By Tony Massarotti
“I think they feed off of it a lot. And I think it definitely helps them. I’ve heard our players talk about it. It’s electric. It’s something that they haven’t seen. And you get it during the season sometimes, certain teams that we face. But this is up a whole other notch. It’s as good an atmosphere as I remember at this new ballpark.”
–Yankees manager Joe Girardi following last night’s Game 5 of the American League Championship Series
The next chance you get, as a member of the New York Yankees is crossing the plate, press pause. Take a look at the background. Then resume watching and turn up the volume a little. Listen to the noise.
It’s not just the Yankees who have returned this October.
It’s Yankee Stadium, too.
And so here we are now, deep into October, and a funny, scintillating thing has happened: Yankee Stadium is a cauldron again, mostly for the visitors. With their Game 5 win over the previously unsolvable Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros, the Yankees have taken a 3-2 lead in the ALCS. New York is within one victory of a trip to the World Series. And the most telling statistic of this baseball postseason is a sign that the heartbeat of the Bronx is as loud as ever, pumping life into a franchise that had seemingly slipped into a coma.
New York is now 6-0 at Yankee Stadium this postseason, having outscored opponents 35-12. The Yankees have won from the start, come from behind, nipped and tucked. But they have always won. And as much as they dominated Game 5, the win that stuck out came in Game 4, when the Yankees faced a 4-0 deficit in the seventh inning with their season seemingly on the line.
They — and the stadium — rallied, scoring six unanswered runs to reaffirm an old, familiar truth.
The final six outs at Yankee Stadium are the toughest in baseball, especially when the Yankees are good, especially in October.
“There weren’t a lot [of people] rooting for us here,” acknowledged Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “I think getting home will be good for us. We’ll have an off day tomorrow, and then get to play in front of our home crowd. Every home team has won this series, if that trend continues, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Of course, the Cleveland Indians thought the same thing after losing Games 3 and 4 of the AL Division Series in New York. Then they lost Game 5 in Cleveland. And as much as that may be about the Yankees and Astros and Indians — and to a large degree it is — it is also about the ballpark and the energy at Yankee Stadium, which is both suffocating (to opponents) and absolutely invigorating (to the Yankees).
Let’s make something clear here: the Yankees have won before at their new ballpark, in 2009, when the new stadium first opened. But they haven’t won with this club, with these players, with the next generation of Yankees, who give the Yankees what no other recent Yankees team has been able to provide: belief. The Yankees of 2009 were the old Yankees of Jeter and Rivera and even Rodriguez. The new stadium was never their home. Not really. Not without the history so many of their ancestors had forged, that they had extended.
But this? This is not necessarily The House That Aaron Judge Built, but it the house that Judge now owns. And he will own it for years to come. He will own with Sanchez and Gregorius, with Severino and Castro. And they will all own the house the way they own it now, this October, which cannot help but make you wonder whether the Yankees of old now accept this new Yankee Stadium as their home, too.
Remember 2003? Remember Aaron Boone?
It’s unbelievable,” Boone said years ago after the Yankees’ epic comeback in Game 7 of the ALCS at the old stadium. “Like Derek [Jeter] told me, the ghosts will show up eventually, and they did.”
The ghosts are back. There are new ghosts, too.
The ghosts of a Yankees future.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.