One more win means club would host Wild Card Game vs. one of four possible foes
By Grace Raynor
NEW YORK -- There were times this season when the Yankees felt like underdogs. Expectations for their storied franchise sometimes made them feel as if people saw them as "underachievers," as closer Andrew Miller put it, when things didn't always go as planned.
But behind the scenes, the Yanks always kept the faith, refusing to let their confidence wither. And on Thursday, with a 4-1 win against the Red Sox, that was on full display as the Yankees clinched their 52nd playoff appearance and their fifth American League Wild Card berth. Having also recorded the franchise's 10,000th regular-season victory, next on their to-do list is to secure home-field advantage for Tuesday's Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser -- something they can do with one win against the Orioles or one Astros loss.
"I always believed. It's something about wearing this uniform that gives me a certain amount of confidence," Alex Rodriguez said amid a wild champagne celebration. "I know this year was different. This is probably the first year since I've been here in '04 that we were underdogs. The year we won 100 games, we were just playing to our expectations, but this year, the last month, the team has come together.
"We've played for each other and not for personal statistics. That's been part of our DNA all year."
Now, for the first time since 2012, the Yanks will get to showcase that mantra in the postseason with their next stop being a one-game playoff likely against either the Astros, Twins or Angels. It is possible the Yankees could see the Rangers as well, as the Rangers haven't clinched the AL West yet. But the Rangers have a three-game lead over the Astros and can clinch the division with one more win or an Astros loss. The Astros hold the second Wild Card spot, three games behind the Yankees. The Twins and Angels are both one game behind Houston.
Against the Astros, the Yankees are 3-4 and 1-2 at Yankee Stadium. Dallas Keuchel, the Astros' lefty ace has picked up both wins in his two starts against a Yankees team that has struggled with lefties as of late. Against the Angels, the Yanks are 4-2, which includes a three-game sweep of the Halos in the beginning of June.
Garrett Richards pitched Wednesday against the A's, which could line him up to see the Yanks if it is indeed the Angels they face. Against the Yanks, he's 0-3 in four career starts and five appearances with a 6.65 ERA. The Yanks have had little issue with the Twins this year, taking five of six games.
Masahiro Tanaka is likely the frontrunner to start for the Yanks in the Wild Card Game, but the Yanks' starters for Saturday and Sunday in Baltimore -- where their magic number is 1 -- have not been determined.
"We've got to talk about how we're going to do this," manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously I think it's still important that we have home-field advantage for us, but not at the expense of being not prepared for Tuesday the best you can be. Now it becomes tricky."
Because Girardi doesn't know who the Yankees will be facing, determining his 25-man roster for the game Tuesday is something he said was reticent to do Thursday. He jokingly said, "there's going to be about 39 guys who get the day off [Friday]."
"We'll try to formulate the roster to prepare ourselves as well as we can," he said. "It could very well be the way we played [Wednesday] night; very similar to that game where you may go to your bullpen a little bit earlier and you do the things you need to do because you have to move on."
The stakes are high, and Girardi knows it.
"You have to win that game; there is no tomorrow Tuesday," he said. "You have to win."
Grace Raynor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.