This has the makings of a very sticky autumn for the Yankees and especially for Aaron Boone, for different reasons. The team has the potential for numerous more champagne celebrations, even bigger than the one it had on Saturday. Boone is headed for his first postseason as a manager, mindful that the postseason is when a manager really earns his money and his reputation.
He has done a fine job, clinching an American League wild-card berth Saturday and getting the Yankees within reach of 100 regular-season victories despite having lost numerous key players to injuries. But the fact is, the crux of his work has not started yet. October is when the situations get sticky.
“You’re going to get some humble pie, even if you go on and win a championship,” he said, his long-sleeved Yankees undershirt soaked with champagne. “Along the way, it’s going to be tough and you’ve got to be able to turn the page really, really well.”
Page one for him will begin Oct. 3, he hopes at Yankee Stadium. The goal for the next week is to secure home-field advantage in the wild-card game. He knows as well as anyone the electricity that crackles in the Bronx in October. Boone put a huge charge into the 2003 postseason with a walk-off home run against the Red Sox in ALCS Game 7 that sent the Yankees into the World Series.
“It’s a special place to be,” he said. “You can feel it in the air. I think every now and then you get a taste in the regular season just how electric this place can be. The buzz is undeniable in a big game. And then, [we know] how well overall we’ve played here. Our club is kind of built to play here in a lot of ways.”
You could say that a bubbly party marking a second-place finish was over the top for a franchise that has qualified for the postseason 54 times. But everybody celebrates wild-card clinchers these days. It would have looked snobbish if the Yankees didn’t follow suit. Boone wanted his players to embrace the first step in a manner fitting the occasion. After an 11-inning, 3-2 win over the Orioles and the Rays’ loss in Toronto, the Yankees celebrated in way that was happy, not raucous.
In the middle of it, Boone went up to each of his players, giving a hug and saying a few words. “It’s different and personal with every guy. You go through a lot of highs and lows and bumps and valleys and peaks and all that,” the manager said.
Luke Voit, who has taken the starting first base job and run with it, said, “To have him think that I’m going to get the job done every time is such a huge boost for myself. Knowing that a guy stands behind you is an unbelievable feeling no matter what time of the game it is.”
It does not take a visionary to play a guy who keeps blasting home runs. And visionaries are not sought for managers’ openings in the current major leagues. From March through September, the position is more like that of a mid-manager in a corporation — implement the philosophy and deal with the personalities.
In October, though, a manager has to react quickly. His decisions have huge repercussions. Last year, Joe Girardi perhaps saved the postseason by removing a struggling Luis Severino in the top of the first inning in the wild-card game and nearly blew the whole month by failing to challenge a hit-by-pitch call that preceded a grand slam.
Who knows if Boone earns a place in Yankees lore or even gets his present job if Red Sox manager Grady Little doesn’t make the mistake of staying too long with Pedro Martinez in ALCS Game 7 in 2003?
October is a huge chunk of managing for a team that lives for that time of year. Boone knows this and relishes it. “Look, so far I’ve loved the opportunity. I’ve loved the people I get to work with every day, from the players to the front office to my coaches,” he said. “It’s just a privilege.”