‘This is just the start for us’ – Hartford Courant

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PHOENIX – The 2024 season is still in its infancy, but the Yankees’ first few games offered plenty of encouraging signs.

With four wins over the rival Astros – three comebackers and one ninth-inning tiebreaker – the Yankees began their campaign with a sweep at Minute Maid Park, a building that has haunted them for years. For the first time since 2003, the Bombers are 4-0 to start a season.

“It’s just kind of like letting them know and letting everybody else know that we’re here,” Clarke Schmidt said of the Astros after holding them to three earned runs over 5.1 innings in Sunday’s series finale. “We’re excited about this year. We’re ready to get going. This is just the start for us.”

Added Alex Verdugo, who cemented the sweep with a sliding, game-ending catch on Sunday: “We’re dogs out here.”

Those quotes weren’t issued as warnings, but perhaps they should be heeded as such. It remains to be seen how good these Yankees will be after a disastrous 2023 season, but they certainly seem like a more confident group.

If nothing else, the vibes are different four games into the season. That’s been reflected not only in postgame comments, but also by in-game swagger.

Throughout the series, Yankees players showed all kinds of emotion and attitude. Juan Soto, naturally at the center of his debut series, led the way, pounding his chest, pointing his glove, tossing his bat and screaming as he demonized the Astros.

“I always want to be up in that situation,” the poised slugger said after notching a go-ahead single off lethal lefty Josh Hader on Sunday. “That’s what we play for. We all know there’s gonna be times that we do fail and sometimes you’re gonna have success. But I always want to be up there. I don’t mind to be up there and get all the boos or all the claps. I’m always ready for it.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Rodón pumped his arms after fanning Yordan Alvarez in Game 2, and Marcus Stroman repeatedly slapped his mitt after striking out Jeremy Peña in Game 3. Aaron Judge, surrounded by the eccentric Verdugo and Soto in the outfield, found himself matching his new teammates’ energies while celebrating throughout the series. Such was the case after Verdugo’s Sunday snag.

With the ball secure, the left fielder popped to his feet, let out a roar and met his teammates in the middle of Minute Maid’s outfield for a mid-air bump.

“That’s money time right there with the game on the line,” Aaron Boone said of Verdugo’s catch. “It seemed like he got a great read. My first instinct off the bat was, ‘That’s dropping in.’ When I looked up, he was on the dead-run tracking it. Almost knew he had it. He kind of hotdogged it, but I loved it.”

Told of Boone’s assessment, Verdugo replied, “You guys call it hot dog. I call it showing excitement. I’m out here with my guys. I got Judge and Soto out there, woof, woof, woof. We just get amped up and we love it. That’s kind of what we’re rolling with, man. We got dogs over here.”

Reminded that his manager came up with the hot dog line, Verdugo added, “I love it. You need a little bit of that hot dog.”

Verdugo, who also chirped at Astros fans during the series, wasn’t alone in his barking. Schmidt could also be heard making similar noises in the Yankees’ clubhouse after his start.

When it came time to use his words, the righty said that these Yankees feel “eerily similar” to the 2022 squad. While Houston swept that team in the ALCS, those Yankees won 99 regular season games, including 41 comebacks and 16 walk-offs.

“We just felt like we weren’t going to lose at the end of the games. We felt like we were always going to come back. We were always in it,” Schmidt said of 2022 before turning his attention to the present. “I think there’s an energy. There’s an excitement in the clubhouse. And there’s also a trust factor, too. Everybody’s leaning on each other and we know that the next person is going to do their job if you don’t get yours done. It’s just really exciting. It’s really fun to be a part of.

“The clubhouse is a really good vibe right now. And obviously, you don’t really play playoff games in March. But this was a big-time series and a big-time sweep and a really good way to start off the season.”

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