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Yankees @ Astros, 2017 AL Championship Series Game 1: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Dallas Keuchel

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Following their thrilling comeback from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series and advance to their 16th ALCS, the New York Yankees are just four wins away from their 41st World Series and eight shy of their 28th title.

The New York Yankees celebrate their 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game Five to clinch the ALDS.
The New York Yankees celebrate their 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game Five to clinch the ALDS.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For generations, the New York Yankees had a simple path to the World Series. They merely had to win more regular season games than the other seven American League teams, and they were in. And the Yankees did that so very well, and so very often.

From the time Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920, until Mickey Mantle's last World Series in 1964, the Yankees won 29 AL pennants. That's more than all of the other teams in the league combined during that span.

The Yankees dominated a league that included the likes of the Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns. Even the Boston Red Sox were pretty awful for nearly a half-century. A couple of expansion teams were added in 1961, but they were just more cannon fodder for the pinstriped juggernaut to trample en route to their annual date with the National League champion in October.

So the baseball powers created a new obstacle for the Yankees to overcome. Each league was divided into two divisions in 1969, necessitating the implementation of a new round of playoffs to determine the league champions. The Yankees happened to be stuck in an unprecedented rebuilding phase, so they didn't make it to the League Championship Series until 1976, the same year the newly renovated Yankee Stadium re-opened.

It was strange at first, that the team with the league's best record was forced to participate in a play-in series against the expansion Kansas City Royals before they were allowed to take their rightful place in the Fall Classic. But that feeling passed as soon as the dramatic home run by Chris Chambliss cleared the fence in the bottom of the ninth of the decisive fifth game to clinch the Yankees' first LCS win.

A lot has happened in the 41 years since. The Core Four came and went, ownership of the team passed from father to sons, and the old stadium was demolished and replaced with a new baseball cathedral. One thing that hasn't changed: The Yankees keep winning.

Even with the advent of the Division Series and Wild Card Game, it's been business as usual. The Yankees are now playing in their 16th LCS, more than any other franchise. They've won it 11 times, also tops in baseball.

They have a new opponent this year, another expansion club. The Houston Astros have been to the LCS on five prior occasions — winning once — but this is their first appearance since joining the junior circuit in 2013. In order to advance, the Astros will have to become the first team ever to eliminate both the Red Sox and Yankees in the same postseason.

The Astros and Yankees have met once before in the playoffs. Dallas Keuchel outdueled Masahiro Tanaka in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, pitching Houston to a 3-0 win. New York will have a chance for payback in Game One tonight, with a rematch slated between those two aces.

A tradition among Yankee fans is to count down outs in a big game once the Bombers have the lead. Fans also like to count down wins needed to attain the ultimate prize. So here it is: The Yankees are just four wins away from their 41st World Series, and eight shy of their 28th title.

Today's Lineups

NEW YORK YANKEES HOUSTON ASTROS
Brett Gardner - LF George Springer - CF
Aaron Judge - RF Josh Reddick - RF
Gary Sanchez - C Jose Altuve - 2B
Didi Gregorius - SS Carlos Correa - SS
Starlin Castro - 2B Marwin Gonzalez - LF
Aaron Hicks - CF Yulieski Gurriel - 1B
Greg Bird - 1B Carlos Beltran - DH
Matt Holliday - DH Alex Bregman - 3B
Todd Frazier - 3B Brian McCann - C
Masahiro Tanaka - RHP Dallas Keuchel - LHP