HOUSTON — If a team ever needed an off day, it was the Houston Astros.
That’s precisely the reason that Joe Girardi would have preferred to have the American League Championship Series continue uninterrupted.
“I think everyone probably would have rather played today,” Girardi said early Thursday afternoon before his team departed for Houston. “We’ve been on both sides. It’s probably good for our bullpen to have a day off because we rely on them so heavily. A day off will definitely help our bullpen and I think physically it helps the players, but I think when you’re on a roll, you never want to stop playing.”
And the Yankees certainly are that.
They trailed two games to none in the series before the Astros crumbled in the din of Yankee Stadium in Games 3-5, with the sweep at home propelling the Yankees to within one victory of their first World Series appearance since 2009.
Astro manager A.J. Hinch thought the off day came at just the right time. “I feel horrible for him,” he said of Girardi with a smile.
“I think the script between Game 2 and 3 should play perfectly between Game 5 and 6,” Hinch said. “We got our day off when we were rolling pretty good. Maybe we’ll return the favor to them, giving them a nice little break. They can enjoy some of Houston’s finest restaurants tonight, come tomorrow, and hopefully we’ve switched the momentum.”
The Yankees are in an unusual position this postseason — leading a series. They trailed two games to none in the best-of-five Division Series against the Indians before winning three straight.
“It does feel different,” Girardi said of having a series lead. “We’ve been in the ‘we have to win today, we can’t afford to lose today’ [mode] for a number of games. But I still think the attitude will be the same — win one game. That’s what we’ve kind of talked about and that’s kind of what we’ve stuck to around here. You try to win a game tomorrow night. We know we’re facing a great pitcher and a great opponent, but you’ve got to win one game, and that’s what we’ll stick to.”
Greg Bird said suddenly leading a series doesn’t change the team’s approach.
“Same way we’ve been playing. It’s a new day Friday,” said Bird, who is 4-for-13, including a home run, in the first five games. “We have to go out and win Friday, we’ve got to bring it. That’s been our mentality the whole time. We have to bring it Friday and win one game.”
Luis Severino faces Justin Verlander on Friday night in a rematch of Game 2, a 2-1 Astros victory in which the latter threw 124 pitches and struck out 13 in a complete game. Severino was pulled after four innings for precautionary reasons because Girardi didn’t like a windmill motion the pitcher made after throwing a fourth-inning pitch.
“I’m not going to do anything,” Severino said with a laugh on his conference call Thursday. “I’m just going to throw the ball and walk [around] like a robot. Nothing.”
Severino will try to keep an Astros offense that led MLB in runs (896), average (.282), and OPS (.823), among other categories, in its rut. Through five games, Houston, which won 101 games in the regular season, has scored nine runs and is hitting .147 (22-for-150) with a .447 OPS.
“This is a random three-game stretch. It doesn’t have to define the rest of our year. It just defined the series while in New York. We can set a new trend for us beginning tomorrow,” Hinch said. “We had 101 wins for a reason. We don’t automatically flush those down the toilet because we lost a couple of games in New York.”