Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Yankees are ready for a 'wild' ride Tuesday night

NEW YORK — The old guard Yankees couldn't have said it any better.

"This is the regular season now. This is what it's all about," Aaron Judge said on the eve of his first postseason game, a winner-take-all AL wild card against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium.

And with a nod to the retired Yankee numbers painted above leftfield bleachers, Judge said, "This is where they made a name for themselves, in the postseason."

Judge's MLB rookie record of 52 home runs is already pressed into the books, and the slugging right fielder has eagerly turned a page to tonight's elimination game.

"I'm just excited for this opportunity," Judge said. "What the team's done so far this year to get to this point, from spring training to now, is incredible. It's going to be a fun a postseason."

But for the Twins or Yanks, this October will either be one fleeting moment and goodbye, or it'll be extended to a best-of-five Division Series against the AL Central champion Indians, with a chance to win it all.

That's how it went for Brett Gardner in 2009, his first full season in the majors.

"I remember thinking at the time … I thought we'd come back to the World Series every year," said Gardner, one of a handful of current Yankees on their last world championship team. "And we haven't been back."

In his first full MLB season, Judge is already conditioned in the Yankees' October-or-bust reality.

And the playoff-like atmosphere in September — with the Yankees playing well, challenging the Red Sox for the AL East up until the season's penultimate day — might serve the youngest Yankees well tonight.

"I think we've played some of our best baseball in the month of September," said manager Joe Girardi. "To me, I feel good about going in … and one of us is not going to move on. But I really like the way we've been playing."

The Yankees went 20-8 in September, their highest winning percentage (.714) of any calendar month this year.

"We played some games this year that were, it seemed to me, like a playoff atmosphere," Gardner said. Especially in games against playoff-bound teams like Boston and Houston, Gardner would chat with Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury or Aaron Hicks in the outfield during breaks in the action and "talk about the atmosphere and how great and how special it is.

"That's the one thing (about) playing in New York. We're ready for that kind of atmosphere," Gardner said. "These young guys have been around it, and they kind of know what to expect. I think they're all just going to enjoy the moment and it will be fun."

Slugging catcher Gary Sanchez was on the Yankees' 2015 AL wild card roster, but did not play when Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel blanked the Yanks, 3-0, at the Stadium — nthe last postseason appearance for Girardi's club.

"I feel good, I feel healthy," Sanchez said through an interpreter. He's likely to bat No. 3, behind Judge tonight, part of a battery — along with starter Luis Severino — making its first postseason appearance.

Wearing an "OCTOBER READY" workout T-shirt, Sanchez said that the young Yankees will "focus on being ready and have fun," trying their best to treat it as Game 163 of the season.

"It's letting the guys know it's the same game, we're prepared," Ellsbury said of his advice to the kids. "It's the advantage of playing in this environment. … I know the guys will be ready."

And given the intensity of the Yanks' games down the stretch, Gardner feels good about where the club is right now.

"I know we didn't win the division (but) we pushed Boston right up to the end," Gardner said. "That says a lot about this team. We never quit … we kept pushing and came up a little short. We played a lot of meaningful games.

"I feel good about our chances."

And the youngsters seem to be in a good place, too.

"Once Sevy throws that first pitch … everything will be the same," Judge said. "Just excited for this moment."

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