Ken Singleton had witnessed the Yankees’ resilience all season long and yet, as he did the YES Network’s postgame show on Wednesday night from Cleveland, he had only one thought.
“I just couldn’t get out of my head: ‘I didn’t think I’d be here. I didn’t think I’d be back in Cleveland at all,’ ” the longtime Yankees analyst said Thursday morning after arriving in Houston overnight.
“Now we are just hours away from the Astros and another big challenge.”
The Yankees begin that challenge Friday night with the start of the ALCS after rallying from an 0-2 deficit against the heavily favored Indians. It was a hole they fell into with a gut-wrenching Game 2 loss after manager Joe Girardi failed to challenge a play that opened the door for a stunning Cleveland rally.
“There’s so many young guys on this team that maybe they don’t realize they are supposed to lose,” Singleton said. “I think certain veterans on the team steer them in the right direction, too, like CC Sabathia.
“I can recall Masahiro Tanaka saying through his interpreter after Game 3, ‘We are going to win Game 4 then go back to Cleveland and take care of business.’ It showed immense confidence even though they were down 1-2. They went about their business and got it done.”
When ALDS hero Didi Gregorius was hurt to start the season, they thrived. It was the same result when Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro and Greg Bird all went down for significant stretches. That was mostly thanks to Aaron Judge’s prowess, but when he slumped badly after the All-Star break, they picked him up and did so again in the ALDS.
He had one hit and 16 strikeouts against the Indians. It will be a challenge for the 25-year-old MVP co-favorite to rediscover his swing in such a short amount of time.
“Cleveland pitchers did a great job, but he admitted he had pitches to hit and just missed them,” Singleton said. “With young players, their slumps are usually longer because they don’t really know themselves as hitters in the major leagues. Judge can be incredibly hot, but right now he is incredibly cold. As the years go on and he knows himself better and the league better, those slumps will become shorter.”
The Yankees will need that resolve again with the Astros perhaps even a tougher opponent than the Indians. The Astros scored the most runs in baseball this season and have a formidable 1-2 at the top of the rotation with Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel, who ended the Yankees’ previous postseason experience in the 2015 wild-card game, will start Game 1 after Verlander closed out the Red Sox in the ALDS. The Yankees’ rotation was impressive against Cleveland after Sonny Gray’s Game 1 flop. Sabathia, Luis Severino and Tanaka combined to give up seven runs in 23 ²/₃ innings before handing the ball over to a bullpen that dominated the final three games of the series.
“If the Yankees are going to do it against this particular team, they are going to really have to pitch well,” Singleton said. “Houston, all year long, led by [Jose] Altuve and [Carlos] Correa, those type of players have been just wonderful at putting those runs on the board and punishing mediocre pitching.
“The Yankees pitching isn’t mediocre, but this team that they are facing now is even more powerful and potent than Cleveland.”