Hicks and Sabathia were both on the field for a workout at Minute Maid Park on Friday -- Hicks tested his right elbow by throwing in the outfield and hitting from both sides of the plate, testing his right elbow, while Sabathia said his sore left shoulder has improved since the final week of the regular season.
“Just getting that much rest, it feels good,” Sabathia said. “I felt good enough in that bullpen [session on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium] to hopefully go out and help the team. … It's what I'm here for, to try and win a championship. I'll just have to wait and see how it shakes out tomorrow.”
Infielder/outfielder Tyler Wade appears to be the corresponding roster move to make room for Hicks, who has not played in a big league game since Aug. 3 and at one point believed his season was over. Wade, who was active for the AL Division Series against the Twins but did not appear in the three-game sweep, was not listed in the batting practice groups for Friday’s workout and was not seen at the park.
“We have not finalized yet,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We’re still working through it, actually. Watching last night's game, everyone was at home so we did have a big roster meeting and talked through a lot of things yesterday for quite a while.”
Boone has said that he envisions certain scenarios where Sabathia could see action as a left-handed specialist or short reliever during the ALCS, potentially to neutralize a tough lefty bat like rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez.
Sabathia was in uniform for the ALDS sweep of the Twins, but he said that he found it “nerve-racking” to be on the bench with no chance of appearing in the games.
“It's hard,” Sabathia said. “Just sitting there in the dugout, I tried to cheer as loud as I can and be a part of it as loud as I can. It's always tough when you can't participate.”
From the earliest days of this season, there was a sense around the Yankees that the road to a 28th World Series championship would go through Houston.
That was the scenario they faced in 2017, when the Bronx Bombers arrived at Minute Maid Park needing to win one of two games to punch their ticket to face the Dodgers in the World Series. The sting of not being able to get it there is still present in the Yanks’ words and actions.
"Any time you lose and get knocked out of the postseason, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” Brett Gardner said. “We were close in 2017, but they beat us in seven. Hopefully, we can get them back this time around. They've got a really good team, and they have home-field advantage. It's important for us to get out to a good start and play our best ball starting tomorrow."
That year presented important opportunities for several of the Yankees’ “Baby Bombers,” a group that included Aaron Judge, who was on his way to winning the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year Award.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting the experience in front of the fans, in front of the big situations,” Judge said. “Playing in Yankee Stadium with 50,000 yelling and screaming, that's a lot of fun, that's where you want to play.
“But in the postseason, it's a whole different animal, no matter where you go. So, just getting a lot of games underneath my belt with 50,000 screaming, booing, yelling, all that, just getting used to that. Hey, it's still the same game. He's still 60 feet, six inches away. It's still 90 feet to first.”
Sabathia, who shed tears at his locker immediately after Game 7 in 2017, said that it took him a while to get over that postseason exit.
“I wish we would've won,” Sabathia said. “It would have been much easier if we went to the World Series. I don't think you have to lose to learn how to win. The experience of us going through those playoff runs -- '17, playing in the Wild Card [Game], Game 5 [of the ALDS], Game 7 [of the ALCS]. Last year, playing some big games. That experience is going to help us this year.”
Top secret strategy
Giancarlo Stanton chuckled after he asked how the Yankees would be preparing to face the Astros’ pair of Cy Young Award candidates in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, both of whom feature top-flight fastballs and breaking balls. The slugger responded: “I can’t give you my complete plan.”
But Stanton then offered a few interesting morsels that could feature a window into the Yanks’ thinking.
“They're going to give you a good pitch, but you may just get one,” Stanton said. “And then they go to their plan, the way they've gotten all those punchouts. So, you've got to stay in your zone. Try not to chase and really stay in your zone. They're going to pick, they're going to throw one to two balls outside the strike zone and see if you'll chase, and if you will, they'll keep doing it. We've got to have our plan and have a better one than they do."
He said it
“He looked like he aged out or something -- like, check his birth certificate. He's like the kid still pitching in Little League that was a little too good for the league.” -- Boone, on watching Cole pitch for Houston in ALDS Game 5
This date in Yankees history
Oct. 11, 2000: The Yankees stroked eight hits in the eighth inning of ALCS Game 2, setting a Major League postseason record and contributing to a 7-1 victory over the Mariners. New York trailed 1-0 going into the seven-run frame, which was capped by a two-run Derek Jeter homer.