Minutes after completing a wildly inconsistent 60-game sprint toward the playoffs, manager Aaron Boone found his usual seat in the "Zoom Room" on the basement level of Yankee Stadium, holding up a ballpoint prop to declare: “We hold the bat, we hold the ball, we hold the pen. We can write the story.”
Somewhere in the sky on approach to Cleveland, the Yankees shifted into their postseason mindset and scribbled fresh chapters. The Bombers’ bats came alive to spank likely American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber in a 12-3 Game 1 rout on Tuesday, then New York outlasted the Indians by a 10-9 tally in an epic Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I think all of the guys in that room had a good feeling about just being able to flip the switch,” Brett Gardner said. “Our season started.”
The Yankees exchanged fist bumps and engaged in a lively chat after the final out, a far cry from the wet and wild celebration they enjoyed three years ago in the Progressive Field’s visiting clubhouse. But this is a different team at a different time, one that came into 2020 with a loftier mission than winning a postseason series that didn’t even exist when pitchers and catchers reported.
“We know what the ultimate goal is,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “Our mindset is, we haven’t done anything yet.”
Here are five things we learned from the Yankees’ sweep of the Indians:
1. The Yankees can win on the road
The Yankee Stadium infield has been replaced with sod in preparation for potential football and soccer games, and there was a fair amount of hand-wringing concerning the home team’s subpar performance away from those digs. New York lost 18 of 29 games on the road entering a postseason that could have them dressing out of suitcases until Halloween.
“It’s been a weird year,” Luke Voit said. “You’ve just got to do what you can with it. We’re ready to play. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Cleveland, San Diego or Texas.”
2. The Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka battery is here to stay
Yogi Berra didn’t coin the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but it feels like something he should have said. That applies to the pairing of Cole and Higashioka, onetime teenaged teammates on a Southern California scout team who are enjoying success on the game’s biggest stage.
Since linking with Higashioka on Sept. 5, Cole has pitched to a 1.32 ERA in 34 innings, including his stellar 13-strikeout, no-walk gem in Game 1 at Cleveland.
“The way Kyle and Gerrit took off here, I think it’s important to keep that tandem together,” Boone said. “On top of that, Higgy has played really well and earned more opportunities, not just with Gerrit.”
3. Aaron Judge is still a power threat
This might rank alongside “water is wet” in terms of obvious statements, but there was concern about Judge’s lack of pop following his second stint on the injured list. Judge wrapped the regular season 7-for-36 (.194) with only one extra-base hit and 13 strikeouts, but he slugged Bieber’s fourth pitch over the right-field wall in Game 1. That will remind the Rays that Judge is a force they need to plan around.
“That’s why I got out of bed this morning -- to get that pitch,” Judge said. “It’s about trying to hit those mistakes. Those mistakes, you’ve got to do damage on.”
4. The bullpen pecking order has changed
Boone’s relief choices in Game 2 were interesting, mostly because Adam Ottavino was bypassed after Chad Green and Zack Britton. Boone opted for Jonathan Loaisiga, who surrendered a game-tying double to Jordan Luplow before Aroldis Chapman notched the final six outs. Ottavino pitched to a 5.89 ERA in 18 1/3 innings, though that drops to 2.95 if you delete a disastrous Sept. 7 outing.
Asked if he had lost confidence in Ottavino, Boone said: “Absolutely not. There’s going to be obvious non-pitch-hitting situations and obvious lanes, and situations where … he is probably facing a left-handed hitters or two. He’s capable of getting those guys out, as well.”
5. New beginnings for Gardner, Stanton and Gleyber Torres
Prior to Game 1, the longest-tenured Yankee huddled with Torres, venting about their disappointing stat lines. The postseason can change everything, Gardner told Torres, and the duo became the first Nos. 7 and 8 hitters to collect three or more RBIs in a postseason game. Stanton didn’t participate in that pep talk, but he homered in both games, connecting for the type of missiles that few others can produce.
“He gave me really good advice,” Torres said of Gardner. “Basically, he told me that during the season we didn’t do a really good job. I felt the same way. But he also told me baseball gives you another opportunity, and we start new in the postseason. That is the time we need to do the job.”