Alex Rodriguez gave the hard sell, but Dallas Keuchel wasn't buying.
"We're underdogs coming into this game," A-Rod said Monday after the Yankees worked out at the Stadium in preparation for Tuesday night's wild-card playoff game against the Astros.
But Keuchel, who hasn't allowed a run in 16 innings against the Yankees this season and will start against them Tuesday night on three days' rest, all but scoffed at the premise.
"I don't believe so," the lefthander said with a smile. "We're at their home place, we're at Yankee Stadium. I don't think we're favored, I really don't. And that's the way we're going to continue to play, as the underdog."
Such pregame designations, of course, ultimately mean nothing once Masahiro Tanaka throws the first pitch just after 8 p.m.
"We've got one shot at it. Nine innings, or however long it takes, we've got to come out of here with a win," said the lefthanded-hitting Brett Gardner, who (like Jacoby Ellsbury) expects to be in the lineup but could be on the bench in favor of the righthanded-hitting Chris Young, who is 6-for-20 against Keuchel. "We're very happy to be playing at home, in front of our fans. I'm sure it's going to be a great atmosphere. This is what we work for all offseason, all spring training. For the most part, we've got a pretty veteran team that's been in situations like this before with their backs against the wall, and the best team will win tomorrow night."
Or, likely, the team whose starting pitcher performs the best.
Keuchel, 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA this season, was a far better pitcher at home than on the road -- 15-0, 1.46 ERA at Minute Maid Park and 5-8, 3.77 in other ballparks -- but beat the Yankees both home and away. He threw a six-hitter in a 4-0 win on June 25 in Houston, walking one and striking out 12. In the Astros' 15-1 win at the Stadium on Aug. 25, he allowed three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings, striking out nine.
"You go out there and you put together quality at-bats," Brian McCann said. "We have a lineup that's hard to get through. We faced him twice this year and he's pitched really, really good. Looking to get some balls out over the plate."
Tanaka went 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA this season, including a poor outing June 27 in Houston in which he allowed six runs and seven hits in five innings but was bailed out by the offense in a 9-6 victory.
"I wasn't at my best during that particular time," said Tanaka, who suffered a mild hamstring strain Sept. 18 but returned to the rotation last Wednesday against the Red Sox. "This time around it's going to be different."
While the Yankees' bullpen seemed gassed at times down the stretch, one opposing team scout who has followed the Astros in recent weeks said the Yankees have a distinct advantage in that area.
"All those guys are worn out," the scout said of the Astros' relievers. "Those guys were run into the ground to get in."
The Yankees, on the other hand, held a comfortable lead in the wild-card race for quite a while and led the Astros by 41/2 games with a week remaining. But the Yankees -- who lost six of their final seven games -- didn't clinch a playoff spot until Thursday, and the Astros were in position to tie them on the final day of the season before losing and settling for the second wild card.
Rodriguez correctly pointed out that during spring training, not a lot of people thought the Yankees would reach the postseason.
"I think with everything we've done this year, we've surprised a lot of people, and that's hard to do when you wear pinstripes," he said. "But I think going into this year, if you rewind seven months and told us we'd have an opportunity to play at home and defend our home court in a wild-card game, I think we all would have signed up for that."