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Yankees hope 2019 ALCS against Astros creates a tastier result

Newsday baseball writer Erik Boland previews the Yankees and the Astros ahead of the ALCS on Friday, Oct. 11 in Houston. (Credit: Newsday / Bill Perlman)

HOUSTON — The loss Aaron Judge described as recently as last week as having left a “bad taste” in his mouth hasn’t completely gone away.

Nor has it for many of his teammates who shared the experience.

Game 7 of the 2017 American League Championship Series, a 4-0 loss to the Astros In Houston, began the offseason for the Yankees. Though no one expected it at the time, it turned out to be Joe Girardi’s last game as Yankees manager.

“I think about that Game 7,” Judge said early Friday night after the Yankees, who flew to Houston earlier in the day, worked out at Minute Maid Park. “It was just an intense series all around.”

Making the defeat sting even more was that the Yankees seemingly had taken control of the series after winning Games 3-5 at a rocking Yankee Stadium and returning here with a three-games-to-two lead. But they were done in by Justin Verlander in Game 6 and Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers in Game 7.

And while that ALCS doesn’t impact the 2019 version, which starts Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in a matchup many have considered inevitable for much of the 2019 season, it continues to fuel some of those who played on the losing side.

“Any time you lose and get knocked out of the postseason, it leaves a little bit of a bitter taste in your mouth,” said Brett Gardner, who started in leftfield and hit leadoff in Game 7. “Obviously, we were close in 2017, but they beat us in seven, so hopefully we can get them back this time around.”

The Yankees, who will send Masahiro Tanaka to the mound against Zack Greinke in Game 1, lost this year’s season series to the Astros, 4-3. That included being swept in three games here April 8-10, though many forget the Yankees had late leads in two of those games, which were started by Houston’s co-American League Cy Young favorites Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Gardner said what happened in 2017 doesn’t enter his mind whenever he arrives at Minute Maid.

“Not for me,” he said. “I think about the opportunity ahead and the group of guys we currently have and what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get to. Definitely remember that series, but I try not to think about it too often. It’s not the first thing I think of when I think about this place. But hopefully we have a different feeling about it in the next week or so.”

CC Sabathia, who started that seventh game — and took the loss after allowing one run and five hits in 3 1/3 innings — at first dismissed any lingering effect, saying this is “a new year, a new set of circumstances, a different team.”

But when pressed on the topic, Sabathia, who may well be included on the 25-man ALCS roster after being left off the ALDS roster against the Twins because of left shoulder soreness, said it took him more than a few days to get over the setback.

“[2017] was rough, just because we were right there and unexpectedly too,” Sabathia said of what was a surprising Yankees run through the playoffs. “That was a tough one. It took a little while.”

 The Yankees lost to the eventual World Series winner the last two years – the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in the ALDS last season.

“I don’t think you have to lose to learn how to win,” Sabathia said. “But I just think the experience of us going through those playoff runs — ’17 playing in the wild card, Game 5 [in Cleveland], Game 7 [in Houston]; then last year playing in some big games. I just think that experience is going to help us this year.” 

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