCS.
And if the Rays win that game, they may never have to see Cole again in the postseason if he switches leagues as a free agent.
Besides, if the Rays win the series, the Yankees suddenly will have home-field advantage and will be playing a team they defeated 12 times during the season.
Who do you think they’d rather play?
“It really doesn’t matter either way,’’ LeMahieu says. “They’re both really good teams. I just know that if we just keep playing like we did all year, and this series, we’re going to be just fine.’’
And, well, a little scary.
This is a pitching staff that suffocated the Twins’ high-powered offense. The Twins scored just seven runs, and produced only a solo homer the last 21 innings. The Yankees yielded a meager .218 batting average and 2.33 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 27 innings.
“I know a lot of people had question marks about our pitching coming in,’’ Judge says, “but we have a lot of guys that put everything on the line every time they step on that rubber. When you’re going against a team that hit the most home runs during the season, and shut them down to seven runs, that’s impressive.
They put on a highlight show with their defense, with dazzling plays made by Judge, shortstop Didi Gregorius and Torres.
And, of course, there was the star of the show, Torres.
If there was an MVP award in the Division Series, it would have gone to Torres, 22, who hit .417 in the series with a .462 on-base percentage, .917 slugging and an 1.378 OPS. He became the youngest Yankee to homer in the postseason since Derek Jeter in 1996, and only the second player under the age of 23 in major league history to produce three extra-base hits in a postseason game.
“We’re going to be telling stories about that kid for quite awhile now,’’ Judge says. “He comes to work every single day, and always has a smile on his face. He’ll come to the box with the bases loaded, and give us a little smile, like, ‘I got this.’ He’s just a special individual.’’
Says Cashman: “You see the personality coming out while he’s consistently having success. It’s a talent very few people possess.’’
Now, with everyone still playing, and the Yankees having four days off, they can sit back, relax, and be even more dangerous in the ALCS.
“It’s awesome to see these guys ball out,’’ Stanton says, “but we all know we got more work to do.
“We’re the Yankees. It’s our time of year.’’