Ladies and gentlemen, make sure the dog is walked, the kids are occupied, the snacks and drinks are by your side, and you have zero distractions for approximately three hours tonight (or longer, let’s be honest). Because it’s time for a do-or-die, winner-take-all battle between the Yankees and Rays in a decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
The Yankees had their backs up against the wall after the Tampa took Games 2 and 3, but everything went right for them in Game 4 to force this finale Friday night. Jordan Montgomery did his job, as did his relief out of the bullpen. Luke Voit got the Yanks on the board first, and DJ LeMahieu drove in a run to make it 2-0. And then: Gleyber Torres knocking a moonshot two-run homer to left field to give the Bombers much-needed insurance that the two-headed monster in the bullpen – Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman – sealed the deal behind.
Now Gerrit Cole gets the ball in his hands once more as the Yankees try to advance to face the Houston Astros in the ALCS once again on Sunday. Tyler Glasnow is back on the mound quickly after starting in Game 2, but it’s all hands on deck for both teams, which means Blake Snell should be available to pitch as well.
Let’s break down how the Yankees can finish off their AL East foes once and for all:
Cole Must Defeat His Nemesis: Ji-Man Choi
No one can really explain it other than Choi loves to step into the box to face Cole – a task not many feel the same about. Choi hit another homer off Cole in Game 1, and he is 10-for-19 in his career off the hard-throwing righty.
Batting in the cleanup spot, Cole will be seeing Choi quickly, and the team that jumps out first sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Of course, Cole also needs to worry about the likes of Randy Arozarena, who had an uncharacteristic 0-for-4 performance in Game 4, Joey Wendle and others who will be tough at-bats. But you can bet Cole has Choi’s name circled heading into this one.
Stay Aggressive at the Plate
The Rays are sending Glasnow out instead of Snell for a reason: He has more success against the Yankees lineup as a whole, with Giancarlo Stanton’s two homers being the lone exception. Snell didn’t have his stuff in Game 1, though again, he will likely be ready to go whenever Kevin Cash calls upon him out of the ‘pen.
What the Yankees showed in Game 4 at the plate is what needs to happen this time around against Glasnow: The Yankees need to keep that aggressive nature at the plate and not let Glasnow get comfortable by getting quick strikes that put hitters into holes early in the count.
Jump on that first-pitch fastball, or expect and wait on that 12-6 sharp curveball. Glasnow relies on those two pitches exclusively. The Yankees need to put pressure on early and not allow him to get into any sort of rhythm. Stanton can’t be the only one hurting him in this game.
Leave It All Between the Lines
This last key is one the Yankees already know. It was evident in Game 4, and Voit said the feeling in the locker room is the Yankees are going to win this game.
That was the mindset on Thursday because it needed to be. Same goes for this one.
It’s been a long time (for the Yankees, anyway) since they’ve tasted a World Series title. They haven’t been since 2009. And if that weren’t incentive enough, the Astros – who knocked them out of the playoffs last year – are waiting in the next round.