HOUSTON — The word “inevitable” was thrown around quite a bit in advance of the American League Championship Series, which started Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, and for good reason.
The Yankees and Astros entered the season among the favorites to represent the AL in the World Series, and by midseason, both had more than solidified that standing, well on their way to terrific regular seasons.
The Astros went an MLB-best 107-55 in winning the AL West and the Yankees coasted to their first AL East title since 2012 with a 103-59 mark.
“We’ve kind of figured that we’d have to come through here eventually if we wanted to get to where we wanted to be in the end,” said Brett Gardner, meaning, of course, the World Series. “Houston’s had a great year and they have a really good team. Obviously, we’ve seen them and we know what to expect and we’re excited about it.”
Houston manager AJ Hinch said “I think this is a matchup that a lot of people expected” but did take issue to a degree with the word ''inevitable'' because of what the word can imply.
“How we got here was maybe a little bit different,” Hinch said on the eve of the series. “I don't think that it was — it's not as simple — both teams deserve credit for winning as many games as we did and doing it with a lot of different names and a lot of different configurations of the roster.”
The Yankees placed an MLB-record 30 players on the injured list this season. The Astros had their share of injuries as well, with stars Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, among others, missing chunks of time.
“I think both teams got here and they earned their way here, maybe not as easily as people want to think,” said Hinch, whose team survived a five-game ALDS against the Rays while the Yankees easily swept the Twins, as they always seem to do in October. “I think both teams had injuries. Both teams played well in the face of expectations, and it's just not a simple plug-and-play season. One-hundred-sixty-two games will expose you to a lot of different challenges.”
The teams, similar in some ways and different in others, played a terrific seven-game ALCS in 2017 that the Astros won with a 4-0 victory in Game 7.
Aaron Judge was a rookie that year, coming off a regular season in which he hit 52 homers, and remembers the series well.
“I think about, first, the three games at home, us having the two-game deficit and us being able to rally and get three and give us a shot back here for two with Houston,” Judge said of the series. “That's what I think about, just how resilient that team was and how they just fought to the very end. Because a lot of teams might have rolled over after going down two, especially against a team like Houston. We continued to fight.”
That October fight was rejoined Saturday night.
“Now we're here, seven-game series, there's going to be a lot of emotion,” Hinch said. “This is a rivalry that's been created over the last few years, and everybody will think back to the 2017 epic seven-game series and expect this to top it. I hope it does. And I hope it's the same result. I liked celebrating at the end of that one.”
The Yankees, naturally, would like nothing better than to flip the script.
A great team, very well run,” Aaron Boone said. “They've done a great job with their farm system of developing kind of homegrown superstars as well as making a lot of decisions, smart decisions, of bringing in [other players], whether via trade, via free agency. They've certainly kind of established themselves as the class of this league here the last few years. Hopefully we can ding it a little bit.”