Yankees using playoff loss to Astros as motivational fuel


TAMPA – It’s been the last maddening, furious end to a new season for the Yankees and for Yankees fans, but this one has accompanied them to George M. Steinbrenner Field and will come north with them when they get that elusive 28th World Series- championship for the 14th consecutive season.

It’s been more than three months since the Astros dumbfounded the Yankees and danced on their graves at Yankee Stadium as the four-game ALCS sweep ended.

Time heals all wounds, but this one hasn’t healed yet, and the Yankees are fine with that, for they now say that the memory of such an ignominious Rocktober Bottom has kindled a fire in them and made them sicker and weary of being sick and tired than ever before.

“That was the first time I felt that kind of pain in the big leagues,” Isiah Kiner-Falefa told The Post. “You feel that in high school and beyond, but this was my first introduction to how bad it actually hurts in the big leagues. You get so far, you get so close with a team, and to embarrass us a little bit like we did, it didn’t feel right, and I think in a way it was an opportunity for us to go into the off-season with a different mindset, a little more urgency in the low season. Everyone seems to have made great progress in the off-season because it hurt so bad last year. So I just hope that we can stay healthy all season long and see those guys again, or whoever it may be. But I think it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, and we’re ready to redeem ourselves.

Redemption team, anyone?

Michael King said the Yankees’ loss to the Astros in last year’s playoffs will help this year’s team get better.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“I think a lot of people still think about this,” Clay Holmes said. “It’s something that I think drives us, especially as we come in here this spring.”

Ace reliever Michael King was relegated to cheerleading following his elbow stress fracture in July.

“The way we interlock and feel was something I haven’t felt in my four years here,” said King. “I felt like last year was the best team we put on the field in terms of chemistry and talent. We always talk about the teams that get hot in the playoffs, the teams that have that magic. And I felt like we never quite got to that magical point.

“But the attitude that comes in here is like we can’t just be complacent with having the best regular season baseball team, or winning the AL East, we can’t be complacent in that way.”

The Yankees are not supposed to just knock on the door of the World Series. It’s time they kicked the door open, and they all know it, from Hank Steinbrenner to Brian Cashman to Aaron Boone to Captain Aaron Judge.

“I know this resonates all the way to the front office in terms of off-season moves because they see the same thing,” said King. “There’s just a different attitude after a loss like that. When I come back here, it is of course great to see everyone, but you know we all have one goal in mind, and that is fuel to the fire.”

Aaron Judge, who signed autographs for Yankees fans ahead of their spring training game against the Pirates, said last year's playoff loss to the Astros still hurts.
Aaron Judge, who signed autographs for Yankees fans ahead of their spring training game against the Pirates, said last year’s playoff loss to the Astros still hurts.
Getty Images

The Astros won Game 7 in Houston to beat the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS and Game 6 in Houston to beat them in the 2019 ALCS. Then came Rocktober Bottom.

“I think every time you lose, especially at home, it hurts you,” said Judge. “I even go back to losing the ALDS to the Red Sox in 2018 when they beat us on our field [in Game 4] and eventually won the World Series. They all sting, I wouldn’t say one more than the other just because a loss is a loss.”

When asked if he saw the Astros fill the Bronx night with jeers and screams, Judge said, “I was the last batter so I packed up and hit the road.”

His historic 62 home run season is over.

“It was incredibly painful,” said Nestor Cortes. “It is the team that beats us every time we come into the LCS. I feel like we have to go over that hump to get there. They celebrated and won us like a dagger in four games, so hopefully we can change that this year.

Holmes watched the Astros beat the Phillies in the World Series.

“Obviously you’re sitting there imagining what things would be like if we were there,” he said. “I kept imagining myself, ‘I should be in this moment, what would I do when I’m in this moment?’ That’s obviously where we wanted to be, and I think our minds were all there in some capacity.

All well and good that their spirits are all there in March. Better that their ghosts are all there in October.

“When you get swept at home, it’s never a good feeling,” said Clarke Schmidt. “It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It gives a little hunger in your ass and makes you want to put in a lot of work to get back there and be able to come back next year and do it to them. It certainly motivates us enormously.”

King briefly watched the Astros’ Yankee Stadium party.

“It’s good to see,” he said. “It sucks to see, but it’s good to have that motivation. But I don’t want to see it for more than a few seconds. I watched a little bit of it and then was back in the clubhouse.

Rocktober bottom.

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