Outfielder Johnny Damon was standing in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium on Wednesday when he was asked what was the difference between the 2009 Yankees and the Yankee teams of recent seasons. Damon smiled and responded.
"CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira."
Damon added to that list the breakthrough postseason work of Alex Rodriguez, who is not a new Yankee, but who is playing at a new level in the postseason. Rodriguez fits with the three new acquisitions financially, owning the biggest deal in baseball history -- $275 million over 10 years.
There can be no doubting the contributions of these people. They are paid princely sums, maybe even kingly sums, but they have not taken the money and coasted. They all had significant regular-season contributions and now, under the increased pressure and scrutiny of the postseason, they are still producing.
Sabathia is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in three postseason starts. He earned extra credit for working on three days' rest in the Yankees' Game 4 victory. Burnett, who will be the Game 5 starter on Thursday night at Angel Stadium, has no decisions in his two postseason starts, but has worked well, posting a 2.19 ERA. Teixeira has not hit the way he did in the regular season, but he has been saving games with his defense. Rodriguez is having a prodigious postseason at the plate.
All this talent, all these opportunities to win; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Players come to the Yankees because the money cannot be better elsewhere, but also because they will have a chance to win it all.
Burnett has had a substantial career, but never pitched in the postseason until now.
"Yeah, this is why I signed," he said Wednesday. "The opportunity to pitch in the postseason, you know? I have the opportunity, and the first year over here, I have an opportunity, so I'm taking full advantage of it. I cannot wait until [Thursday night]. I'm excited and looking forward to it, 100 percent."
The phenomenon of being surrounded by great talent does not only occur on the Yankees, but on this particular Yankees team, it is particularly pronounced.
"It's like every day, you're looking at somebody to your right or left and saying, 'Do you believe this guy?'" Burnett said. "I've played with some good players, but you know, it's like the guys on this squad, when the stage gets bigger, they perform better. It never ceases to amaze me what can happen."
The one player who is amazing everyone now is A-Rod, who has gone from being a postseason disappointment to putting together what could be one of the greatest postseason performances in the game's history.
"He's been as good as anyone I can remember," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
3-1 ALCS ADVANTAGE HUGE
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And again, it is the presence of other extremely talented players in the lineup that may make life easier for a superstar. Rodriguez has spoken of trusting his teammates and the trust appears to be genuine.
"He knows that, 1-9 [in the order], if he doesn't get it done, somebody else possibly will," Damon said.
The Yankees feed off each other, and superior talent receives superior motivation. Burnett was asked about the edge he was given by Sabathia's performances ahead of him in the Yankees' rotation.
"It seems like every time I'm asked that question, I say, 'Inspiring' -- and that's the truth," Burnett said. "It seems like every night he throws, I give him a hug and say, 'Man, you just inspired me to go tomorrow.' He sets the tone. We talked about it when we signed, about being able to throw back-to-back, and it's been an honor. It's been a pleasure. It makes you go harder."
And so you get a Yankees postseason roster that is in a good place. Players are confident, not only in themselves, but in their teammates. Players are genuinely impressed by the abilities that are demonstrated by their teammates. And if you play for New York, the recession hasn't crushed your personal fiscal situation, either.
The Yankees spent the big money. The guys receiving the money have responded by playing like they're worth the major expenditures. It hasn't always worked out this cleanly for New York in recent years, but the formula is working now.
"That's why guys opt to play for New York," Damon said. "You know they're going to go out and get the best players and be competitive every year."
One victory away from their first American League pennant and World Series appearance in six years, the Yankees are in good shape individually, collectively, competitively, fiscally. When it's all working for them, they don't seem to be particularly beatable.
Michael Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.