Dominant season just a start for Yanks
'Everything starts over' as club pursues 27th championship
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter stopped at his locker to pull on a pair of socks on Tuesday, glancing up and finding he had just been surrounded by about 50 of his newest friends. He grinned a little, eyeing the wave of microphones and notepads.
This is how the postseason should feel around Yankee Stadium, and the frenzy is what makes it the place where Jeter feels most comfortable. October is the month the Yankees prepare for, and with the American League Division Series finally ready to begin, the Yankees are home.
"I've always said our goal when you come into a season is to win a championship," Jeter said. "That's how it is every year. You don't go home and celebrate the regular season. You don't go home and celebrate getting to the World Series. Our goal is to win it."
With their opponent -- the Twins-- flying in on a late-evening flight to New York from Minneapolis, the Yankees were able to enjoy a light workout at the Stadium on Tuesday, stretching as a team before tossing baseballs and laughing with the relaxed attitude of a Spring Training back field in February.
Winning 103 games -- their most since 2002 -- and securing home-field advantage in the entire postseason, the Yankees seem well equipped to avenge the early exits of Octobers past and make a serious run at the elusive 27th World Series title.
Being selected as a favorite heading in guarantees nothing, a fact the Yankees know all too well. Since blowing a 3-0 lead in the 2004 AL Championship Series to the Red Sox, the Yankees have not been able to escape the first round, having missed the playoffs altogether in 2008.
With a strong pitching staff and the Major Leagues' most potent lineup to back it, however, there is a pervading sense in the clubhouse that this year will be different.
"I'm excited -- we have a good team," Alex Rodriguez said. "We've had a good year. We won 103 games, and hopefully, we can go out and carry out what we've done over the last six months. The goal for us is 11 wins right now. We have to pitch, we have to catch the ball and we have to have timely hitting, and I think our team is up for the challenge."
Of course, there are the requisite demands as the Bombers head into their 14th postseason appearance in the past 15 seasons. The first round is an obstacle, not a destination, and one needs to look no further than the No. 27 stitched into manager Joe Girardi's uniform to know what the ultimate goal is.
"In Spring Training, we have pressure to win the division and win the World Series," setup man Phil Hughes said. "That really doesn't change. We're here and we know there's a lot of pressure on us to do what we get paid to do. We don't look at it any differently."
The Yankees flexed the big leagues' most dominant offense this season, their slugging numbers helped markedly by a $1.5 billion home that has not been shy about embracing the long ball. Yankee Stadium finished its first season allowing 237 homers, the most in Bronx history.
Yet the key to defeating Twins and achieving October success goes beyond just pumping balls over the walls.
"This year, we've done a lot of great things," Jeter said. "Our pitching staff has been outstanding -- that's why we're in this position. We expect them go out there and continue to do it."
The Yankees should have that chance. Game 1 starter CC Sabathia has kicked his game into a higher gear at just the right time, navigating the gauntlet of August and September by going undefeated in 11 starts, when he limited opponents to a 2.04 ERA to finish the season with 19 victories.
After swooning for most of August, A.J. Burnett righted himself late in September, stringing together three consecutive quality starts in which he limited opponents to four earned runs in 19 innings for a 1.89 ERA.
And reliable veteran stalwart Andy Pettitte was back to his usual second-half success, going 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break. But while it all looks good on paper, that's not where the games are played.
"We don't know what's going to happen," Jorge Posada said. "We have no idea. We know what kind of team we have, and hopefully, we can finish what we started here."
The Yankees were treated to a lavish late-night dinner last week at the "NYY Steak" restaurant in Yankee Stadium's right-field corner, with principal owner George M. Steinbrenner picking up the check. To a man, every player on the team knows just what he can do to repay the Boss.
"This is what you play for," Jeter said. "This is why you play 30-something games in Spring Training and 162 in the regular season. It's to get to the playoffs. That's what your goal is, and now everything starts over."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.