So often, games, series and even seasons are decided by the little things: a couple of inches of plate, a missed tag, a slightly late swing. So it wouldn’t be wrong to say that on Friday night, the Yankees’ season lived on because of a game of catch a little less than two weeks ago.
It was right after Aaron Hicks had gotten a second opinion on the elbow injury that had kept him out of games since early August, and the news wasn’t good. The doctors determined it was time for Tommy John surgery, ending his season and any faint hope of a postseason return.
“It was to a point where I got my second opinion and it was the worst thing to hear,” Hicks said Friday night after hitting a tiebreaking three-run homer in the first inning as the Yankees staved off elimination with a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS at the Stadium. “Good thing I was messing around in the backyard with my buddy and kind of started throwing, because if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have this opportunity to play in the postseason and grind and try to win with my team.”
Hicks realized he could play, and the Yankees were informed. He wound up becoming a last-second entry on the ALCS roster.
The Yankees, naturally, were pretty grateful for that (medically unsanctioned) game of catch, but never more so than in the first inning Friday, when Hicks smashed Justin Verlander’s slider off the rightfield foul pole to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Hicks watched it go, unsure if it would stay fair, then almost defiantly tossed his bat as he began his trot. Why not? Defiance had served him well up to that point.
Hicks has been stringing together quality at-bats from the very beginning, somewhat inexplicably showing no rust after being out of the game for more than two months. He is 2-for-9 with four walks, has a .222/.462/.556 slash line and has been good at running up pitch counts with his knowledge of the strike zone.
“It has a lot to do with the people that helped me get here,’’ he said. “The staff down there at the minor-league complex really got me going, giving me whatever I needed, machines, BP on the field, all the stuff to get me prepared for the postseason. And it’s pretty much those people that got me ready. And then when I got here, obviously playing in the games is the adrenaline, it’s being able to compete and wanting to compete and be here is kind of what’s got me here.”
They’re all little things, and they all added up to one very big swing, and one very big win.