BOSTON — C. C. Sabathia can still vividly recall the nerves from that day 17 years ago. As a rookie for the Cleveland Indians, Sabathia was making his first postseason start, and adrenaline was pumping through his veins.
But Sabathia contained the rookie’s anxiety to lead Cleveland to victory in Game 3 of that 2001 American League division series. Looking back at that game on Sunday, Sabathia credited his older teammates — like Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome and Ellis Burks — for helping him cope with the moment.
“Just having veterans around keeping me calm, that was the biggest thing,” he said.
It is not altogether uncommon for rookies to perform well in the playoffs: Sabathia, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera and Madison Bumgarner all impressed in their first postseason. In 2015, Noah Syndergaard led the Mets to their only victory in the World Series, and in 2016, the Dodgers carried seven rookies on their postseason roster, led by Corey Seager.
On Wednesday, the Yankees are expected to have two rookies — Miguel Andujar at third base and Gleyber Torres at second — experiencing their first postseason action as the Yankees face the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia is now one of the Yankees’ many veterans, but he does not think that Andujar or Torres will require the same kind of support system that he had as a rookie.
“Oh, yeah, they’ll be fine,” Sabathia said. “They’ve been fine all year.”
Indeed, Andujar and Torres were revelations in their first regular season, which wrapped up Sunday with a 10-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Andujar is a candidate for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award after collecting 47 doubles, 27 home runs and an .855 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Torres hit 24 home runs and 16 doubles, and had an .821 OPS while showing quiet maturity on the field.
“I’m really superexcited,” Torres said Sunday. “For sure it will be different, but that doesn’t mean I have to do anything different. Just play the same game and do my job to help my team win.”
According to their teammates, neither Torres nor Andujar have shown anything during the regular season to indicate that they might be overwhelmed on Wednesday or beyond.
“On the field, they are about as sharpened up as it gets,” Aaron Hicks said. “As long as they are able to control their emotions, they’ll be just fine.”
But the Yankees will also have another rookie in a key position for that game: Aaron Boone, their first-year manager, will be making the decisions that could determine the fate of the team in October.
Boone had a memorable introduction to the postseason as a player. At 30, he hit the winning home run for the Yankees off Boston’s Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series.
That was Boone’s only postseason appearance, but the Yankees went all the way to the World Series before falling to the Marlins, so he has some playoff experience to reflect upon. But as a manager, much of it will be new.
“It’s been a while, but I can’t wait,” he said. “This is what we play for. This is why guys work so hard in the off-season and spring training and the off-season and all the people that were part of getting us to this point. You relish the opportunity to chase down the ultimate prize, and it starts Wednesday.”
Many of the decisions that Boone will make will have been mapped out in advance, in comprehensive scouting sessions with the front office and his coaches. Boone promised that he would manage aggressively in a game the Yankees must win to advance, but, like a cagey veteran manager, he did not name his starting pitcher.
But the two rookie infielders are expected to play, and the rookie manager has no reservations about how they will cope with the pressure.
“Everything that I’ve seen from them — not just their game but who they are — I feel like they are absolutely equipped to handle any situation,” Boone said. “They’ve passed every test that has come their way this year. Not the easiest place, obviously, to be breaking in in New York as a rookie, as a heavily touted player, and delivered and adjusted, dealt with ups and downs and all that. They are equipped for this.”
There was once another Yankees rookie, besides Jeter, who was well equipped to handle postseason pressure in his first season. In 1936, Joe DiMaggio batted .346 with three doubles, three runs batted in and three runs scored as the Yankees beat the Giants in six games.
During that regular season, DiMaggio hit 44 doubles, a club record for rookies until Andujar broke it on Saturday — and then extended it on Sunday with his 47th. It capped a terrific regular season and added to the recognition Andujar is receiving around baseball as a an excellent player.
“I hope so,” he said through an interpreter. “But don’t want to stop there. I want better things. I want to have a long career. The work doesn’t stop.”