Yankees know it's now or never: 'So let's go'

October 8th, 2020

The Yankees trudged to their clubhouse in the wake of Wednesday’s Game 3 of the American League Division Series, carrying their bats, gloves and more than a few what-ifs through the corridors of Petco Park. The math is simple now: win two games or go home.

Perhaps their predicament would be different if Masahiro Tanaka had found an answer for hot-hitting rookie Randy Arozarena, or if Luke Voit -- up 3-0 in the count with the bases loaded in the third and the score tied at 1 -- had not taken a pair of questionable strikes before grounding out sharply to short to end the threat. Or, if they hadn’t tried a surprise opener one night prior -- all topics to chew on following the Yanks’ 8-4 loss to the Rays.

“We know what we need to do,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but there’s no other option. We know what’s in front of us, and that’s all you can do. What’s happened has happened. We know we need to get some wins.”

Despite Stanton’s sixth playoff homer, a late two-run blast that made the designated hitter the first big leaguer to homer in each of his team’s first five games of a postseason, the Yanks are pinned against the wall. How they respond will author the story of their 2020 season.

“That’s the nature of the postseason -- you’re going to have some highs and lows along the way,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Every loss hurts and stings, but we have a great opportunity in front of us, still. We’re in control of things. We’ve got to go out, try to get a ‘W’ tomorrow and force this thing to a Game 5.”

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams with a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the series 62 of 87 times (71 percent). However, last season, two of the three teams that fell behind 2-1 in the Division Series -- the Nationals (vs. Dodgers) and Cardinals (vs. Braves) -- came back to win.

After Tanaka’s start was nudged back a day when Boone green-lighted an unsuccessful Game 2 call for the tandem of Deivi García and J.A. Happ, the right-hander was tagged for five runs on eight hits over four-plus innings, surrendering a three-run homer to Kevin Kiermaier before being chased by Arozarena’s third blast of the series.

Unless his teammates rally, that spinning slider to the “Cuban Rocket” could mark Tanaka’s final pitch of an otherwise stellar seven-year run in pinstripes -- a possibility Tanaka has voiced several times over the past few weeks, but one that he was not prepared to discuss on Wednesday.

“There's only frustration there,” Tanaka said through a translator. “I thought that I was well-prepared going into this game, so that makes it even more frustrating.”

The Yankees managed two runs (one earned) over five innings against Charlie Morton, banging on the door in the third inning, interrupting the right-hander’s flow as he struggled to throw strikes from the stretch.

Aaron Judge lifted a sacrifice fly and, after Aaron Hicks walked to load the bases, Voit reached down to unbuckle his shin guard following a 3-0 sinker that was called a strike by home-plate umpire Mark Carlson. The next pitch was also close and ruled a strike, preceding Voit’s inning-ending groundout.

“That’s a big opportunity there,” Boone said. “Morton, the first two innings, was cruising and really dictating some counts. We were able to get to him and create some traffic and get ahead in the count there. I thought one of those might have been off [the plate], but he made some pitches when he had to.”

One night after C.B. Bucknor’s questionable zone was a factor in the Yanks’ 18 strikeouts -- a Major League record in a nine-inning postseason game -- they also took issue in the fourth inning when Willy Adames walked on a close pitch that could have been a strikeout, throwout double play.

“I thought the pitch was borderline,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “It definitely was a turning point in the game. That really could have swung the momentum our way, big time. … Earlier in the at-bat, he did call a pitch around that height for a strike. So it definitely could have gone our way.”

Instead, Kiermaier mashed Tanaka’s next pitch over the right-field wall. Michael Perez tagged Chad Green for a two-run homer in the sixth that seemed to put the night out of reach; just another coulda-woulda-shoulda to occupy the Yankees’ thoughts during their 40-minute commute north on Interstate 5.

“We’ve still got a lot of baseball to play,” Judge said. “Let’s do our homework, refocus, recalibrate. We need to get ready for the next two days.”

The American League East rivals are under the same roof at a Carlsbad, Calif., resort, and if the Yankees want to extend their Southern California stay, they’ll need to swiftly produce answers for a Rays team that has leaned upon run prevention to best them in 10 of 13 meetings this year, including the ALDS.

“We’ve got to come out swinging,” Stanton said. “It’s now or never, so let’s go.”