Yankees’ Joe Girardi on playing with a series lead: ‘Yeah, it does feel different’

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The last time the Yankees were ahead 3-2 in a postseason series, Joe Girardi was in his second year as team manager, and his players were one win shy of capturing a World Series title over the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.

So, with a little help from some elementary math, it’s been eight years since New York has played an October baseball game without their backs against the wall. Game 6 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday night will not be a must-win, do-or-die, or winner-take-all contest for them. The pressure on the Yankees has been lowered.

In fact, all of that stress and tension the Baby Bombers once felt has abruptly shifted over to the Astros’ clubhouse, and after three consecutive losses at Yankee Stadium, it’s probably mounted with their special season on the brink of ending prematurely.

If the Yankees do win Game 6, they would advance to the Fall Classic against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 7-2 record since falling behind 0-2 to the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. That’s impressive in its own right. But the point is, consider this uncharted territory for the Yankees, as they’re playing with a sizable advantage for the first time in a long time. 

“Yeah, it does feel different,” Girardi told reporters of having a series lead on Thursday. “We’ve been on a run of we have to win today, we can’t afford to lose today, for a number of reasons. But I think the attitude will be the same, win one game. That is what we’ve kind of talked about, and that’s kind of what we’ve stuck to around here, and that’s what you try to do: win a game on Friday night. Again, we’re facing a great pitcher [Justin Verlander] and a great opponent. But we have to win one game and that’s what we’ll stick to.”

In three games in The Bronx, the Yankees outscored the Astros, 19-5, and while most teams would find it more convenient to play a fourth consecutive day — based on the momentum and energy they’ve generated — Girardi isn’t too concerned with the day off between Games 5 and 6.

“Yeah, I think probably everyone would have probably rather played [Thursday],” Girardi said. “We understand it. We’ve been on both sides. It’s probably good for our bullpen to have a day off. We rely on them heavily. We got seven great innings out of [Masahiro] Tanaka [in Game 5], and used Tommy [Kahnle], but it allows us to probably use Tommy [in Game 6] if we need him. The day off will definitely help our bullpen, and I think physically it helps the players. But when you’re on a roll, you never want to stop playing.”

Luis Severino will oppose veteran Justin Verlander in Game 6 with first pitch scheduled for 8:08 p.m.

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