OAKLAND, Calif. — The Yankees started a three-city, nine-game trip on the West Coast on Tuesday night with a more than comfortable 10-game lead in the AL East.
But even with the Yankees’ first division crown since 2012 appearing inevitable, the overall attitude in the clubhouse remains pedal to the metal.
“Even though we’re going down the stretch and we’ve got a lead in our division, we’re not going to stop,” Aaron Judge said. “We’re not going to stop until the last game, No. 162. We want to keep winning.”
Because home-field advantage, both for the American League playoffs and, if the Yankees get there, the World Series is very much up in the air.
Going into Tuesday, the Yankees had a three-game lead over the Astros for best record in the AL and were one game ahead of the Dodgers, who they play this weekend in Los Angeles in interleague play, for best record overall.
The Yankees have been very good on the road this season — 34-23 coming into this trip — but have been exceptional at the Stadium, 49-20 after a just-completed 6-2 homestand versus Baltimore (4-0) and Cleveland (2-2).
And few Yankees who were around for the 2017 ALCS, when the Astros prevailed in seven games and won each of the four games at Minute Maid Park, need reminding of the importance of playing at home.
“That’s big,” Judge said. “Especially now. You know how rowdy [Yankee Stadium] gets in the postseason and how crazy these fans are and we love it. We feed off of that energy. We’ve got to keep winning and make sure we keep that home-field advantage for the postseason.”
The Yankees face plenty of challenges the rest of the way as 19 of their next 25 games are on the road and 24 of their final 36 to end the season.
This trip alone shapes up as a beast, particularly at the front end against an A’s team that began the series 10-5 in the month of August and 21-12 since the All-Star Break, and continuing with the weekend series in Los Angeles. And even with the Mariners’ general awfulness, finishing this long trip at T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) will be anything but easy.
“The major-league season is filled with different challenges,” Aaron Boone said. “We just finished 19 games in 17 days with, until (Sunday with CC Sabathia coming off the IL), four healthy starting pitchers. That’s a challenge. Travel at times, going to London, that can be a challenge. Going on the road, these are different challenges that are inevitable in the major league season that you kind of look forward to. So we get to go out on the West Coast and play a couple of good teams, obviously. But look forward to going out there.”
Said Judge: “We know what type of teams we’re facing. We’re going up against Oakland and the Dodgers and Seattle, some good ballclubs right there. Especially that Dodgers series. It’s going to be like another postseason matchup right there, so it’s going to be rowdy and we’re motivated for those. We can’t wait. We want to play the best teams, and those are some of the best teams out there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
And continuing a march, he and the Yankees hope, that will lead to a significant advantage come October. Although, as Boone pointed out, not a required one.
“Obviously, we play really, really well at home and it’s a place that we feel like we have a real home-field advantage,” Boone said before Tuesday’s night’s game. “But we also know we’re capable on the road as well.”