This one on Wednesday night isn’t about the way things used to be for the Yankees, the world champs of the way things used to be. This one in Cleveland, against the best team in the league, against the team that had them in an 0-2 hole in a 5-game series the way the Red Sox once had the Yankees in an 0-3 hole in a 7-gamer you might remember, isn’t about the way things might be at the new Stadium next season, or the one after that. This one is about the way things are for the Yankees right now. In Cleveland — for now — they play for the championship of that.
So much of who the Yankees are and what they sell is old. This one, Game 5 against the Indians, with an American League Championship Series on the line, feels incredibly new, the way these Yankees are new. The only ones in the game who will know anything about the last time the Yankees won a World Series are CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and David Robertson.
Listen, we will always love the past at Yankee Stadium. Even Terry Francona was talking about the new Stadium versus the old one the other night before Game 3.
“I was a big fan of the old one,” Francona said. “It was just so much personality. You swallow a little asbestos, but that’s not the end of the world, is it? You stand out there for the anthem, and by the time the anthem was over, people were just berating you.”
But you know where the personality is now? With this Yankee team. Suddenly it isn’t Torre’s Yankees who feel like the good old days. It is that ’09 team as well. You heard it and felt it at the Stadium during that wild-card game with the Twins, when Didi Gregorius, the shortstop who replaced Jeter, brought them right back with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first. You heard it and felt it on Sunday night, all the way up from 161st St., with next season in the place in a game that ended up 1-0 for the Yankees. One more time you could hear and feel how much Yankee fans want to love this team.
For an awful lot of young guys, like so many of the young guys on the field, this isn’t somebody else’s Yankee team. It is theirs.
Now they have a chance to knock off an Indians team that they might have knocked off already if a lot of things had gone differently in Game 2 after it was 8-3 for the Yankees, because of a lot of challenging — and unchallenging — things that happened from the bottom of the sixth on. Now here they are. Sabathia goes into a ballpark where he once pitched brilliantly and is asked to win the kind of deciding game against the Indians that he couldn’t win for them all the way back in 2007, when the Indians were ahead 3-1 in an ALCS against the Red Sox. Corey Kluber, the Indians ace now the way Sabathia was then, tries to win that kind of game for the home team, even after the way the Yankees smacked him around but good in Game 2.
The Yankees try to come all the way back against Francona the way he came all the way back against them in
’04, in the most famous postseason series ever played, one that changed his history and Red Sox history and Yankee history over four nights in October. And Francona tries not to watch one of his teams lose the last three games of its postseason the way it did in the last baseball October against the Cubs in the World Series.
Who knows what happens if Aaron Judge doesn’t bring back Frankie Lindor’s ball in Game 3, a ball that would have made it 2-0 for the Indians in the game and effectively ended the Yankees’ season? Who knows if there even is a Game 5 if Girardi had challenged the home plate umpire’s call that Lonnie Chisenhall had been hit by a pitch before Lindor hit a grand slam high up the foul pole in right? None of that matters today. What matters is that the Yankees have a chance in Game 5 on Wednesday night to play themselves into baseball’s Final Four.
Yankees vs. Indians 2017 American League Division Series
It also no longer matters that they may be ahead of schedule. The only schedule that matters is the one that gets them this game in Cleveland.
“This isn’t just about the future,” Girardi said to me one day in spring training, before a game at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach. And the same day Brian Cashman, the general manager, who changed everything for his team this season with the deal he made with the White Sox for Robertson and Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle at the trade deadline, said this:
“We’re not conceding anything.”
I’ve written and believed ever since the trade deadline that Cashman didn’t make his deals just to be a wild card. He made them because he believed his team had a chance to do a lot more than that. Now he has watched the way everybody has watched as the team has gotten back up after one of the worst postseason losses the Yankees have had in years. Conceding nothing.
Winner of Game 5 gets the Astros. Loser goes home. Nobody cares about the other years right now. Just this year. This game on Wednesday night. All the future the Yankees could have asked for back in the spring. All the future they want. An old line works for the new New York Yankees: Future is now.