The Bronx Bullies theory had a short shelf life this postseason.
It began to unravel four pitches into Tuesday’s Game 1, when Aaron Judge stunned Cleveland ace Shane Bieber with a two-run homer. And by the time Giancarlo Stanton went deep in the ninth inning to deliver the Yankees’ fourth home run in a 12-3 pounding at Progressive Field, any suggestion they would be road kill during these playoffs had been thoroughly debunked.
"I don't really think our guys are overly affected by where we play," manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday. "When we’re right, it doesn’t matter where we are."
Boone had been preaching that all along. As did everyone else in pinstripes. But our eyes told us something different during the regular season and the numbers backed up those suspicions.
The evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the Yankees being a terrible road team for the two-plus months leading up to this wild-card series. The facts were indisputable. The Yankees were 11-18 away from the Bronx, with a .668 OPS that ranked 25th in the majors. They were 27th in batting average (.220) and 29th in homers (27). Did the numbers lie?
"I mean, in a 60-game season, I feel like 30 games probably isn’t quite enough to be making too many strong opinions on us," DJ LeMahieu said before Wednesday’s Game 2. "When our offense is clicking, it doesn't matter where we're at. We showed that [Tuesday] night."
We witnessed the Yankees at their most miserable in Buffalo, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Those road struggles eventually spun the narrative of this group being a Bronx creation that needed home-field advantage to survive deep into October, especially when putting those splits next to the polar opposite Stadium stats.
The Yankees were a totally different animal at home. A beast, in fact, with a 22-9 record that was the product of a top-ranked OPS (.907), the most home runs (67) and the third-best batting average (.273) — seven points off the Rockies’ leading pace. The snap judgment had the Yankees pegged as a product of their short-porch environs. But they pointed to the small sample size.
"Exactly that," Boone said. "And then being pretty banged up at different times of the year, especially on maybe a road trip where you know things didn't go real well. In a short season that can turn into something glaring."
On Tuesday, LeMahieu ambushed Bieber by leading off with a single, then Judge smacked the next pitch for his ninth postseason homer (in 28 games). Typically, that would have produced a satisfying silence for Judge as he rounded the bases. Instead, a smattering of cheers from the Yankees’ families in attendance -- allowed for the first time this year -- supplied a welcome soundtrack to the otherwise empty ballpark.
This year, what’s the benefit to having home field anyway? It just exists for the wild-card round, and without a hostile crowd to deal with, the only tangible differences are the clubhouse amenities and outfield dimensions.
Both teams had been in hotel bubbles since last week, so players sleeping in their own beds was out of the equation. The Yankees already were living on room service for days before hopping on a plane to Cleveland, and they tried to tell us going on the road wasn’t going to matter.
"Everyone’s saying that we only play good at Yankee Stadium," Luke Voit said a few hours before Game 1. "That’s a bunch of BS."
We’ve come to expect that bravado from Voit, but those words turned out to be prophetic. HIs RBI double in the third inning put the Yankees up 3-0 and the lead kept climbing from there. Gleyber Torres rebounded from an irregular season to go 4-for-4 (HR, 3 RBIs) and was the first Yankee to reach base safely five times in a playoff game since Alex Rodriguez in the 2009 ALCS. Brett Gardner matched his postseason high with three hits, including a homer, with three RBIs.
If we didn’t know any better, the Yankees performed like a team with a few statements to make. The first had to do with brushing aside their 2-6 finish to the regular season, which included losing two of three to the Marlins in the Bronx on the final weekend. The other was smashing the notion that the road would lead to their playoff downfall.
"I don't think the storylines really bothered us," LeMahieu said. "But we knew deep down that we haven't been ourselves consistently. We've known that, we’ve felt that, we knew we were better than what we're doing. I feel like we turned the page on the regular season and really came out last night with unbelievable focus."
With Tuesday’s rout, the Yankees penned a new storyline to replace the tired narratives. This one about a former World Series favorite looking the part again, wherever the road may take them.