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2017 ALCS Games 3-4-5 at Yankee Stadium: Impressions

Writing this in the car on the way back to Boston after three wins in a row at Yankee Stadium. Three raucous, amazing wins. I feel like we’re watching the “baby bombers” grow up before our eyes. At the end of September, I don’t think they were a better team than Cleveland or Houston. After Tuesday night’s come-from-behind win, I felt they had proved that they belong on the same tier with them. With each win, from the Wild Card, to the comebacks in the ALDS, to the past three days in a row, the team got better. They gained confidence. They bonded with each other.

And Judge learned to hit the breaking ball.

A lot has been written already about these three games that I don’t need to be the one to repeat. But I do have some impressions to record.

This whole postseason we’ve been playing with house money. Each time they go further we hear “no one expected this.” The team stays loose, and for the most part so have the fans.

Leaving the Stadium tonight was the most boisterous crowd I’ve ever heard, and that includes World Series games. The “Let’s Go Yankees” chant, “Seven Nation Army,” singing Sinatra–it’s gotten louder every game. This is a whole new generation of twenty-something Yankees fans who were in diapers in 1996 — Derek Jeter’s rookie year when the Yankees won an improbable World Series and launched a dynasty.

“That was 21 f***ing years ago, brah.”

The crowd at the stadium has ben so intense and so loud over the past three games that almost every postgame interview I’ve seen has mentioned it. Girardi: “The fans are back.” Headley: “It’s phenomenal.” Chad Green: “Incredible.” Judge: “Deafening.” Gardner: “This is as loud as it gets.” Sabathia: “As loud as the old stadium.”

Indeed, it feels like the old stadium. The roar of the crowd brings out the ghosts. How else do you explain great teams making the mistakes that they do? Or the series of weird, wacky things that have happened to Chase Headley while baserunning during this series? Headley was 0-for-the-postseason, and then the weirdness started. Like the hit he had the other night where he tripped and fell rounding first base, looked like he was going to be trapped in a rundown, and ended up safe at second. Today he should have been out at first and instead the Houston infield threw the ball away and he ended up on second again. Both of these were during extended rallies that brought the crowd into full voice.

In Game 4, the crowd had started to get quiet and nervous after Yuli Gurriel’s bat woke up and cleared the bases for three RBI. But Judge hit a home run–yes! our hero! the sleeping giant wakes!–and that lit the fuse on the mob. From there we didn’t sit down for 45 straight minutes. It was the first time I really felt that the battle was as much between the pitcher and CROWD as it was between the pitcher and hitter. Loud chants, their names chanted in a taunting way, etc… That’s something we haven’t heard in many years. I’ve never felt as strongly that what we did as a crowd actually influenced the game.

I remember Jeff Nelson saying in a postgame interview after some come-from-behind win in one of the dynasty postseason runs that he tried to go for strikeouts specifically in order to pump up the crowd “so we could pull this thing out.” (And it worked.) So I know there have been players who believe that the “tenth man” makes a difference. But it never felt so obvious to me while in the middle of it before.

The narrative today started out about whether the Yankees could ever break through on Dallas Keuchel, who has silenced them in more than one previous postseason meeting, including in game one of this series. It was briefly about Tanaka being a true ace and shutting the Astros down so that when the Yankees did get to Keuchel (yes!) it was meaningful. But in the end it is a three-day long narrative about the crowd making the Stadium a house of horrors for the visitors.

Now the series goes back to Houston, where the Astros are 4-0 this postseason, and it’s really loud, so the key to winning may be the Yankees have to learn to win when we’re NOT there. But if the team ends up dropping the next two, the Astros will have really earned that slot in the World Series. Likewise if the Yankees win just one more game and advance, they will have really beat the league’s best in the Indians and the Astros.

P.S. Now I’m in Lisbon airport on my way to Prague and I’m posting this from the airport wifi. I was forced to try to follow the game from the absolute worst and most expensive in-flight wifi I’ve ever used (this on TAP Portugal) and the only thing that would load and stay connected for more than 10 minutes was Twitter. Of course, following a baseball game live from my WhyILikeBB twitter feed is a delight, I’m just not used to it being the SOLE source of information!

Anyway, the narrative line of Houston being unbeatable at home and Justin Verlander being the best mid-season pickup in history (or at least in Astros history) came to be. Despite Judge hitting a homer in the 8th. The Yankees had two very serious threats snuffed in the 6th and 7th (holy cats George Springer with a season-saving catch, and what was up with all the balls that were called strikes on the Yankees? And was Sanchez giving the green light or not?) It was David Robertson’s turn to melt down: throwing only 12 pitches to four batters and retiring none, first time ever in his career.

Result is it all comes down to game seven tomorrow. Whichever team wins it will truly deserve it, having overcome an incredibly tough opponent. Astros fans are hopeful that their home mojo will give them the edge. Yankees fans are hopeful that basically the Astros don’t have another Verlander to throw at them tomorrow. My only prediction is that it’ll be epic. I’ll be watching from Prague via MLB.tv.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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