When it was all set, when the Red Sox had clinched the AL East on Saturday and the Yankees were officially scheduled to host the Twins in Tuesday’s wild-card game, David Robertson was asked what he knows about the plucky, upstart, unexpectedly good team from Minnesota.
“They’re who we’re playing,” Robertson said. “That’s it.”
No, but how about those lovable Twinkies, who went from 103 defeats a year ago to a playoff team? Mad respect, right, D-Rob?
“To be honest with you, I haven’t really paid too much attention to them,” Robertson said. “They’re just someone across the lines I have to beat.”
Well, then. Welcome to playoff time, Yankees fans. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for the Yankees to drop some bland niceties on the Twins before Luis Severino throws the first pitch on Tuesday night.
But about 15 minutes after their 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday, the Yankees learned Boston had beaten the Astros, 6-3, to clinch the division crown.
How did they learn it? From reporters who were furiously following their phones in the postgame clubhouse.
So, now that it’s official . . .
The Yankees did not have the Red Sox game on any of the six TVs in their spacious clubhouse. One showed highlights from the Yankees-Blue Jays game. Another showed a college football game. The other four were turned off.
The Yankees knew overtaking the Red Sox this weekend was a long shot. They moved to within two games on Friday, but needed to win the next two, have the Red Sox lose the next two, and then win a division tiebreaker game on Monday at Yankee Stadium.
Appropriately, Jon Bon Jovi was in the stands, because the Yankees were “Livin’ on a prayer.”
We’re sure the Yankees would have pulled out all the stops if they had gotten to Monday — Bucky Dent throwing out the first pitch? — but reality started setting in around the time the Stadium scoreboard showed Boston putting up two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take a 5-0 lead on the AL West champion Astros.
Manager Joe Girardi treated Saturday’s game with the proper urgency, sidelining scheduled starting pitcher Jaime Garcia and inserting CC Sabathia instead.
Sabathia was brilliant, throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings, and Aaron Judge hit a 484-foot home run to the back of the leftfield bleachers as the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
Girardi used his formidable bullpen almost to perfection. Chad Green for an inning and a third, Robertson to get out of a jam in the eighth and the suddenly unhittable again Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.
Girardi inexplicably started the eighth with Tommy Kahnle instead of Robertson. Kahnle gave up an infield single and walked a batter before Robertson came in and allowed a run to score. But Robertson got out of the pickle with the aplomb you would expect from a former closer.
Memo to Girardi — here’s who pitches on Tuesday: Severino. Green. Robertson. Chapman. Don’t mess around with Kahnle or the struggling Dellin Betances or Adam Warren or Chasen Shreve or get cute by using a starter out of the bullpen until after you’ve used your Big 4.
The Yankees had less than a puncher’s chance to win the East entering the weekend. They have a much better chance, as Sabathia put it, “to make a run at this thing” in the postseason because of the quality of their frontline pitching, especially the bullpen, and their ability to hit home runs.
“The bullpen is the strength of our team,” Sabathia said. “We know that. As starters, we just try to get deep into the game and put those guys in good situations.”
Said Girardi: “We have a very good pitching staff. Yes, we have power and we score runs, but we have a good pitching staff. They’re capable of getting on a roll, too, and we’ve seen them pitch very well down the stretch, which is encouraging to me.”
So bring on the Twins, or as Robertson called them, “who we’re playing.” If the Yankees follow their formula, the next “who we’re playing” will be Cleveland in the ALDS.