By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – The New York Yankees, traditionally one of the most reviled teams in Major League Baseball due to its long history of success, are adjusting to a new label – likeable underdogs.
The team, which few predicted would make the playoffs in a rebuilding year, now find themselves one win away from the World Series after three successive victories against the Houston Astros to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s really unusual to hear a Yankee team to be described that way,” manager Joe Girardi said Thursday when asked about the perception the side, nicknamed the “Evil Empire,” is easy to support this year.
“There are so many different talents that we see… we see guys that have reinvented themselves.
“We see rookies that came up and play extremely important roles. We see guys hit the ball out of the ballpark, in the gap, run.
“It’s really enjoyable for me to watch these guys do their work.”
The most electric player on the team is 6-foot-7, 282-pound Aaron Judge, whose batting power and defensive prowess in right field could earn him league MVP honors.
But while Judge understandably gets headlines, team chemistry has been key to the Yankees’ success.
The Yankees have relied on the entire team against the Astros, from timely hitting by catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Todd Frazier to superb pitching performances by Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and veteran CC Sabathia.
“They are having fun,” three-time World Series champion Al Leiter said on an ESPN podcast on Thursday.
“You have players who are comfortable and they are happy and they are passing the baton, Aaron Judge really truly feels a part of it even though he’s an exceptional player.”
The series returns to Houston for Game 6 on Friday, with 23-year-old right hander Luis Severino starting for the Yankees while Justin Verlander takes the mound for the Astros.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)