Just a few short weeks ago, it was hard to even image Aaron Hicks playing for the Yankees in the postseason.
It seemed like an elbow issue was going to keep him working out at the minor league complex in Tampa for the rest of the year, and that the Yankees would need to wait to see hoe he came back next season in spring training.
But somehow, with the Yankees' backs against the wall in Game 5 of the ALCS, it was Hicks delivering the biggest hit of the night, a three-run home run off of Justin Verlander that proved to be the difference in a 4-1 win over the Astros.
After it seemed like Hicks' season was over, he made sure the Yankees season wasn't over just yet.
"It was huge to get off to that start, especially after they scored a run in the first inning," said Aaron Boone. "I think it really got our crowd into it even more so, and really (James Paxton) took it from there."
After being left off the ALDS roster against the Twins, Hicks believed he would be healthy enough to play in the next round. Once he was activated, Hicks was soon placed back in the middle of the lineup.
Batting fifth on Friday, he delivered with his biggest hit as a Yankee, and afterwards, he gave a lot of the credit towards the Yankees staff in Tampa who helped him work his way back.
"It has a lot to do with the people that helped me get here. The staff down there at the minor league complex really got me going," said Hicks. "Whatever I needed, machines, slider work, BP on the field, all of the stuff to get me prepared for the postseason, it was pretty much those people that got me ready.
"Then when I got here, obviously playing in games, it's the adrenaline. It's being able to compete, and wanted to compete and be here, it's kind of what's got me here."
Hicks's first-inning at-bat showed his typical patient approach. After falling behind 0-2, he battled back to force a full count, and then jumped all over a hanging Verlander slider.
"The first three pitches seemed to go kind of quick. I just felt like I needed to slow down and see the ball," said Hicks. "I think I got two fastballs after that up in the one, and I saw them very well. That's kind of where I was at. I needed to see the fastball to get comfortable, and that's kind of where the confidence started to build that all I needed to do was see the pitch and read the pitch. … I was able to get a slider right there up in the zone, and I was able to hit it well and keep it fair."
He didn't keep it fair by much, but the ball slammed off the foul pole, sending the Yankee Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
"I knew I hit it well. I felt like I stayed inside the ball well enough for it to be fair," Hicks explained. "That's kind of like my thing, kind of standing up on home runs like that especially when I know I got it. It definitely had a lot more spin on it than I thought, but it was able to stay fair and put us up right there."
"A lot of times what I do, especially in our dugout, any time there's a ball hit, I go right to the hitter, because the hitter will kind of tell you what happened, whether it's a foul ball," said Boone. "So I didn't climb the stairs or anything. I'm in my spot there and I just watched Aaron and kind of listened to the crowd.
"I knew he got it all. Obviously, it was just going to be (about) staying fair, so I just fixated my eyes on Aaron. It was a big blow, but just the quality of that at-bat, Verlander's a tough matchup for everyone, but especially Aaron, and the way he grinded through that at-bat and got a pitch was obviously huge."
Now, thanks to Hicks' heroics, the Yankees have kept their season alive, and will head back to Houston for Game 6.
"We got an opportunity today and we took advantage of it," said Hicks. "We're a very effective team when we're seeing the ball well and we're hitting pitches where they need to be hit. That's kind of what we need to do."