CLEVELAND -- In this coronavirus-shortened season, dubbed by many a 60-game sprint, the New York Yankees are playing the long game.
The mantra of the Yankees has been very clear: World Series or bust. Therefore, when asked why all celebrations have been subdued, the answer has been the same, as uttered by Giancarlo Stanton: "We have not done anything yet."
Albeit being used to popping champagne -- the 27-time World Series champions are the winningest franchise in baseball -- in 2019 they finished a calendar decade without an appearance in a World Series, an eternity for Yankees fans.
When the Yankees' playoff run ended in Game 6 of the 2019 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, the same stage at which they were eliminated three years ago, All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge dubbed the season a failure. After their 6-4 loss to the Astros in October of last year, Judge unequivocally stated: "No matter how many games we won in the regular season, or what else we did, this season is a failure."
The Yankees' focus is on the bigger picture rather than the immediate result.
"No question," manager Aaron Boone said Thursday of their approach. "One of the things I told the guys was how proud of the performance I was and how many great individual efforts there were last night, and how many big-time plays were made by big-time players in this series. But tempered with, 'We haven't done anything yet.'"
Stanton offered a similar perspective. The left fielder and designated hitter has yet to be fully embraced by the Yankees fan base, but his work against Cleveland could begin to change that. Two games into these playoffs Stanton is 2-for-7 -- his hits being solo homers in Games 1 and 2 -- with two walks, three strikeouts and three RBIs.
"You can't get too excited; you can't get too happy for wins," Stanton said. "Be appreciative, know what it took, give credit where credit is due, but know that the ultimate goal ... we're not even close to there. Our mindset is we haven't done anything yet. Same as going into last night, though we won the night before, we haven't done anything today, so erase that and let's get it done."
Boone added: "We have very lofty goals. When we got to spring training, we had lofty goals, when we came back for summer camp that didn't change. When we got into the season, that hasn't changed; when we've gone through the ups and downs of the season, the goal hasn't changed. We want to win a championship. And this team's been through a lot, and these guys have been knocked on that door a lot, and hopefully, this is the year that we can kick it in."
The inconsistent Yankees, who following a 10-game winning streak lost six of their final eight games of the regular season, limped into the playoffs as the fifth seed and swept Cleveland in the first round. The prize for their efforts? Facing the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays, the top-seeded team in this unique expanded playoff format. The Yankees not only were 2-8 against the Rays this season, they were outscored 47-34 in those games, which included bench-clearing arguments and palpable tension between teams with obvious animosity toward each other.
"We're clearly the underdog now. They are the big, bad, number one seed of the AL East," Boone said. "I don't think it'll be very difficult for our guys to really focus on [the fact] that we want to win. We want to win and advance, and that's where our focus is going to lie. There's going to be things that come up that probably become a little bit contentious within the series, but I'm confident that our guys will do a good job of keeping their blinders on. We understand what's at stake. ... I am confident that's where our focus will be."
"Who would have thought we would be playing against Tampa Bay in San Diego when this year started?" Stanton added. "It's good. We know what they got and we know it's gonna be a fight and we gotta play our best. We [are] ready, we ready. It's gonna be fun. It's gonna be a good fight to take this East Coast battle out to the West Coast now."