October 19, 2017 / 11:23 PM / a year ago

Yankees adjust to new label: likeable underdogs

(Reuters) - The New York Yankees, traditionally one of the most reviled teams in Major League Baseball due to its long history of success, are adjusting to a new label - likeable underdogs.

Oct 18, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) and right fielder Aaron Judge (99) celebrates after beating the Houston Astros in game five of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The team, which few predicted would make the playoffs in a rebuilding year, now find themselves one win away from the World Series after three successive victories against the Houston Astros to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“It’s really unusual to hear a Yankee team to be described that way,” manager Joe Girardi said Thursday when asked about the perception the side, nicknamed the “Evil Empire,” is easy to support this year.

“There are so many different talents that we see... we see guys that have reinvented themselves.

“We see rookies that came up and play extremely important roles. We see guys hit the ball out of the ballpark, in the gap, run.

Oct 17, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (right) and second baseman Starlin Castro (14) celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros in game four of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s really enjoyable for me to watch these guys do their work.”

The most electric player on the team is 6-foot-7, 282-pound Aaron Judge, whose batting power and defensive prowess in right field could earn him league MVP honors.

But while Judge understandably gets headlines, team chemistry has been key to the Yankees’ success.

The Yankees have relied on the entire team against the Astros, from timely hitting by catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Todd Frazier to superb pitching performances by Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and veteran CC Sabathia.

“They are having fun,” three-time World Series champion Al Leiter said on an ESPN podcast on Thursday.

“You have players who are comfortable and they are happy and they are passing the baton, Aaron Judge really truly feels a part of it even though he’s an exceptional player.”

The series returns to Houston for Game 6 on Friday, with 23-year-old right hander Luis Severino starting for the Yankees while Justin Verlander takes the mound for the Astros.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury

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