And away we go -- another October, another Yankees team in the ALDS, another potential run at a championship.
Only the opponent is different -- the Baltimore Orioles, who haven't been invited to this party since 1996, so long ago that Jeffrey Maier was too young to know better than to stick his glove into other people's business.
The Baltimore Orioles, who simply refused to go away all summer and have come back again, thanks to their surprising victory over the once-mighty Texas Rangers in the first-ever AL Wild Card play-in game.
The Baltimore Orioles, whose manager, Buck Showalter, probably hates the Yankees more than the most fervent Mets, Red Sox or Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Should be a good one.
Tonight's Game 1 -- first pitch at 6:15, on TBS -- matches the Yankees ace, CC Sabathia, against Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel, who was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts this season.
Sounds like a mismatch, but so did Rangers-Orioles.
On the plus side for the Yankees, Hammel's lifetime record against them is an unimpressive 1-3 and his ERA a bloated 6.20. In three starts against them this year, he was 0-1, 3.94. And a bunch of Yankees on the current roster, led by Ichiro Suzuki, have some pretty impressive numbers against him.
Ichiro's lifetime average against Hammel is .583 (7-for-12). Other Yankees, who have done well against Hammel in larger samples, are Alex Rodriguez (.364, 8-for-22, 4 HRs); Robby Cano (.348, 8-for-23, 1 HR), and Derek Jeter (.318, 7-for-22, 1 HR). Others have fared less well: Raul Ibanez (.238, 5-for-21), Curtis Granderson (.214, 3-for-14) and Nick Swisher (.286, 2-for-7).
But on the flip side, Sabathia, whose career record against Baltimore is an impressive 16-4, 3.12 overall and 10-3, 3.38 at Camden, had a rough time with the Orioles this year, starting three games, losing two of them and showing a 6.38 ERA against them. Adam Jones will be happy to see him -- .341 with 14 hits in 41 career ABs, including three HRs; JJ Hardy, too (.429, 6-for-14). Yankee-killer Mark Reynolds? Not so much (.200, 2-for-10). Jim Thome has only four hits off Sabathia in 30 ABs -- but all four are HRs.)
So let's get ready to play ball, 19 games to glory, or a whole lot less to disaster.
The Question of the Day: Who do you think will win this one, and in how many games? I got the Yankees in five. Let us know below.
Up now: My column on Alex Rodriguez and how his lifeless bat might kill off the rest of the Yankees lineup. Andrew Marchand has a column on CC Sabathia, who this year has been a punching bag for the fiesty little Os.
Coming soon: The one and only Ian O'Connor does his ESPN New York 98.7 FM radio show this morning from 9-12 noon, and will join us here in Baltimore this afternoon. Marchand will be one of his guests. Guess what they'll be talking about? A W2W4 from Mark Simon looking deeper into the matchup will arrive mid-morning, and since there's no pre-game clubhouse access in the postseason, we'll all have to wait for the pre-game interview room to open with Joe Girardi at 4 p.m., followed by Game 2 starter Andy Pettitte at 4:15. Then, we play ball. Check in often and as always, thanks for reading.