HOUSTON -- Nearly a full week after sweeping the Twins in the ALDS, the New York Yankees opened their ALCS matchup with the Astros on Saturday night. , the Yankees won Game 1 on Saturday to take a 1-0 series lead ( ).
When you sweep the ALDS so convincingly -- the Yankees outscored the Twins 23-7 in the three games -- it can be easy to maintain the status quo in the ALCS. Same lineup, same rotation order, so on and so forth. The Yankees did not do that. They started Tanaka in Game 1 rather than James Paxton, and it worked wonderfully.
Manager Aaron Boone also made a subtle change to his lineup, elevating young Gleyber Torres to the No. 3 spot after he hit sixth in the ALDS. "Just felt like I liked that against (Zack) Greinke, lining it up that way," was his reasoning. Torres going 5 for 12 (.417) with four extra-base hits in the ALDS certainly didn't hurt matters.
"I mean during last year and this year I hit every position," Torres said about the pressure of hitting third in the postseason. "Really I think I feel comfortable. It's so great to play with the Yankees and I get the opportunity to play every day. So for me I'm just being focused, (each day) I just try to help and make some opportunities to me and try to help my team."
Like the Tanaka move, the decision to move Torres up in the lineup paid immediate dividends. He drove in Game 1's first run with a loud fourth inning double into the left-center field gap. Two innings later Gleyber padded the lead with a towering solo home run into the Crawford Boxes in left field, giving him six extra-base hits in four postseason games.
"It's Gleyber day!" Didi Gregorius exclaimed after Game 1. "It's been like that. I know he's always come up clutch for the team. He's playing like a veteran. He's playing like he's anticipating every situation. That's what you want to see from a young player like that."
The double and the home run were not the most impressive at-bats of the night for Torres, however. With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Torres laid off two nasty Ryan Pressly offerings to turn a 1-2 count into a 3-2 count. He then reached out and plopped a curveball into shallow center field to drive in two important insurance runs.
That was a veteran at-bat from a 22-year-old second-year player. Opponents hit .135/.172/.211 with a 51.8 percent strikeout rate in two-strike counts against Pressly during the regular season and, honestly, I'm surprised the strikeout rate is that low. Point is, Pressly is awfully tough, especially in two-strike counts, and Torres worked him for a two-run single. He added a run-scoring ground out later in the game.
"Smart. Confident. And when you have talent that's a really good combination," Boone said. "He's always had that since he's come to the big leagues and he just plays the game with kind of a free and easy way and a confidence about his game. And I think the intelligence part is big because it's allowed him to continue to grow and get better at all of the little things. He comes into the game prepared. He likes playing these situations and he's confident in his ability to produce. And that leads to a dangerous player."
At 22 years and 303 days old, Torres is the third-youngest player in history to drive in five runs in a postseason game. Only Andruw Jones (19 years and 180 days) and Addison Russell (22 years and 283 days) did it at a younger age. Gleyber's six extra-base hits lead all players in the postseason, and remember, the Yankees have played at least two fewer games than every other still alive team because they swept the ALDS.
"We give out that (wresting championship belt) after every win. He came up to me before the game and said, 'Hey, I'm getting that belt tonight,'" Aaron Judge said. "I said, 'Alright, we'll see about that. I know you're going to have a big game, but we'll see.' He proved it tonight. He comes in every day ready to work. He doesn't care who we're playing. He doesn't care if it's a big situation or if we're playing a last-place team. He's going to produce."
Judge remains New York's best all-around player, but, this postseason, Torres has stepped into the spotlight and continued his ascent toward stardom. That's a weird thing to say about a two-time All-Star, but Torres is easy to overlook in a deep Yankees lineup, and he's still young enough that he could get even better. So far this postseason, he's been aces for the Yankees.
"During my career in the minor league I prepared really well myself for every situation last year," Torres said after Game 1. "I take all the experience and now I just put all the experience in my game. Prepare really well to be here and help my team. So now I got opportunity. I just be patient and just go to the ballpark, play hard, and try to win all the games."