(Hopefully it's not as stressful, but I'd take a repeat of this celebration tonight. Courtesy of the AP)
I can't remember the last time the Yankees played a final regular season game with this much meaning. And no, I'm not going to bother looking it up because there are plenty of other blogs out there that handle historical stuff better than mine. It's been frustrating, agonizing, refreshing, and exciting watching this last month of slim-to-none division leads, and it all boils down to what should be an incredibly drama-filled night of baseball tonight. The Yankees, after being in a pretty precarious spot last Sunday morning, have done what they needed to do and won their last 3 games, and they now find themselves in the driver's seat tonight with the man who has been their most consistent pitcher this season on the mound against a guy who has been absolute dog crap for his team. So what should we be looking for tonight? Here's my thoughts after the jump.
- It's real simple; win and the Yankees win the division, the #1 seed in the AL, and a couple extra days of rest before starting their divisional series on Sunday. Lose and all kinds of crazy "what if" scenarios come into play.
- I know it won't happen, but I wouldn't even have the O's-Rays score on the scoreboard because it doesn't matter. All the Yankees need to do is win this game and that's the only thing they should be focused on.
- Obviously it's going to be all hands on deck for the position players and bullpen with all of that on the line, minus Phelps and probably minus CC. Rafael Soriano threw 43 pitches in 2 innings of work last night, both season highs, and he didn't look all that sharp doing it, but you have to think if it's a close game in the 9th Joe is going to go to him knowing what a win gets his team.
- To that point, I think Joe will have his shortest leash of the year on Kuroda tonight. Hiroki has not looked very good in the last month, and the Yankees can't afford to let this game get out of hand early. If he struggles, it could be an opportunity for the banished Ivan Nova to step in and try to contribute something positive at the end of the season.
- Andy could also be in play tonight if things get really ugly early. I don't expect that to happen, but with him pitching last Saturday and with his next start likely being a week from today in Game 3 of the ALDS if the Yankees win tonight, Joe could go to Pettitte for a few innings if he really needed to.
- My expectation was that the Fraud Sawx would come in looking to embrace the role of spoiler against their hated rival. They didn't play that role at all on Monday with their Triple-A lineup, and I have to think after putting Ellsbury and Pedroyyyyyyyyyyyyyaaaahh back in last night only to lose the way they did they will be back in full-on tank mode tonight. If that's the case, that's a plus for Kuroda and the Yanks.
- Regardless of whether or not the Fraud Sawx come to play or lay down and die, the Yankees need to come out for blood tonight. Daisuke Matsuzaka is an absolutely horrible pitcher, one that the Yankee lineup should tune up something fierce, and there would be nothing better than to put up some crooked numbers in multiple innings early against him.
- In an email discussion with my 2 best friends and friends of the blog Greg Corbell and Milk Gosper earlier this morning, I referenced the scene from "Remember The Titans" when Will Patton realized his team was being screwed by the refs and called them out on it to get a fair playing field, then told Denzel Washington to run up the score. That's the mindset the Yankees need to have tonight; beat them up, knock them down, step on their throats (literally or figuratively, I don't care), and knock them out. Run it the fuck up tonight, Joe. Leave no doubt.
- With that needing to be the team mindset, the lineup should reflect that. Jeter, Ichiro, Cano, A-Rod, Teix, Swish, C-Grand 1-7 in their normal positions, Ibanez 8th at DH, and Russell Martin 9th at catcher.
- The Yankee Stadium crowd has been absolutely disgraceful this season, both in their inability to fill the place and the completely lifeless, lackadaisical way they go about watching the game and cheering for their team. The big roar that went up on Ibanez's game-winning hit last night died down almost as soon as the team came out of the dugout, which surprised and greatly disappointed me. That place better be packed tonight and it better be fucking rocking.
- Speaking of which, I just realized in the course of writing this post how juiced I am for this game tonight. I haven't been this amped for a Yankee game since probably Game 1 of the 2010 ALCS. As much as I hate the new playoff system this year, it's done its job as far as creating excitement and I know I'm going to be watching tonight with the same type of intensity I reserve for playoff games.
- This may be the homer in me talking, but the Yankees deserve to win the division and they deserve to be the #1 seed. They're a better baseball team than the Orioles, a better baseball team than the A's, and probably a better baseball team than the Rangers. It's been a long, tough season marked by more deflating injuries and poor performances than anybody could have imagined, but the Yankees still have the chance to take what's theirs tonight. That's all that matters and I have all the faith in the world that they will come out tonight and get the job done.
- Go get 'em, boys.