It’s been a strange week for the Yankees with an off day between Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS and a rainout that delayed Game 2 by another 24 hours. Now they’re in Cleveland to face the Guardians with the series tied 1-1.
The Yankees and the Guardians somehow manage to end up facing one another in the postseason on a semi-regular basis. The two last met in the postseason in 2020, in 2017 and then a decade before that in the infamous midge series in 2007.
It’s almost always a similar narrative: The dominant, historic team in pinstripes against the upstart team that no one thought would make it this far. Just ask the Guardians — their official Twitter account will tell you they think no one believes in them. Cleveland is clearly playing with a chip on its shoulder.
Luis Severino will make his first postseason start of the year and he’ll face right-hander Triston McKenzie, who tossed six scoreless innings in the Guardians’ AL wild card win over the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend.
Here are three things to watch for in Games 3 of the ALDS.
MCKENZIE ON THE HILL
There are some parallels to that infamous 2007 series, one of which is McKenzie. The 25-year-old right-hander grew up in Florida but was born in Brooklyn, which is where his Yankees fandom began. McKenzie admitted to being a fan of former Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter as a kid and mentored by CC Sabathia.
“I think I’m a Florida boy at heart, but I grew up in — I probably shouldn’t even say it — I grew up a big fan of the captain and kind of everything about New York, in terms of I have a lot of family up here and how easy it is to interact with so many different people,” McKenzie said Friday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. “And then growing up in Florida, I think baseball is just what I love.”
Obviously, emotional attachments disappear when you put on a uniform for a different team, but McKenzie still has some family and friends rooting for the team he’s trying to beat in New York.
“I think I’ll be able to brag to some of my family members a little bit more,” he said. “Which will be nice.”
Now the real question is whether or not LeBron James will show up and which team he’ll be pulling for.
THE INFAMOUS MIDGES
For those who don’t remember the 2007 ALDS (or for those who just choose not to remember), the Yankees had to battle a swarm of insects that are native to the region in Game 2. Pitcher Joba Chamberlain had to bat them away on the mound and struggled with his command. The Yankees lost and it became known as the bug game.
We may see Bug Game 2.0 this weekend as midge season is upon us.
“I was at the Browns game on Sunday after the wild card series and they were out in full force and it was the middle of the day,” McKenzie said. “So I can only imagine when we get back. It’s something you can’t get around. You just have to steel yourself and pitch through it.”
Aaron Judge went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game 2 and was booed by his own home fans. Facing intense scrutiny in your own home market and home park is a reality of playing in New York City, albeit a harsh one.
“It’s the Bronx, man,” manager Aaron Boone said following the 4-2 loss.
The Guardians sort of blooped their way to a win and Judge, the league’s home run leader with 62, doesn’t have a hit in the series yet. He’s 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts and a walk. It’s a surprising performance from a player who may win the AL MVP award and it led to questions as to whether or not the fanfare surrounding his home run chase has affected him.
The Yankees downplayed that concern.
“It’s baseball. You’re up against the best,” Boone said. “Tough hitting conditions. Like, great hitters go 0-for on a given day, you know. Great hitters fail more often than they succeed, even when you’re rolling. You know, they neutralized him here the first two days, pitched him really tough. But he’ll get back on the horse and be as dangerous as they come tomorrow night.”