Amid the bottles popping, and the Cardi B playing, and puddles of champagne pooling at everyone’s feet, the Yankees not only were celebrating Wednesday night’s 7-2 victory over the A’s, but also what lies ahead.
The Red Sox. This was their destiny, right? The Wild Card game was a means to an end, the A’s merely an accomplice to history, just another bit player in the Yankees’ Universe.
For a while, there was a whiff of uncertainty. Oh, maybe about three minutes, or the length of time it took Luis Severino to blowtorch his way through a 10-pitch first inning, firing up the 49,620 fans hoping for the inevitable. When Aaron Judge followed with a 427-foot laser over the leftfield wall, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead, the night already felt secure.
“It’s not easy — anything can happen in one game,” a soaked Dellin Betances said afterward. “But we liked our chances playing at home.”
Whatever pressure existed at the time of Severino’s first pitch, it stuck around for about as long as A’s opener Liam Hendriks, whose ill-fated appearance lasted one whole inning. For the Yankees, must-win didn’t begin to describe their situation heading into Wednesday’s Wild Card game. Do-or-die? That felt more accurate. And we’re not merely talking about getting past the A’s to stay alive in October.
A year after advancing to within one game of the World Series — well ahead of schedule, we might add — these Yankees were built to go one step further, and the possibility of being knocked out by Oakland was too grim to even consider. Unacceptable, really.
So the Yankees made sure failure was not an option. After Judge, there was The Luke Voit Experience in the sixth inning, as the Bronx’s new cult hero drove in two runs with a triple off the top of the rightfield wall and scored — chains bouncing, jersey lapels flapping — on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly. In between, Severino exorcised last year’s demons with four innings-plus scoreless innings, striking out seven. Betances appeared in the fifth — surprise! — to strand two and retire six straight, punctuating his night with a nifty shimmy-shake off the mound.
Aaron Boone’s explanation for the early Betances call? “Because he’s a stud,” the manager said.
When you’ve won 27 championships, and spent close to $190 million, you’re not supposed to lose Wild Card Games. Sounds pompous to say, but these are the Yankees, and that mindset is as anchored to the Bronx as the Macombs Dam Bridge.
It also helps when the A’s and Twins — last year’s wild-card victim — resemble October speed bumps for the Yankees on the road to greater things. The Yankees have now eliminated the A’s in each of their four playoff meetings, with a 10-4 record overall. It’s automatic this time of year.
"It doesn’t get any better than this,” Voit said, champagne dripping from his face. “But we’ve got big things coming.”
The Yankees always do. This group was constructed with loftier goals in mind, and putting the small-market A’s in their place was step one toward vindicating some of Brian Cashman’s bolder moves — namely hiring Boone and trading for Giancarlo Stanton, who tacked on another spectacular homer Wednesday night.
Cashman pushed his chips to the center of the table. All in, but not for a 100-win season, or simply qualifying for a wild-card berth. This was done with a World Series in mind, or at least an epic October battle or two.
Losing the Wild Card? To the A’s? Indefensible.
Boone wouldn’t go there before Wednesday’s game, choosing to focus on the task at hand rather than reach for the “World Series or Bust” company line. “As far as judging what all this means, I didn’t get it into it for that,” Boone said. “That’s for you guys, respectfully.”
In most cases, a manager like Boone would get a pass in his rookie year, especially because he had never done this before, at any level. But not this season, when there was no time for growing pains. Not for Boone, nor Stanton, nor the two star rookies, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.
But the Yankees were OK with that, and right now, they’re more dangerous than ever, bolstered by the late-season acquisitions of Voit and Andrew McCutchen, with the luxury of healing up during the past few weeks. That was bad news for the A’s, and could be trouble for an old friend come Friday in the Division Series.
No wonder the “We Want Boston” chants stirred to life in the sixth inning. The anxiety in the Bronx was over. Everyone already had moved on to what’s next.