SAN DIEGO — The last swing of the day, before the Yankees returned to their resort from which they cannot depart for any extracurricular activity, came off the bat of Erik Kratz, perhaps the 28th man on their American League Division Series roster.
It traveled far and high and was finally gone, landing on the top tier of the iconic Western Metal Supply Company building here at Petco Park on Sunday afternoon.
Are you ready for the next level of 2020’s never-ending bizarreness? The Yankees must be if they are to upend their fierce rivals the Rays, as the neutral-site action kicks off Monday with a slate calling for the five games, if necessary, to be played in five straight days. Each contest will be held in the late afternoon into evening, adding the shadows to consider for a venue where the Yankees, as a franchise, have played a total of six games.
“I think it will always be odd, all the way up to the World Series,” Aaron Judge said. “Not getting the chance to play in front of your home crowd, no fans, it’s an adjustment. It’s odd. But once it comes down to the actual competition, it’s still the same game.
“I don’t think any of the outside noise is going to affect us. We’re going to go out there and lay it on the line. I think that’s the two types of teams we have there, especially with the Rays and us. We don’t need fans. We don’t need anything. We can go out there and just play.”
On Aug. 25 at the Braves’ Truist Park, Aaron Boone held a quick, post-rainout news conference (on Zoom, naturally). The bad weather forced the Yankees to play two games against the Braves the subsequent day with the knowledge that, thanks to a Mets player and coach testing positive for the novel coronavirus the previous weekend, they also faced twin bills against their crosstown foes on Aug. 28 and Aug. 30.
Asked how he felt about that grueling calendar, Boone smiled and said, “2020, baby. We’ve got to figure it out.”
And here they are, needing to figure out the Rays, who beat them eight out of 10 tries. Needing to figure out their pitching without any days off, Boone didn’t engage on a question about using Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole in the loser-goes-home Game 5 on Friday on short rest, while Cole expressed an openness to the idea. And needing to be ready for whatever else comes down the pike — Aug. 26 wound up being the day when some teams didn’t play in protest of the police incident in Kenosha, Wis.
“There’s going to be a lot of uncharted territory. A lot of things that none of us have ever experienced,” Boone said. “One of the advantages, one of the edges to be gained, is who can handle those things the best through a challenging season. I feel like our guys are in a really good place and looking forward to going out and competing against a great team.”
They swept past the Indians in Cleveland and came straight here, where they hope to be for two weeks — Petco also will host the AL Championship Series — before jetting to Arlington, Texas, for the World Series. They have existed in a bubble since the last week of the regular season and will continue that way until they’re done playing.
Now it’s a ballpark they rarely see, on a schedule never deployed before in October, against a club with whom they nearly brawled (a clear no-no in COVID baseball) last month. It’s a lot.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure situations,” Judge said. “We’re running toward the situations. We’re embracing them. We’re enjoying them. Because we earned it. … A lot of stuff has happened in 2020. This team has continued to embrace every moment.”
When the popular Kratz blasted his batting-practice moonshot, he and his teammates roared … and rushed off the field, knowing to leave on that high note. They look and sound ready, relaxed, while all they — and we — know for sure is this should be one hell of an interesting week here in sunny SoCal.