- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees sure enjoy reminding people how accomplished they are. Pay attention from the start of batting practice in the Bronx, and you might take notice of a Babe Ruth "Yankeeography'' on the video screen, Yogi Berra or Reggie Jackson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, Derek Jeter stepping in the box to the soothing tones of Bob Sheppard, or an inspirational replay of Chris Chambliss' walk-off home run against Kansas City in the 1976 playoffs. The whole routine can be so overwhelming at times.
Sometimes that obsession with history -- and the expectations that go with it -- can backfire on the home team. After the Yankees lost Game 4 of the American League Championship Series to Texas on Tuesday to come within a game of elimination, they were immediately written off as a disaster. The Yankees were described as too old and lacking in energy. Manager Joe Girardi was Mr. Wrong, and it was time to start thinking about how much money general manager Brian Cashman would have to spend this winter to get Cliff Lee in the fold.
But history, tradition and the "been there, done that'' factor also give the Yankees something to cling to when times are hard. Once in a while, they just need a little reminder.
The Yankees received it in the early morning hours Wednesday as they cleared out for home after a horrendous 10-3 defeat. Girardi gathered his players and told them to focus on just one game, in the expectation that it would lead to another and another after that. It wasn't so much a pep talk as a poke in the ribs to put things in perspective.
"The meeting lasted literally about 30 seconds,'' said Lance Berkman. "It was essentially, 'We have a good ballclub. Don't worry about being down 3-1. Just go play your game and let's see if we can make this thing happen.'
"It's good when you can get everybody together and say, 'Here's where our focus needs to be the next couple of days.' Joe knew he didn't have to have a big, long, rah-rah meeting. He knows his personnel. We're veteran guys. It was just a little reminder. 'Hey, we're still in this thing. Let's keep fighting.'"
Girardi has never been described as a master motivator, but this time his premise resonated. The Yankees might lose this series, but it wasn't going to happen here, in the shadow of the Conan O'Brien blimp.
The Yankees thumped Texas 7-2 on Wednesday to cut the Rangers' ALCS lead to three games to two. That sets up a Game 6 matchup between Colby Lewis and Phil Hughes on Friday, which could lead to a deciding seventh-game reunion between Andy Pettitte and the masterful Lee on Saturday.
The games in this series are all excruciatingly slow-paced, and the caliber of play hasn't always been crisp, but the drama sure is building. If the Rangers lose Friday, they're sure to hear more about the franchise's "tortured'' history and the opportunity they missed with their inability to close out the Yankees when they had a chance. When one team has 27 world championships and the other has been in existence 50 years and doesn't have a single title to its name, did you think it was going to be easy?
"We did our job,'' said Texas outfielder Jeff Francoeur. "If you told us we could come up here and take two out of three and have a chance to go home and win one more in front of our home fans, I think we'd take that any day of the week.''
The momentum swings have been pronounced and they've come hard. The Rangers looked strong until taking a gut punch when their bullpen imploded late in Game 1. Then they took three straight with superior pitching, an aggressive running game and lots and lots of Josh Hamilton. Now the pendulum has swung back toward the Yankees, after CC Sabathia, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera combined on a nifty 13-hitter and the Texas lineup went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees got just what they wanted Wednesday when C.J. Wilson's evil twin took the mound for Texas. Wilson won 15 games and enjoyed a breakthrough season as a starter, but he also ranked second in the majors to San Francisco's Jonathan Sanchez with 93 walks and was tied for eighth among big league starters with 16.9 pitches per inning. When Wilson showed up with his wandering strike zone, the New York hitters were content to wait him out and either walk or jump on get-me-over fastballs.
Girardi is having to improvise now that Mark Teixeira is out for the rest of the postseason with a hamstring injury. Berkman, who played almost exclusively at DH upon arrival from Houston in a July deadline trade, dusted off his first baseman's glove and took over for Teixeira. Marcus Thames slid into Cano's No. 5 spot. And Cano, who logged 518 of his 626 regular-season at-bats in the fifth spot in the order, hit third for the first time all season. He's batting .421 against Texas, and staging a neat little back-and-forth with Hamilton in a showdown of regular-season MVP candidates.
"You hear the constant MVP chants both in Texas and in New York,'' Granderson said. "Both teams are happy to have the guy that they have.''
I'm not a guy who predicts things. That's up to [the media]. We're just coming to the ballpark and giving everything we've got. And if you give everything you've got, it makes it easier to sleep at night.
”-- Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher
As the series shifts to Arlington, the Rangers will have to tighten up on the defensive and baserunning mistakes that hurt them Wednesday. If they're supposed to be uptight, as the youthful interlopers in this series, it's certainly not apparent to anyone who's around them day after day.
"From the outside all you hear is, 'You lose, you're doomed. You win, you're on top of the world and everything is glorious,'" said Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler. "In here, we're just trying to play hard and win games every single night. There are obviously momentum swings during a baseball game. That's the nature of the game. But we don't feel that after each game. Athletes are programmed to erase things pretty quickly.''
As for the New York players, they continue to take their cue from the "core four'' of Jeter, Jorge Posada, Rivera and Pettitte, who are able to get their point across with a sense of calm attained through countless moments on the big stage.
"If you don't pay attention to those guys, I think you're an idiot,'' Swisher said.
The Rangers have a nice little security blanket with Lee and his 7-0 career postseason record and 1.26 ERA waiting in reserve Saturday. But it's clearly in Texas' best interests to win without using Lee so that he would be available for Game 1 of the World Series. And given the Yankees' history, and aura, do the Rangers really want New York to keep hanging around?
"I'm not a guy who predicts things,'' Swisher said. "That's up to [the media]. We're just coming to the ballpark and giving everything we've got. And if you give everything you've got, it makes it easier to sleep at night.''
After five games and too many emotional swings to count in this series, the Yankees know they'll be spending at least the next couple of nights sleeping in a hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It sure beats the alternative.
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