NEW YORK -- Shortly after the final pitch of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series put the New York Yankees on the cusp of elimination, every player sat at his locker. Just past midnight on Wednesday morning, manager Joe Girardi spoke to his team.
Girardi, according to three people in the room, stood on the large, white, interlocking "NY" in the middle of the Yankee-blue rug that spreads across the enormous home clubhouse.
His demeanor remained even and calm.
His approximately two-minute message was clear and concise.
"It wasn't really anything complicated," captain Derek Jeter said. "It was just, 'Win a game.'"
The deeper meaning, though, was that even though the Yankees were down 3-1 to the Texas Rangers in the best-of-seven ALCS, even though they had been outplayed in 35 of the 36 innings, they couldn't think about winning Games 6 and 7 until they won Game 5.
"Just look at [Game 5]," Girardi said. "Win a game."
He told them they had won three in a row before, but it starts with one. The most important player doing the listening was CC Sabathia. Sabathia thought Girardi's pep talk removed the panic from the clubhouse.
"That was huge," said Sabathia, who threw the first pitch of Game 5 just 16 hours after the manager spoke.
Sabathia would go on to do much of the heavy lifting later in the day, pitching himself and the Yankees out of trouble in the 7-2 victory.
When the Yankees arrived for Game 5, they wore clothes for a business trip, not a funeral. They had their suits on in anticipation of taking a flight to Texas for Game 6.
"It kind of felt like it wasn't the last day of the season," Brett Gardner said.
Girardi and the players described a clubhouse that was "upbeat" and "determined" (to use the manager's words), and "loose" (to borrow Nick Swisher's description) on Wednesday afternoon. Despite the fact that many Yankees fans were already thinking this series was over -- tickets were going for $20 or less on StubHub, and the Stadium was half-empty at first pitch before filling up later -- the players did not plan on lying down.
"When your back is against the wall, you have two choices," Swisher said. "You are either going to take some punches or you are going to throw some."
The Yankees threw some on Wednesday night. As trite as it may sound, Girardi's players bought into his message.
"We haven't lost yet," said Mariano Rivera, before he recorded the final three outs of Game 5. "So with that in mind, we just have to play one game at a time. We cannot win three games in one shot."
The Yankees finally returned fire at the Rangers. "This is going to be a battle," Swisher said. "We're excited for it."
It is one battle at a time for the Yankees. They have made it to fight in Arlington again. They are not talking or thinking about Cliff Lee in Game 7. They are focused only on Game 6.
They are following Girardi's simple message: one game at a time. The mood of the clubhouse -- with all the been-there, done-that veterans -- is not one of defeat.
Because before a team comes back it must believe. Girardi put the road map out for his players. They all listened intently. The message was received. Now, they will take that simple thought -- "just win a game" -- to Texas.