When Derek Jeter recalls the last time the Yankees got this close to the World Series, he gets chills down his spine that have nothing to do with the cold he’s fighting.
“If you have the opportunity to get something over with, you’d like to do it,’’ the New York captain said yesterday. “It’s not always going to happen.’’
Although the Yankees have a strong record in potential closeout playoff games over their peerless history, the 2004 American League Championship Series is a prodigious hole in their reputation that only a record 40th AL pennant could begin to cover. New York lost four straight to the Red Sox in an unprecedented collapse, and the Yankees hadn’t been that close to the World Series since - until now.
They get the first of three shots at a closeout victory over the struggling Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS tonight, with A.J. Burnett facing Los Angeles ace John Lackey at Angel Stadium.
After half a decade and several hundred million dollars’ worth of premium free agent shopping, most of the Yankees who have rolled through six wins in their first seven postseason games this fall don’t share Jeter’s memories of 2004.
Manager Joe Girardi understands the history, but prefers to focus on the future.
“There’s a lot of different faces,’’ Girardi said. “You look at our rotation, CC [Sabathia] wasn’t here, A.J. wasn’t here. You look at the bullpen, and I believe [Mariano Rivera] was the only guy that was here. It’s a different scenario, but we understand who the Angels are.’’
The Yankees have held a 3-1 lead in an ALCS six times since Jeter, Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada joined the roster in the mid-1990s. New York closed it out immediately three times, waited for the sixth game once - and then there was 2004.
Before yesterday’s light workout, the Yankees were modest about their chances of getting that last win and steaming back onto baseball’s biggest stage after a six-year absence.
“I’ve played with some good players, but it’s like the guys on this squad, when the stage gets bigger and the situation gets bigger, they perform better,’’ said Burnett. “It never ceases to amaze me what can happen.’’
The first baseman credits his father for teaching him the finer points as a kid, including fielding lots of grounders. “My dad always stressed the importance of defense,’’ Teixeira said. “As I’ve gotten into the big leagues, I’ve realized it’s even more important.’’
Teixeira’s bat has been quiet against his former team this series, but his defense has gained notice.
“Without Tex, we wouldn’t be here,’’ Sabathia said. “Not just because he hit 39 homers, but just his glove. Some of the plays he makes, he saves everybody. I didn’t realize he was as good a player as he is.’’
Teixeira has given the Yankees an upgrade at first base in his first season over Jason Giambi, who was more lumbering than nimble at the position.
“He had a play early in the season where he dove to his right, threw from his knees to throw to home plate and save a run and save the game for us,’’ Girardi said. “He’s a complete player. Whether it’s defensive, base running, offensive. Thinking, talking about the game, he’s a complete player, and his defense has saved us a number of times this year.’’