No stranger to play-in, Yankees sit tight
Analysis of Twins or Tigers an exercise in futility at this point
NEW YORK -- They may have been a different team in a different era, but the Yankees know a thing or two about play-in games. It was back in 1978, after all, when the Yankees played in the first one-game tiebreaker in the League Championship era, setting the stage for Bucky Dent's ball to sail over Carl Yastrzemski's head, for the Yankees to reach the postseason and -- here's the important part -- to win their second successive World Series title.
Since that day, there have been six play-in games in the Major Leagues, including a 1995 tiebreaker that sent the Mariners to the postseason in 1995, setting up their dramatic elimination of the Yankees in five games.
The lesson, though, is that tiebreakers have provided a jumbled pot of results that predict precisely nothing about the rest of October -- which doesn't help the Yankees much as they try to analyze their chances against either the Tigers or the Twins.
Sitting on a division title for more than a week now, the Yankees won't know the identity of their first-round opponent until the Twins and Tigers play their tiebreaker in Minneapolis late Tuesday afternoon. And once they do -- so what? They simply can't know if they'll be playing the latest incarnation of the 2008 White Sox, who beat the Twins and fizzled out in the first round, or of the '07 Rockies, who parlayed their slick final month into a National League pennant.
In theory, both teams will be at something of a disadvantage -- the Yankees, because they won't be able to plan for their opponent until Tuesday night, and the Tigers or Twins, because they won't be rested or quite as prepared.
The Yankees have already delayed their first round of postseason meetings, because, according to manager Joe Girardi, "it doesn't make a lot of sense to have two meetings to go over two teams."
"It's kind of interesting not knowing who we're playing," Girardi said after his team's regular season-ending win over the Rays. "We were going to have a meeting [Monday] to go over who we're playing, but we may not be able to do it."
Yet the Yankees cannot entirely dislike their situation. If they wind up playing the Tigers, they will almost certainly see Detroit's ace, Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, in Games 2 and 4 rather than the originally expected Games 1 and 5. And they are all but assured to see Tuesday's probable starter, Rick Porcello, only once.
Without a shutdown starter such as Verlander in their rotation, the Twins would not be at quite as great of a disadvantage. But either way, Tuesday's victor will have to quickly pop some champagne and then race onto a plane bound for New York City. The winning team will have less than 24 hours to prepare for Game 1, which -- assuming the Yankees choose the longer American League Division Series with an extra off-day -- is scheduled for a 6:07 p.m. ET Wednesday start at Yankee Stadium.
Yet there is something to be said for momentum, and the play-in winner will assuredly have it. For all the advantages the Yankees will enjoy over a travel-weary, fatigued team with a skewed rotation, the Twins or Tigers will have the gift of adrenaline. Consider the 2007 Rockies, who won 21 of 22 games down the stretch, captured their tiebreaker and then whizzed through the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series.
Will the Yankees play the latest version of those Rockies? Or will they play the next incarnation of the 2008 White Sox, who dispatched the Twins only to fall flat against the Rays in the ALDS?
Only time and a tiebreaker will tell.
"You've got to be careful what you ask for, that's for sure," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "It's two great teams going down to the wire. It's just good for baseball."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.