CLEVELAND – A day later – about 12 hours, to be more specific – the Yankees still wore the afterglow of an epic postseason victory.
The Yankees, who have taken their share of crushing postseason losses at Progressive Field over the years, dramatically flipped that script Wednesday night – and into Thursday morning – with their white-knuckled 10-9 victory over Cleveland that completed a two-game sweep of the best-of-three wild-card series.
The victory, achieved in 4 hours, 50 minutes (the longest nine-inning game in major league history), allowed the Yankees to move on to San Diego for a date against their nemesis, the top-seeded Rays, the AL East champions.
"We’re clearly the underdog," Boone said with a smile of a team that did beat his eight of 10 meetings this season, many of those with tensions running at a 10 out of 10.
Still, with that series not scheduled to start until Monday night – Gerrit Cole, as expected, will start Game 1 – Thursday was a time to also reflect on the classic that played out the previous night. A game that included two odd rain delays, a combined 19 walks, a seemingly equal number of big plays and mistakes, and furious rallies by both teams.
The Yankees had the decisive one, scoring twice against stud Cleveland closer Brad Hand in the ninth to stun the hometown team.
"That game last night, just stepping away from it, there were just so many amazing things that happened," Aaron Boone said early Thursday afternoon. "I'll probably think of that game in those terms for a long time. Then, going back and watching and getting to see some of the highlights again was really cool . . . just a lot of special things happened; a lot of special individual efforts."
The Yankees, while celebrating the achievement – and rightfully so given their losing-six-of-eight skid to end the regular season that nearly put them in the eighth and final playoff spot – were nonetheless mostly muted in their revelry. It was noticeable on the field after the final out, just as it was after their blowout victory in Game 1 and just as it was in the season’s final weeks when they clinched a playoff spot.
"One of the things I told the guys was how proud of the performance I was and how many great individual efforts there were last night, and how many big time plays were made by big time players in this series," Boone said. "But tempered with, we haven't done anything yet. To a man, we have very lofty goals. When we got to spring training, we had lofty goals; when we came back for summer camp that didn't change; when we got into the season that hasn't changed; when we've gone through the ups and downs of the season, the goal hasn't changed."
A goal dating to late October of last year for much of the roster that suffered the six-game loss to the Astros in the ALCS. And, of course, there are plenty of holdovers from the club that lost in 2018 in the Division round to the Red Sox and from the 2017 team that lost in seven games in the ALCS, again to the Astros.
"We want to win a championship," said Boone, whose club worked out in Cleveland Thursday, will fly to San Diego Friday and work out at Petco Park Saturday and Sunday. "And this team's been through a lot, and these guys have been knocking on that door a lot, and hopefully this is the year that we can kick it in."
"We gotta keep that mindset," Stanton said. "You can't get too excited; you can't get too happy for wins. Be appreciative, know what it took, give credit where credit is due, but know that the ultimate goal is not . . . we're not even close to there. So our mindset is we haven't done anything yet. Same as going into [Game 2], though we won the night before, we haven't done anything today, so erase that and let's get it done."