This weekend, as is custom for the 2019 Yankees, two players suffered injuries.
Both were minor; James Paxton strained his left glute while Gio Urshela rolled his ankle. Neither player should be hampered by their ailment in October. Outside of mild concern for each player, the most interesting aspect of their removals from their starts was Aaron Boone’s comments afterwards:
“In a normal situation, I think he pitches last night and is able to be really effective moving forward in that game,” Boone said of Paxton. “It was just something where we know the next [start] is really important and didn’t want to take any risks.”
In both cases, Boone indicated that these were minor enough that in a playoff game, Paxton and/or Urshela would have remained in the game.
That’s been the lay of the land for the Yankees’ past month. They’ve held off from overusing their top relievers, perhaps at the expense of homefield advantage, and given regular days off to key hitters, including Aaron Judge. If they had been in a race for a postseason spot, they no doubt would have played with less caution. The increase in injury or overuse risk becomes bearable when the reward is great.
Now, the incentives flip. Every game, every inning, every pitch has amplified importance in a way no Yankees game has for the past month. Even their games against prospective playoff opponents haven’t had much juice. That is all irrelevant Friday when the crowd turns the energy to 11 when the Bombers take the field.
A small ankle injury or minor pain in the behind won’t be enough to take anyone off the field. With a heroic effort last year, Didi Gregorius knows that all too well. He gritted his way through the Division Series last year despite needing Tommy John surgery. There’s no doubt he would have kept going if the Yankees had advanced, which shows how much October means to every player on the roster.
The Yankees have had a holding pattern all season where they’ve been waiting for their A+ lineup to arrive, hoping to finally have a full pitching staff with every starter and reliever available. They more or less have that now, even as guys shake off ailments or Aaron Hicks and Dellin Betances sit on the bench.
Now the next man up isn’t a thought. We’re watching proven quantities prove themselves further. One player might perform above expectations, but there shouldn’t be an out-of-nowhere surprise hero in the way Urshela, Mike Tauchman or Mike Ford were in past months. The Yankees’ depth is still a strength, but their top-line talent needs to carry the day.
The Yankees have exited the 162 games of caution and waiting. The postseason is short and full of risk. Risk of loss, injury and pride all in play. That’s what creates the tension and exhilaration in the end. For once, with as close to a full roster, we get to watch what the Yankees look like unleashed at their peak. Let’s hope it’s been worth the wait.