BUFFALO – A loss in Boston Sunday – which ended a 10-game winning streak – prohibited the Yankees from celebrating clinching a playoff spot immediately on the field at Fenway Park.
Instead, it was a loss later in the day by the Mariners that clinched the Yankees their fourth straight playoff berth – and 22nd in the last 26 years – an accomplishment the team didn’t become aware of until they were on their way to Buffalo for the four-game series against the Blue Jays that started Monday night.
So they celebrated – briefly and with responsible social distancing protocols presumably being observed – in the lobby of their downtown team hotel here shortly after arriving.
"We had a glass of champagne," Gerrit Cole said Monday afternoon. "Just celebrated the accomplishment and acknowledged there’s more work to do."
Which essentially was Aaron Boone’s message during the get-together.
"Just proud of the fact we’re back to the dance in what’s been a challenging and crazy year for everyone involved," Boone said Monday. "We know what the goals are, we know what the expectations are, and let’s go do it."
The run to the World Series this year involves a far different format than in the past as it includes eight teams from each league making it compared to five teams, a best-of-three wild-card round and then neutral site ballparks for the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series.
"We’re here and we’ve been grinding the whole year," Adam Ottavino said Sunday. "It’s going be different in the playoffs, with more rounds and different hurdles, but we want to win it. We’re here to win. That’s the goal."
Sunday’s result notwithstanding, the Yankees enter the season’s final week – comprising four games against the Blue Jays followed by three at home vs. the Marlins – among the sport’s hottest teams, clicking on offense and defense.
During the winning streak the Yankees outscored the opposition by a ridiculous 85-25 total. The starting rotation, even with Deivi Garcia’s Fenway hiccup Sunday, seems to have steadied, with Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ throwing well for the most part, with Happ throwing best of all.
It is easy to forget – though it’s unlikely any Yankees fan or Yankee for that matter has – that before the 10-game stretch the Bombers were among the worst teams in baseball. They went through a 5-15 span that dropped them into third place in the AL East – behind Toronto and Tampa Bay – and into the eighth and final AL playoff spot.
But the Yankees fortunes began to change in this ballpark Sept. 9 when Garcia pitched a gem in a 7-2 victory over Toronto that snapped a five-game losing skid and launched the recent winning streak that propelled them comfortably ahead of the Blue Jays (by four games) going into this series and into a neck-and-neck battle with the Twins for the fourth seed and homefield in the wild-card round. In sweeping the Blue Jays last week at the Stadium, the Yankees, their lineup at last whole with the return of injured players like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela, outscored them 43-15.
"This run is in the rearview mirror as well," Boone said of the two disparate streaks. "It’s important we keep those blinders on and live in the moment of every day. Confident if we can do that, we’ll be where we want to be."
Which, of course, is the World Series. But a team has to first get in, which the Yankees did, the reason they took a moment late Sunday to raise a glass.
"Not as fun as doing it in a locker room and doing the normal postseason (celebration), trying to burn each others’ eyes out," LeMahieu said with a slight smile, a reference to the typical champagne and beer-spraying events that take place after something is clinched or won. "But it’s still a big accomplishment. I think we all recognize that."