Yankees Have Returned Yankee Stadium to an Impenetrable Big-Game Fortress

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterOctober 18, 2017

Fans hold up signs during the eighth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

NEW YORK — There were nights in May when it wasn't this loud, afternoons in August when the stands weren't full. The New York Yankees won a whole lot of those games at Yankee Stadium, too.

It's not just the noise. It's not just the aura.

Then again, noise and aura don't hurt. The beer and the insults cascading out of the bleachers don't help if you're a visiting team coming to Yankee Stadium hoping to win in October. Three of them have been there this month, from the Minnesota Twins in the American League Wild Card Game through the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS to the Houston Astros this week in the ALCS.

Three teams, six games, zero wins for the visitors. And as Wednesday night ended with the Yankees one win away from the World Series, don't let anyone tell you the ballpark and those who inhabit it aren't part of this team's story.

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Take it from Todd Frazier, the kid from New Jersey who grew up to be a Yankee. He's the one who hit the three-run home run Monday, the one who was leaping over the dugout railing to wave baserunners home during Tuesday's comeback, the one who was laughing and smiling again after Wednesday's 5-0 Yankee win that put his team ahead three games to two in this best-of-seven series.

"This is New York, baby," he said. "Only the strong survive. And that's why I love playing here."

It hasn't been easy being the visiting team at Yankee Stadium this October, as the Houston Astros found out this week.
It hasn't been easy being the visiting team at Yankee Stadium this October, as the Houston Astros found out this week.Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Or take it from George Springer, the kid from Connecticut who grew up to be an Astro.

"This is wild," he said, after three days as a target in center field. "This is a wild place to play, to say the least. It's definitely tough. The fans are into the game. They act as if they've won 27 world championships. I understand."

They have won 27 world championships, of course, and the Astros have won none. None of that should really matter in terms of what happens in 2017, and maybe it won't. As the Astros were quick to point out on their way out of town, they get back to their fans and their atmosphere when the series resumes Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

"They had their three games here," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "We have our four at home. It's home-field advantage."

And if it works out that way, with the Astros coming back to win Games 6 and 7 in Houston, perhaps the story of the 2017 Yankees will include a chapter or two on why they couldn't win on the road. They were the lone team to make the postseason with a losing road record (40-41) during the regular season, and the trend has kept up in October.

The Yankees are 1-4 on the road this month, although that one win was in a pretty important Game 5 in Cleveland…after they'd saved themselves in that series with two straight wins at home.

There was plenty more to what happened this week, for sure, with the best-hitting team in the major leagues suddenly finding itself ice-cold at the plate and with one of the biggest Yankee-killing pitchers of all time failing to make it through the fifth inning in Wednesday's Game 5.

Todd Frazier (left), the kid from New Jersey who grew up going to games at Yankee Stadium, was reminded again this week why he loves playing in them.
Todd Frazier (left), the kid from New Jersey who grew up going to games at Yankee Stadium, was reminded again this week why he loves playing in them.Al Bello/Getty Images

It's hard to say it was the ballpark or the fans that got Dallas Keuchel, who gave up the first four runs Wednesday. The last time he was at Yankee Stadium for a postseason game, he pitched six scoreless innings and the Astros won the 2015 Wild Card Game 3-0.

"If you don't give the crowd anything to cheer for, they can't cheer," Keuchel said. "Two years ago, it seemed like they were searching for something to cheer for. It just wasn't there. These last three games, there was plenty to cheer for."

There was enough to make a ballpark come alive, enough for the Yankees and their fans to start up comparisons to the iconic place that once stood across the street from the current version of Yankee Stadium. In our memories, it was always louder there than anywhere else and the Yankees always won more there than anyone else won anywhere else.

Mystique and aura and all that, as Curt Schilling once said.

It was true, except when it wasn't. The 1996 Yankees won the first World Series of their era because they were perfect on the road, allowing them to overcome two bad Yankee Stadium losses to the Atlanta Braves. The 2004 Yankees own the worst postseason collapse ever, completed at Yankee Stadium. In the final 23 postseason games the old place hosted, the Yankees were a mediocre 11-12.

In the first season at the new place, they went 7-1 at home to win the World Series for the first time in nine years. It was loud that October, too.

"I feel like it's been a lot better this year," said CC Sabathia, the ace of the 2009 staff. "It's been nuts. And we feed off it."

He's not wrong, and neither are Frazier or Springer. Neither was Chase Headley, the Yankees designated hitter who compared it to a college football atmosphere after he had three hits Wednesday.

"They're going crazy the whole game," Headley said. "It's a huge advantage for us."

How do you argue with him, when the Yankees have been perfect at home this October? How do you argue, when even with regular-season noise and aura they went 51-30 at home from April through September?

They do seem to love this place. It's not just the hitters, the guys who can take advantage of the right field porch. Masahiro Tanaka, the starting pitcher who dominated the Astros on Wednesday, has made eight Yankee Stadium starts since the final week of July. His ERA in those eight games: 0.96.

Tanaka went seven innings Wednesday, allowing just three hits. Springer had one of them, although you can be sure the fans in the bleachers were more interested in reminding him about the time he struck out. And about a few other things.

"Stuff I can't repeat," Springer said. "Stuff I probably won't repeat in 20 years."

He won't forget playing here. The fans won't forget being here.

And the Yankees? They hope to get one win this weekend in Houston, just so they can come back here.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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