NEW YORK – Chas McCormick swayed hard on the field and then fainted, somehow, the way athletes behave in competition fires—particularly when hitting a fastball at 98 mph from the nozzle of your racket.
He initially thought his second-round swing against Gerrit Cole was a foul ball, but when he came in, he noticed New York Yankees first-team player Anthony Rizzo was back at him with his massive shoulders drooping. Then the ball continued to carry, 330 feet into the right court and more than enough to clear a wall that was placed just 314 feet from the home plate, shortly after 47,000 fans settled into their seats at Yankee Stadium late Saturday afternoon.
McCormick had bet his team for a two-round lead in go-for the kill 3 of this MLS Championship series, a game in which they won 5-0 and set up a shot on Sunday in a second consecutive trip to the World Championships.
And then the game slowed down for McCormick, just as it has all this season.
As he rolled the rules, he suddenly remembered dozens of family and friends, including his twin brother, Jason, and his girlfriend from among the audience. He waved to them, as if he was an old pro, before meeting his teammates who entertained him with “Chas Chomp,” an exaggerated gesture that seems to have earned him prominence in Houston.
Watch every match: Live MLB scores
With each board appearance, McCormick seems more comfortable in his role — just as many players are beginning to capture more of the spotlight on this sixth consecutive journey for the franchise into the ALCS.
And there is nothing like this first star role.
“Against Gerrit Cole, too? One of the best shooters in the game? I’ve been so happy,” McCormick recalls after the Astros pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination for the third time in the past six ALCS. “There is no such thing as a home run in the post-season.
“It’s hard to describe in words.”
We’ll try: Entering Game Three, McCormick had only appeared once at Yankee Stadium. He only had four games in the 2021 World Series, and had no midfield lockout in Houston until the trades of Miles Straw and Jose Seri and the continuing injuries faced by Jake Myers.
Now, he has two big runs at home in the ALCS, his first major lockout track in a 4-2 Game 1 victory.
However, McCormick looks like a post-season vet compared to Trey Mancini, who has never played a post-season game in six seasons in Baltimore and, worst of all, has been struggling hard since Houston acquired him in August. He fought .176 by 0.258 on base (compared to .270, .334 with the Orioles), and was 0 for 6 against Seattle in the ALDS.
But Mancini had bad luck in addition to his tough adjustment period, and Astros manager Dusty Becker put him off for a DH course at Yankee Stadium all week.
He didn’t disappoint, taking a 400-foot shot off Cole on his first attack, a result that Yankees coach Aaron Boone acknowledged went into his thought process when he pulled Cole with the loaded bases and Mancini deservedly placed sixth.
That decision could have been poor throughout the New York winter, in large part because Mancini made the sacrifice fly that propelled Houston’s 3-0 lead. And after Yuli Gouriel brilliantly moved from first to second quickly to the left, Cristian Vazquez’s ensuing song froze the match with a score of 5-0.
Like Mancini, Vazquez was a darling piece of a mid-level competitor in the Middle East that Houston acquired on Deadline Trade. And Vazquez’s biggest contribution may have come behind the board, when Harrison Bader nailed a bid to steal second base after dominant starting player Cristian Javier started the fifth inning by throwing seven balls in his first eight.
Now, they are part of a group that looks, from 1 to 26, bent on stifling dissent.
“I felt like myself for the first time in a while,” says Mancini. “This group has been together, pretty much, for a really long time. You’re trying to learn from them and figure out what makes them so successful and it’s been so amazing that they’ve been around for so long. It was so special to be a part of this group.”
“This is a different animal than what I’ve played in my career. It’s what we dream about. It’s why we all play baseball our whole lives. You’d be remiss if you didn’t enjoy it and do it the right way instead of being overly nervous or not wanting to shine.”
“This team definitely doesn’t mind being in the spotlight.”
Even if the heroes shift slightly. Oh, and third All-Star captain Alex Bregman, in the mix since 2017, doubled down on what Cole called “a great night.” However, the mix has been updated.
Javier went down to sixth, allowing the lone player to beat the Yankees up to two wins in ninth. Bullpen reduced the post-season era to 0.62, with 39 strikes in 29 innings. And it’s all a lot better than GM James Click could have imagined when he juggled that AL position on deadline.
This enabled them to beat Jose Altove’s stunning start 0 for 25 to post-season, and finally broke when he threw a double Cole into the right field. And to keep the hits when the champs cool off, ALDS champion Yordan Alvarez is in the ALCS, with only one in 10 rackets.
“Now we have guys that are starting to struggle a little bit,” McCormick says. “(Beginning of Game Two) Framber (Valdez), Christian Javier, (Defendant Kyle) Tucker, Alvarez. I think that is why we are a really good team.”
This is about to make history again, even if the faces have changed a bit.
“Every win after a season is fantastic,” says Vazquez, the 2018 world champion with the Red Sox. “We win once at home in the World Championships and we couldn’t be happier to be here and play for this team.”