NEW YORK – For Dallas Keuchel, pitching on three days' rest for the Houston Astros in the American League wild-card game is just one more chance to prove a season's worth of doubters wrong.
"I play with a chip on my shoulder," Keuchel said Monday at Yankee Stadium. "I think a lot of the guys do in there as well. And we'll always carry that."
Before they take on a pitcher who shut them out twice this season, the New York Yankees faced another difficult challenge: Clubhouse leader CC Sabathia is not going to be with the team in the postseason because he is checking into an alcohol rehabilitation center.
"For tomorrow, not just for the team, but maybe we can get the win for CC as well," Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka said Monday after a meeting that not only focused on the Astros but also how players could support their friend and teammate.
To advance to the Division Series and face the Royals in a best-of-five matchup that begins Thursday in Kansas City, the Yankees will have to figure out how to beat the AL's only 20-game winner in a winner-take-all playoff Tuesday night after going scoreless against him in 16 innings this season.
Keuchel (20-8) might have trouble walking the streets of Manhattan these days with his distinctive bushy beard giving him away to fans, but he's been elusive on the mound in a season that has made him a Cy Young Award candidate.
And first-year manager A.J. Hinch, who pressed all the right buttons in guiding the surprising Astros to their first postseason in 10 years, is confident his 27-year-old ace will handle the short rest without a problem.
"It probably garners more attention than it needs to," Hinch said. "But at the end of the day, I think if he pitches well it will be a lot of guts and he came through on short rest. If he doesn't pitch well, then it's a change in routine and a lack of rest."
The young ballclub is two years removed from a 111-loss season. But the Astros surprised almost everyone in baseball by racing out to a big lead in the AL West, only to fade in September before earning the second wild card on the final day of the schedule.
The storied Yankees were also a bit of a surprise; not much was expected from an aging roster with pitching questions the year after Derek Jeter hung up his spikes. But led by the resurgent Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (now injured), New York sat atop the AL East late into the summer.
Keuchel will face a lineup that has limped into the postseason, losing six of seven games.
In better times for the Yankees, Keuchel shut them out with a six-hitter in Houston on June 25. He repeated that impressive performance in the Bronx, pitching three-hit ball for seven innings on Aug. 25.
But Rodriguez, who has struggled mightily in many Octobers past, said that just as this season was for him after sitting out last year because of a drug suspension, the postseason is a clean slate for everyone.
"It all goes back to reset," he said.