Yankees work out during strange day, finally learn they'll play Orioles
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The operative word in the Yankees' clubhouse Friday was "strange.'' Also getting healthy workouts: "weird'' and "odd.''
That's what happens when you clinch the top seed in the American League playoffs, as the Yankees did Wednesday night, and still have no idea where or against whom your first playoff game will be until 11:57 p.m. Friday. That's when the Yankees learned that they would be heading for Baltimore after the Orioles' 5-1 wild-card win over the Rangers.
"It's definitely strange,'' said Andy Pettitte, who very well could be Joe Girardi's pick to start ALDS Game 2. "You'd love to be able to know exactly who you're going to be playing and preparing for.''
As Pettitte talked, a sheet of paper sat on his chair, and those of his teammates, with split itineraries. One had the team's schedule for a trip to Baltimore, the other for a trip to Dallas. Each itinerary called for the team to leave Saturday morning and work out later in the day.
"It's so much different not knowing who you're playing,'' Girardi said. "Usually when you're a division winner, you start at home. We're starting on the road. There's a lot of uncertainty.''
A product of MLB's new playoff system -- implemented for this year only -- has the top two seeds traveling to begin the postseason. The Yankees (vs. Baltimore) and A's (vs. Detroit) will open on the road in the best-of-five Division Series, then have three home games, if necessary.
"The road's a tough place to play in the playoffs,'' said Pettitte, baseball's all-time leader in postseason victories with 19. "Obviously, you want to go there and win both of them, but you still feel like you're going to be able to come home and hold that home-field advantage. No matter who we play, it's going to be tough games. Right now we're just excited.''
Curtis Granderson shrugged at having to start on the road.
"Top seed or bottom seed, you're going to have to play a game on the road,'' Granderson said. "Doesn't matter whether it's the first one or the third one.''
Alex Rodriguez also used "strange'' in describing showing up for Friday night's workout at the Stadium with no clue about where his team would be playing its playoff opener Sunday. But to A-Rod, what led up to it makes the uncertainty worth it.
"It is a little strange,'' he said. "But give Bud Selig and all of baseball a lot of credit. This is as exciting a week as I've ever been a part of in my career.''
That's because the division-winning Yankees, Tigers and Athletics (not to mention the wild-card Orioles and Rangers) fought to finish first to avoid a one-game wild-card game in which a bad bounce or bad call could end a team's season.
Adding a second wild card in each league and making a first-place finish very important created a sense of urgency in the final month that hadn't existed.
"That's a difficult game to be in because so many weird things can happen,'' Girardi said of the wild-card playoff. "In a five-game series, you have at least a little time to make up for something that you wouldn't normally see. I'm really thankful .''
There's also the benefit of already having experienced the equivalent of playoff baseball throughout September, Girardi and many of his players believe. The Yankees may have given away the 10-game lead they held July 18, but being pushed all the way to the 162nd game by the Orioles should have them "sharp,'' Granderson said.
"We're used to playing in playoff baseball right now,'' Girardi said. "We get a couple of days to relax. Some guys got some time off, which I think was important. But they've had that mentality of playoff baseball for the last month, and I think that's a good thing.''
Said A-Rod, "We know what we have to do to win. And I feel comfortable with whoever we play or wherever we go that if we do what we have to do, we'll be good.''