“Life can change really quickly,” Joe Girardi said, and for the Yankees this October, the transformation occurs as soon as they return to the Bronx.
Specifically, Girardi was talking about his own reception, the cheers that followed his name during Monday night’s pregame introductions. A week ago, when the Yankees came home, down 0-2 to the Indians in the Division Series, Girardi was loudly booed, with the fans blaming his controversial non-challenge for a Game 2 meltdown.
Like his team, however, Girardi has proved himself capable of rolling with the punches, and that’s what we’re seeing again from these Yankees, who flexed their usual Bronx muscle to throttle the Astros, 8-1, in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday night.
Playing before another raucous Stadium crowd — the official count was 49,373 — the Yankees looked like a different team at home, replacing the uptight bunch that couldn’t hit, run or field during the two losses at Minute Maid Park.
It’s not that the Yankees can’t win on the road; they beat the Indians in Game 5 at Progressive Field. There’s just a looser, more fun vibe around them in the Bronx, and Monday night’s party atmosphere surged from the Yankees’ dugout all the way to the back row of the upper decks.
“There’s nothing like here in New York,” Todd Frazier said. “Playing at home, it’s kind of like an advantage as it is. You saw Bernie Williams coming in and throwing the first pitch. You see the memories. It’s time to step up.”
Few Yankees feed off the Bronx crowd as much as Frazier, a native of Toms River, New Jersey, who was photographed standing next to Derek Jeter as a Little Leaguer. Frazier also made every inch of his beloved Stadium work to his favor when he basically golfed a 95-mph fastball from Charlie Morton over the rightfield fence for a three-run homer in the second inning.
While it was hardly a classic home run swing, as Frazier reached down and poked the pitch with one hand coming off the bat, he knew enough about his home park to realize that it would have a chance. The 365-foot fly ball made the seats with roughly two rows to spare.
“There’s an advantage going to rightfield here,” Girardi said, “and it paid off.”
As Frazier rounded first base, he hammed it up with the screaming fans, pointing to his family in the outfield stands and repeatedly slapping his right hand on his left wrist, which he later explained means “What time is it? It’s my time.”
The same rightfield fence also turned out to be a factor in the fourth, when Aaron Judge crashed hard into the padding to rob Yuli Gurriel of extra bases.
Two days earlier, at Minute Maid Park, Judge was more hesitant while giving chase on Carlos Correa’s fly ball, which just cleared the wall.
Afterward, Judge and Girardi said his lack of familiarity with Houston’s ballpark contributed to his more cautious approach, but that wasn’t an issue back home, where he has patrolled his position aggressively all year. Judge’s fourth-inning grab instantly restarted the “M-V-P” chants — down in Houston, those were for Jose Altuve — and that would be a continuing theme for the night.
When Judge stepped to the plate in the bottom half, he hit a three-run homer over the leftfield wall. He was a more dangerous hitter at home in the regular season, so it figured that if he was ever going to snap out of his playoff funk, it would happen in the Bronx. Judge was in a 2-for-28 skid with 20 strikeouts before that blast.
As for CC Sabathia, his performance had to conjure up some of the same feeling from the championship year in October 2009, his first in pinstripes (Sabathia, Brett Gardner and David Robertson are the only holdovers from that team). When he wrapped up his scoreless six innings, it didn’t feel like a coincidence that this all went down in the Bronx.
“Just the energy, the fans,” Sabathia said. “They bring it every night in the playoffs, and you can feed off that.”
The Yankees gladly did. Again.