NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi sat in the interview room in Yankee Stadium Sunday with a familiar look of calm on his face. It was the type of look that made you wonder whether he even realized his team was in another sizable hole after dropping the first two games
NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi sat in the interview room in Yankee Stadium Sunday with a familiar look of calm on his face. It was the type of look that made you wonder whether he even realized his team was in another sizable hole after dropping the first two games of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World to the Astros in Houston.
Girardi knows it all too well. But just as he kept his team calm last week in the wake of two series-opening losses in Cleveland, the Yankees' manager isn't about to panic.
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Girardi has been here before. Actually, he's been in a much worse place.
In 1996, Girardi and the Yankees dropped the first two games of the World Series at home against the Braves, sending them to Atlanta for the next three games against the defending World Series champions.
Then-skipper Joe Torre's missive to his team was simple.
"The message then was, 'Go win one game, and let's see where we're at,'" said Girardi, the catcher on that 1996 team.
On Sunday, Girardi delivered those same words to a clubhouse filled with players looking for a reason to believe.
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"These kids seem to have bought into the same thing," said Jim Leyritz, the other catcher on that 1996 team. "When you have a manager that's been through something like this as a player, he's able to file that down to his players of how to go about a situation like this."
Unlike the 2017 Yankees, who are returning home for Game 3, those 1996 Yanks were headed on the road to face former National League Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, desperately trying to get back in the series.
"It's the old cliche -- one game at a time, one play at a time," former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez said. "That's how it happens."
The Yankees won Game 3, the first of four straight victories that resulted in their first World Series title since 1978 -- which, incidentally, was another World Series in which the Yankees bounced back from an 0-2 deficit. If this year's Yankees hope to do the same, they will need to get things turned in the right direction on Monday night.
"If they win Game 3, even though they'd still be down 2-1, it's a total momentum shift," Martinez said. "The confidence that comes back with a Game 3 win is immeasurable."
Of course, a Game 3 loss isn't automatic doom, either. The 2004 Yankees held a commanding 3-0 ALCS lead over the rival Red Sox only to see Boston storm back with four straight stunning victories.
Much like the 1996 team, the 2017 Yankees have a youthful core complemented by a number of veterans. The starting rotation features an aging veteran (Jimmy Key in '96, Carsten Sabathia today) and a young upstart (Andy Pettitte in '96, Luis Severino today), while the bullpen is made up of a deep group of relievers capable of shutting down the opposition no matter how many innings they're asked to pitch.
Neither team entered October with great expectations, but once they got there, they started to dream big.
"There wasn't much expected of them this year. Now they're playing great baseball, championship-type baseball," Martinez said. "No matter what happens this year, they're going to build off this season and become a great team in the next few seasons."
Just as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Severino are going through the postseason for the first time as a group, the 1996 run marked the beginning of a long, successful journey for Derek Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, who would go on to win it all four more times together.
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Veterans Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs and Martinez were among the everyday players who served as role models and mentors to the youngsters. Today, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Matthew Holliday fill those roles, while Sabathia -- who starts Game 3 -- continues to be the leader of the pitching staff.
"This team has been exactly the same as it's been all year, which is even-keel; up, down, whatever, we're always the same," Sabathia said. "It's been like that throughout this whole playoff run. These young kids we have are very mature. You don't have to really say much to them."
That was the case two decades ago, too.
Yes, the Yankees had suffered a gut-wrenching ALDS loss to the Mariners in 1995 after winning the first two games -- sound familiar? -- but Jeter wasn't part of that team. When the going got tough for the Yankees in the '96 postseason, Jeter and the rest of his peers remained unfazed -- much like Judge, Sanchez and Co. didn't flinch after dropping two games in Cleveland to start the ALDS.
"These are young kids; they have an advantage that they're not smart enough to realize what they're doing, so their natural ability just takes over," said Leyritz, whose Game 4 home run in the 1996 World Series helped the Yankees turn the tide in Atlanta.
"Joe is blessed with some very talented kids who can play. It's exciting to watch. They look like a team that believes they're never out of it until it's over.
"They beat Corey Kluber twice. They have to think they can beat anybody after doing that. That's both the beauty and the curse of youth."
Jeff Nelson, a reliever on those first four Torre-era title teams, sees many similarities between the 1996 and 2017 teams, most notably the chance for them to stay together for the foreseeable future.
"That group from '95 all the way through 2000, most of us stayed together," Nelson said. "There was a tweak here and there, but for the most part, everybody was there. That's what you can see with this 2017 team and their contracts. This is going to be fun to watch over the next three to five years. It reminds me of '96, because the fans are going to have a winner to watch in the Bronx for a while."
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.