HOUSTON — You hear it every September. A general manager says, “If injured Player X gets back in time for the postseason, it’s like we made a trade for a really good guy.”
Going into this postseason, the Yankees had Player X. They also had Player Y, Z, and four more letters of the alphabet as they were waiting on seven key players they hoped would return and be factors in the playoffs.
In alphabetical order: Dellin Betances, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hicks, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Giancarlo Stanton.
Betances pitched in one game in September and injured his Achilles while jumping for joy after getting a strikeout.
The other six did make it back and have had various degrees of success and failure this postseason entering Saturday night’s ALCS Game 6 against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Two have been reinjured in the playoffs.
The highs and lows of trying to come back in October were on perfect display in the last two games at Yankee Stadium.
There was the unforgettable moment of Sabathia walking off the mound in Game 4 after reinjuring his shoulder. Sabathia — the Yankees’ emotional leader who is retiring after the season — made it back to pitch out of the bullpen twice in the ALCS. Then his shoulder gave out and ended his career earlier than he would have liked.
On the other side of the spectrum was Aaron Hicks, whose three-run homer off the rightfield foul pole in the first inning led the Yankees to a season-extending 4-1 victory in Game 5.
Hicks wasn’t even supposed to be a factor this October because of an injured throwing elbow. Manager Aaron Boone ruled him out weeks ago.
But Hicks thought something was wrong with that prognosis and worked out on his own. He missed the Yankees’ three-game sweep of the Twins in the ALDS but reported to the Yankees’ Tampa complex, got as many simulated at-bats as he could and was activated for the ALCS.
Hicks, who hadn’t played since Aug. 3, went into Saturday with two hits and four walks in 13 plate appearances in four ALCS games. The power and plate discipline earned him a 1.017 OPS.
“It has a lot to do with the people that helped me get here,” Hicks said. “The staff down there at the minor-league complex really got me going, giving me whatever I needed, machines, BP on the field, all the stuff to get me prepared for the postseason.”
On another end of the spectrum (how many ends does this spectrum have? Good question!) are Encarnacion, Sanchez, Severino and Stanton.
Encarnacion, like Hicks, didn’t have any late regular-season at-bats to prepare for the postseason because of an oblique strain. Encarnacion was confident he’d be ready for October and started hot, with four hits in the first two games of the ALDS. But he has been ice-cold since, with one hit and nine strikeouts in 19 at-bats om the next five games.
Before ALCS Game 5, Stanton hadn’t played since Game 1, when he injured his quadriceps while running out an infield hit. Stanton, who played in nine games in September after missing most of the season with various injuries, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Game 5 and was 3-for-13 with four walks and five strikeouts in the playoffs.
Sanchez returned the final weekend of the season after missing time with a groin injury. Except for a two-run home run in ALCS Game 4, he has been a whiff machine at the plate. Going into Saturday, he was 3-for-28 (.107) with 15 strikeouts.
Finally, there’s Severino, whose season began Sept. 17 because of shoulder and lat issues. He was hoping there would be a Game 7 for him to start.