By Sweeny Murti
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CLEVELAND (WFAN) — Win or lose, this is a big day for this group of Yankees. What they’ve done just to get here is something they will look back on years from now.
Hopefully for them it’s not the same painful jump-start the ’90s dynasty got when they lost Game 5 to the Mariners in 1995. That game has long been remembered as the one that showed a still wet-behind-the-ears Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte that losing wasn’t a feeling they wanted to get used to. It showed a young Bernie Williams that he didn’t want to feel the way his captain, Don Mattingly, felt on the long plane ride home from Seattle.
The Yankees rode that disappointment all the way to the 1996 championship before another Game 5 Division Series loss right here in Cleveland in 1997. Williams made the final out of that series loss, and manager Joe Torre has often told the story of how he had to almost literally peel Bernie off the dugout steps when it was over. It was another disappointment that turned into motivation for the team that won 114 games in 1998 and dominated the American League for the next six years, winning five pennants and three more World Series trophies.
This doesn’t have to be the same script. This group doesn’t have to win multiple titles in the next handful of years to have their Yankees membership cards verified. It’s hard to win. Period. The goal for the Yankees is to get better, add talent and be in the mix every year the way they were not that long ago. Luck and chance play a much bigger role then, but you gotta be in it to win it.
What these young core players have been through already will give them the base off which everything else is built.
The September push for the division title wasn’t successful, but it sent the Yankees through a stretch of what they considered must-win games. Perhaps that prepared them a bit for the real must-win situations they’ve been in since then. Wednesday night will be their fourth elimination game in the last nine days.
Win or lose, the Yankees will learn from getting up off the deck down 0-2 and winning two straight to force Game 5 against a team that went 35-4 through last Friday.
And the personal successes and struggles of the individual players will be just as invaluable.
Aaron Judge might walk away with a lot of hardware this winter — 52 home runs as a rookie don’t go unrewarded. But his second-half slump was followed by a September onslaught like we’ve rarely seen.
Judge’s postseason has been a microcosm of his season as well. He homered in the wild-card game, then went 1-for-15 with 12 strikeouts in the first four games of the ALDS. That one hit was a huge two-run double in Game 4. And his home run-saving catch in Game 3 will make some highlight reels, too.
Gary Sanchez dealt with an early-season injury to his rifle arm, then dealt with a mini-benching in August for his defensive issues. Sanchez finished the season with more home runs than any catcher in Yankees history, smashed a couple more in this postseason and made several key blocks of balls in the dirt in the 1-0 victory in Game 3.
The one run the Yankee scored in that game came on a home run by Greg Bird, who, in between spectacular runs of power, spent most of the last two seasons on the DL. A different kind of adversity, but the same kind of redemption the others enjoyed.
And Luis Severino followed his dreadful start in the wild-card game with a phenomenal outing in Game 4 that kept his team alive, hopefully showing that his previous effort was a fluke and not a warning sign of his ability in big moments.
I won’t stick these four kids with any fancy nicknames. That just wouldn’t be fair. But I began this season telling you that it was fun for a Yankees fan to dream again about the potential in these young stars instead of waiting for thirty- and forty-something stars to hit the 40 home runs demanded of them and their salaries.
This a special group of players, and the last week tells you that even more. It will be exhilarating if they win and disappointing if they lose. But either way, this team has established a memory that will keep fueling them for years to come.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN