The Yankees of the mid-to-late '90s have acquired their own mythology. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and the rest of the dynastic Yankees seem, through the lens of the present, to have emerged fully formed as a colossus. Brian Cashman has a different perspective, because he witnessed them come together.
"That team," New York's general manager said, "was young, too, at one point."
The common refrain has it that the current Yankees have arrived ahead of schedule. Maybe that's true in part. For Cashman and for the rest of the Yankees, both the "Baby Bombers" and ancient pinstripers such as CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, they have arrived, period. They're here, among the final four teams standing in a season flush with uncommonly great teams, with a sole expectation: While they have a chance, win the World Series.
" 'Arriving early' implies some guarantee of arriving in the future," Cashman said. "I've been around the block long enough to know, listen, you just seize the moment."
The Yankees will not face the Astros in the AL Championship Series, which starts tonight, as wide-eyed overachievers. They leave their stunning comeback victory in Game 5 of the ALDS over the Indians as a threat to hoist the trophy later this month. They have a powerful lineup, a blend of powerful youth and gutty experience and, most important, a bullpen that will not quit.
The bullpen, in this era of playoff baseball, makes the Yankees perhaps the most dangerous team remaining. In six postseason games, their bullpen has performed miracles. It recorded 26 outs and allowed one run after starter Luis Severino fell behind 3-0 before he could record a second out in the wild-card game against the Twins. It closed out Wednesday's Game 5 for 4⅔ innings.
Yankees relievers have allowed 10 earned runs in 29⅓ while striking out 42 this postseason. Remove the ill-fated performance of Chad Green in Game 2 of the ALDS, when a phantom hit-by-pitch call victimized him, and the bullpen has a 2.17 ERA with 13.03 strikeouts per nine innings.
"They get a lead, man, they're capable of going as far as they want," Indians outfielder Jay Bruce said. "You kind of feel whoever gets to the bullpen with a lead first is in pretty good shape."
"It's incredible," Sabathia said. "It's the best I've ever seen. We've got four or five closers down there."
Astros saw birth of 'Baby Bombers'
Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann spent most of the previous three seasons as teammates with the Yankees, so they got to see the birth of the Bronx Baby Bombers they will face in the ALCS.
"It is a little crazy," said McCann, the 33-year-old catcher who was traded by New York to Houston last winter. "But when I was behind the scenes and got to see these young guys play, perform and the way (Aaron) Judge came out this year, it's no surprise they're in the position they're in."
Beltran and McCann are now two of the old guys for another team with plenty of talented youth — the Astros. Both veterans hope for another shot to finally win a World Series ring.
Beltran, the 40-year-old DH in his 20th season, admits he was a bit surprised at how quickly the youngsters developed. "It's good to watch, it's very refreshing to watch," said Beltran, who was sent from New York to Texas at the trade deadline last summer, then returned to Houston in free agency.
Many have credited Beltran with having a big impact on Didi Gregorius, the shortstop who succeeded Jeter and homered twice in the ALDS clincher at Cleveland.
"I was the guy who provided that little bit of information for (Gregorius on adjustments)," Beltran said. "I don't take credit for that. He's the one who did it."
Number of the day
4 Wins by Yankees this postseason, all coming in elimination games (Twins in wild card, Indians in Games 3-4-5 of ALDS).