Upstart Yanks confident ahead of ALCS clash

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“First of all, it’s a great team we’re playing against over there,” said left fielder Brett Gardner, whose epic 12-pitch at bat in the ninth-inning against Cleveland closer Cody Allen ended with two key insurance runs scoring. “[The Indians] maybe the best team in baseball all year long. Tip my cap to them, they’re a great opponent.”

• ALCS Game 1: Friday, 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Game Date Time Matchup TV
Gm 1 Oct. 13 8 p.m. NYY @ HOU FS1
Gm 2 Oct. 14 4 p.m. NYY @ HOU FOX
Gm 3 Oct. 16 8 p.m. HOU @ NYY FS1
Gm 4 Oct. 17 TBD HOU @ NYY FOX/FS1
*Gm 5 Oct. 18 TBD HOU @ NYY FOX/FS1
*Gm 6 Oct. 20 TBD NYY @ HOU FOX/FS1
*Gm 7 Oct. 21 TBD NYY @ HOU FOX/FS1

Now the Yankees will board a plane to Houston, where they’ll once again be underdogs in the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World. New York will face a formidable Astros club with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander set to start Games 1 and 2 at Minute Maid Park.

No matter. This season’s Yankees believe they can beat anybody.

“This is a little step along the way to what we are trying to work towards,” Gardner said after the Game 5 win over the Indians. “Obviously, Cleveland was a really, really tough opponent. Got a really tough team over there and a great pitching staff. One of us was going to move on tonight and one of us was going to go home, and we’re really excited to go to Houston.”

The Yankees haven’t announced who will start opposite Keuchel on Friday, though Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray seem to be the most logical choices.

Tanaka is coming off a brilliant performance in Sunday’s Game 3 win, allowing three hits over seven shutout innings. He walked one and struck out seven in the first of three straight elimination games for the Yankees against the Tribe. Tanaka would be starting on regular rest with Thursday’s off-day, while Gray — who last pitched in Game 1 on Thursday — will have gone more than a week without appearing in a game. The Trade Deadline acquisition struggled to locate his breaking ball in that start, walking four batters and giving up three runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Keuchel beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS, allowing one run and three hits in 5 2/3 innings, and he is 5-2 with a 1.24 ERA in seven career starts against the Yanks, including a win in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.

“Houston’s a great team,” said Yankees reliever David Robertson, who has yet to face the Astros this season. “I’m excited to go down there. I know they had a great season, and we are going to try to do what we can to win a series.”

Robertson's solid relief outing

The Astros, in the their first ALCS and first Championship Series since they were in the National League Championship Series in 2005, won five of seven regular-season meetings with the Yankees, but things have changed since their last meeting on July 2.

After that, the Yankees acquired Robertson, Gray, third baseman Todd Frazier and reliever Tommy Kahnle. Also, of those seven games, three (two by Michael Pineda and one by Jordan Montgomery) were started by guys who have not factored into the Yanks’ postseason rotation.

“It’s a tough challenge,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Wild Card teams that win the Wild Card Game and win the Division Series have a lot of momentum.”

Added Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who went 14-for-28 against the Yankees this season: “Coming back from 2-0 deficit to beat the team with best record in the AL, that’s huge for them. They bring momentum into series.”

The Yankees went 20-8 in September and are arguably playing their best baseball of the year after three consecutive wins against the Tribe. They did not trail in any of those three wins.

“There was no reason to panic,” Gardner said of the 0-2 deficit New York faced against Cleveland. “First of all, nobody really expected us to be here. I think in Spring Training, we were expected to be about a .500 team and [for this to be]a rebuilding year, and I think everyone kind of wrote us off early.

“We were able to get off to a good start in April, and once we were able to play well without [Didi] Gregorius and without Gary Sanchez, we realized how good we could be. … Guys stepping up all year long in big situations. We’ve got a couple veteran guys, but a lot of these young guys have stepped up and done really, really well.”

Brittany Ghiroli has worked for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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