The New York Yankees are one win away from the World Series, and they've put themselves in this position by cooking up some home-field magic.
I've spent many days this season wondering just how the Yankees could have such a home-field advantage at Yankee Stadium. They dominated the Orioles in 10 games there this season.
The Orioles lost eight of 10 games at Yankee Stadium this past season by a combined score of 102-46. Over that stretch, the Yankees averaged 10.2 runs a game and New York scored in double digits in five of those games.
And now, for the second time this postseason, the Yankees have rallied from a 2-0 series deficit thanks to their play in the Bronx. After dropping a pair of one-run games in Houston in the first two games of the American League Championship Series, the Yankees sent the series back to Texas up 3-2 after winning three straight games at Yankee Stadium by a combined score of 19-5.
Asked during the season why the Yankees seemed to play so well at home, Orioles manager Buck Showalter shrugged it off, saying it had to do more with the starting pitching the Yankees put on the mound, but there's no question they have some Bronx mojo working these days.
The Yankees got to Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel for four runs while New York starter Masahiro Tanaka went seven strong innings during a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees can clinch a spot in the World Series by winning Game 6 on Friday.
Against the Astros, they've done it with the same penchant for the big inning they orchestrated against the Orioles this season, keeping the inning alive with patient at bats. Sometimes they'd score with a bloop and a blast, but mostly it was by orchestrating a pass-the-baton mentality that deflated any momentum their opponent hoped to build.
In Game 3 of the ALCS, they used a five-run fourth to win 8-1, and then utilized a four-run eighth the following night to come back from four runs down to win 6-4. In Wednesday's Game 4, they did it a little differently, pecking away at left-hander Dallas Kuechel for four runs over 4 2/3 innings, sitting on a two-seamer down in the zone that Kuechel had such success with in Game 1 in Houston for base hits. No homers were needed on Wednesday.
The new Yankees Stadium never seemed to match up to its historic predecessor as a park with a home-field advantage until now. Maybe it was because it was made to be too much of a cookie cutter of the old Yankee Stadium, or because it just didn't have the gritty feel and sense of history of the old ballpark that used to sit across 161st Street.
But if the Orioles have modeled their team – built on the home-run ball – to fit hitter-friendly Camden Yards, the Yankees have improved the blueprint of building a club that plays to their home park. The same short right-field porch exists at the new Yankee Stadium, but the ball flies out in right field, making it easy to hit balls out of there. Combine that with an unlabeled 385-foot alley in right-center that plays much shorter. Showalter suggested once this season that it actually is shorter than the old Yankee Stadium, but it might have just been a reflection on how often the Yankees deposited baseballs into the bullpen beyond that right-center field fence off Orioles pitching.
There's no secret the ball flies out of Yankee Stadium faster than the No. 4 train. Two of the longest home runs I've seen this past year were hit there, and they were both jaw-dropping rockets. Manny Machado hit a 470-foot blast that hit just below the center-field concourse railing above Monument Park on April 28, a ball that was the longest at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era. Then in June, Aaron Judge homered onto the left-field concourse with a 495-foot blast that broke Machado's record mark.
Those blasts are one thing, but Yankee Stadium also has the ability to turn a routine fly ball into a home run if it picks up enough wind behind it. Jonathan Schoop's final home run of the season back on Sept. 14, a towering fly ball to left-field at Yankee Stadium that went an estimated 374 feet, had a hit probability of just 24 percent, according to Statcast.
Now, the Yankees haven't done it all with the home-run ball at Yankee Stadium, but the threat of game-changing power with one swing alone makes a big difference, especially given the big boppers in the New York lineup.
The result is now a stadium that feels like the old Yankees Stadium. Yes, the bleacher creatures in right have always existed, and fans still pound on the railing padding in the front row during a rally, but Yankee Stadium has definitely become a home-field advantage this season. Just ask the Orioles.