I spent the entire regular season worrying about the Yankees not getting home-field advantage in the postseason for a possible ALCS against the Astros. After what happened in the 2017 ALCS, I didn’t want the Yankees to be eliminated because they couldn’t score or win in Houston again or because they couldn’t beat Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole on the road. The Rays made sure the Yankees wouldn’t have to see Verlander and Cole on the road in the first two games of the series, and now, after Game 1, the Yankees have home-field advantage. They have it because of Masahiro Tanaka and Gleyber Torres.
Throughout the season, I wanted Masahiro Tanaka to be the Yankees’ Game 1 starter in the postseason. That was until Luis Severino returned. Then I wanted Severino to be the Game 1 starter. But when Aaron Boone announced (and tried to say it was his idea) Masahiro Tanaka as the Game 1 starter for the ALCS, I was delighted. I know James Paxton has dominated the Astros in his career (aside from April of this season), but I have always trusted Tanaka much more than Paxton, and the ALDS only helped to further grow that trust.
After Game 2 of the ALDS, I wrote:
There was a lot of concern and a lack of trust for Tanaka entering the postseason because of another inconsistent regular season (though his numbers were marred by two awful starts) and because his 1.80 career postseason ERA was being attributed by many as luck. His postseason career FIP was in line with his regular-season career FIP, and therefore, his much lower ERA was being called a result of luck. It couldn’t be because Tanaka is a much different pitcher in the biggest games. It couldn’t be because Tanaka thrives on the postseason stage, never having allowed more than two earned runs in a postseason start. It had to be because of luck.
I’m not sure how many impressive postseason starts it will take Tanaka for Yankees fans to unanimously accept he’s a different pitcher in October, or maybe he will just continue to be the luckiest postseason pitcher of all time.
Can we all unanimously accept Tanaka is different in October? His postseason success can’t be attributed to luck or a small sample size. Not when he’s the first postseason pitcher in history to allow two earned runs or less in each of his first seven postseason starts. Not when he’s shut down the record-setting 2017 Indians, eventual champion 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox, the top home run-hitting team in history 2019 Twins and now these 2019 Astros, who have played like the 1998 Yankees at MinuteMaid Park. Tanaka rises to the occasion in the postseason, and you only have to compare his regular-season stats to his postseason stats to measure what many believe can’t be measured: Tanaka is clutch.
Tanaka one-hit the Astros. One-hit! A team which bats Carlos Correa seventh, is the best home team in baseball and has otherworldly offensive numbers in Houston was completely shut down. The Astros barely threatened in two of Tanaka’s six innings, were behind in counts all night and produced off-balance swings in nearly every at-bat. It was a masterful performance by a pitcher who continues to turn in masterful performances in the postseason. Tanaka provided the Yankees with length and kept the Astros off the board and let Gleyber Torres carry the offense.
Nearly every TV graphic this season to show how good Torres has been has included Mickey Mantle. Torres is a superstar, and at age 22, he’s either the Yankees’ best player or he’s very close to becoming heir best player. After winning Games 1 and 3 of the ALDS and earning my ALDS MVP honors, Torres was somehow even better in Game 1 of the ALCS. Torres was promoted to the 3-hole for the ALCS and responded by giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the fourth, adding on to that lead with a solo home run in the sixth, driving in two runs with a single in the seventh and providing an insurance run with an RBI groundout in the ninth. It was a 3-for-5 night with a double, home run and five RBIs, as he’s now driven in nine runs in four games this postseason. There were more graphics comparing him to Mickey Mantle on Saturday, and those comparisons aren’t going to go away if he keeps hitting like this.
I wasn’t as nervous for Game 1 of the ALCS as I was during the ALCS two years ago or as nervous as I thought I would be or maybe should have been. Tanaka and Torres helped calm those nerves and now I’m not nervous at all. In order to win the pennant, the Yankees had to prove they could win in Houston, and they did. Now they have home-field advantage, are going back to New York no worse than tied in the series, and if they can solve and beat Verlander on Sunday night, they can put these Astros in a position they’ve never been with the series moving to New York.
Four down, seven to go.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!