"I'm never surprised by what our guys do," said manager Joe Girardi. "Thrilled sometimes, but never surprised."
The Yankees were down, 5-0, after six innings against the Rangers, and they were being stopped cold by a Texas left-hander, but it wasn't Cliff Lee. C.J. Wilson, a converted reliever who was making the second postseason start of his life, was giving the Yankees nothing.
On the other hand, Yankees ace CC Sabathia had atypical but persistent difficulty finding the strike zone. He labored through four innings, needing 93 pitches to record 12 outs.
This had all the markings of a dispiriting defeat for the Yanks, and what was worse, the current ace of all postseason aces, Lee, was looming out there as the Rangers' Game 3 starter. Reasonable people could look at this and, even with a New York victory in Game 2, see the Rangers leading this series, 2-1. And then the Yankees were supposed to start A.J. Burnett in Game 4? Oh man, where was the 28th World Series championship in this scenario?
But hang on a minute, the Yankees had nine outs left, which is plenty for them. In fact, those nine outs represented a real surplus of opportunities. Robinson Cano led off the seventh with a homer, but then Wilson got the next three and the 5-1 deficit still looked more like a mountain than a molehill.
But two hits starting the New York eighth, including an RBI double by Derek Jeter, led to Wilson's departure. Four Texas relievers followed Wilson. The first three did not record any outs. Rangers manager Ron Washington kept changing pitchers, making the percentage moves, but the results refused to change. RBI hits ensued from Alex Rodriguez, Cano and Marcus Thames. Before you could say "Mariano Rivera," the Yankees had turned a one-sided defeat into a 6-5 lead. Kerry Wood and Rivera, of course, made it stand.
Astounding? Of course. But for the Yankees, also a matter of routine. They scored four runs or more in an inning 52 times during the regular season. A deficit of four runs going into the eighth? That's their range, that's their meat, that's their business.
The Yankees just emerged from another AL Division Series sweep over the Twins. They have a nine-game postseason winning streak against the Twins. In the first eight of those games, the Yankees came from behind to win. In their four postseason victories this October, they have come from behind in three.
The Yankees also have a 10-game postseason winning streak against Texas, but since the bulk of that occurred in the 1990s, there is no need to dwell upon it. The here and now is good enough for the Yankees. They are 1-0 in this ALCS, when for most of the evening it looked altogether like 0-1.
Why? How? The Yankees have baseball's best offense, and they have a world of justifiable confidence in their own individual and collective abilities. Throw in five shutout innings from the bullpen on Friday night, including two perfect frames from Dustin Moseley, and you have the recipe for comebacks -- many, many comebacks.
"They have got to get 27 outs," Rodriguez said. "And until that last out is recorded, we have the utmost belief that we are going to win every game."
"Our guys grind out their at-bats," Girardi said. "They put up good at-bats against pitchers, and we have guys that have come up with some really big hits during the course of the season and the postseason. Our lineup is deep, and whether we are facing a left-hander or a right-hander, we feel good about our lineup and the at-bats they put on people. You keep putting people on, you're eventually going to get some runs.
"You know, there's a talented group in there that plays the game with a lot of passion. So like I said, I'm never really surprised, but I am thrilled sometimes."
The opener of a Championship Series was a perfect time for the thrills. The Yankees once again transformed defeat into victory with a remarkable come-from-behind performance in a five-run eighth inning that had the feeling of perpetual motion to it. What made it all the more remarkable was the fact that the Yankees have made this kind of stunning victory a very frequent occurrence.