Nothing like a home series against the worst team to get the New York Yankees moving in the right direction.
A sweep against the now 8-21 Detroit Tigers moved the Yankees back to the .500 mark — Corey Kluber pitching a gem on Sunday to seal things in a 2-0 win — and within 2.5 games of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.
You know, those Red Sox who are the bane of the existence of the Yankees and their fans?
“We started to play better,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We’re not where we think we’re going to get to. We still think we can play much better baseball, but we’re starting to square up… To play some winning baseball definitely feels good.”
But this week, the pursuit and disdain of Boston take a back seat — way, way back in the most inner recesses of a Yankees fan’s brain — as the first opportunity for revenge against the Houston Astros finally arrives.
“They’re playing really well, they’re pitching really well,” Boone said of the 15-13 Astros. “We know about their lineup and what they’re capable of. We look forward to them coming in and know we’re going to have to play good baseball to keep this thing rolling.”
Tuesday kicks off the three-game series at Yankee Stadium where the Astros will play New York for the first time since MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s ruling before the COVID-impacted 2020 season that Houston illegally stole signs on their way to a World Series title in 2017; where they beat the Yankees in the ALCS along the way.
There has also been speculation running rampant for nearly two years now that the Astros did the same thing in the 2019 ALCS, most notably when Jose Altuve’s walk-off, series-winning home run in Game 6 off Aroldis Chapman sparked controversy when the star infielder held his shirt closed and ordered his teammates not to rip his jersey off. Many suggested that Altuve was wearing a buzzer or illegal signaling device under his jersey to tell him which pitch was coming, though Major League Baseball did not find anything during their investigation.
Regardless, this will be the first opportunity for Yankees fans to air their grievances toward the Astros since Manfred’s findings, and even an opportunity for the team itself to exact some vengeance, too.
Boone, however, hasn’t put much thought into what the reception will be like once the Astros take the field in the Bronx.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. We’re trying to play good baseball. We know we have a good team coming in. We’re starting to play better and move the needle about where we want to get to and we have six more games on this homestand.
“We need to go out and play well and not really get caught up in all that stuff.”
For veteran outfielder Brett Gardner, the only way to get back at the Astros is to hurt them in the win-loss column.
“I’m sure we all have a memory, so we remember what happened,” Gardner said. “For us the main thing is to play well against them and to beat them. That’s the ultimate form of trying to get back at them. … I’m sure it’ll be a fun series.”
Chapman, the man most affected by the sign stealing, is signing the same tune.
“For me, and I think for us as a team, we just want to win games right now,” he said. “We’re trying to improve our record. That’s very important for us. And we’re definitely looking to win this series. We’re going to try to win three games, or at least two.”