Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

They have been yearning for this day since Brian Cashman decided to relitigate the 2017 ALCS in the spring. And it has arrived. Round 4 with the Astros in October, albeit the first one since Houston’s vast cheating apparatus was exposed.

The Yankees feel a championship was stolen from them five years ago. Perhaps it was. We would argue being too cheap to trade for Justin Verlander was the real issue. No matter, though. The Bombers want their revenge. They have earned the opportunity following this gutty, come-from-behind dismissal of the feisty Guardians in the ALDS. And they must capitalize.

It’s time for the Yankees to finally beat the Astros. Or to shut up and concede this era of the American League belongs to Houston. Simple as that.

The ghosts of 2015, ’17 and ’19 can be exorcised. But to do that, this team has to prove it is different. We still lack the necessary proof it is. Give the Yankees credit for handling their business against Cleveland (with a big assist from Terry Francona, who will regret not turning to Shane Bieber for a long time). But business is about to pick up.

Tuesday’s clinching party had to be cut short for a late-night flight for a reason. The Astros owned the Yankees during the regular season. They won five of seven, and they came as close to a clean sweep as you can get considering they did not trail in the two losses until the Aaron Judge walk-offs. They exposed the Yankees even before their second-half swoon began. Houston ripped the right to host Game 7 away from the Yankees. And they also earned Games 1 and 2, which arguably loom even larger now.

The Yankees just ran an ALDS marathon for myriad reasons — bad MLB scheduling, Mother Nature, a choke job in Game 3. And now they have to beeline to Houston and face a well-rested Astros team that has its rotation lined up, starting with Verlander in Game 1 against Jameson Taillon and his infinity postseason ERA. If they’re not careful, the Yankees will be all but buried by the time they get home and get back to Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes. They cannot let that happen.

The Yankees have to win one of the next two. And let’s be real, they’ll probably need to at least one of the final two. If they want to avenge the past, it has to happen now. If they can’t beat the Astros now, there will be no more asterisk talk. No more griping. They will just have to call them their daddies and move on.

An offense that tends to disappear against the Astros needs to step up. The pitching and defense must be superb. Dusty Baker cannot outmaneuver Aaron Boone. And above all else, the Yankees must be tougher. It’s a big ask, sure. But it’s what the Yankees wanted. They sought this war. Now they have it, and must win it.

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James Kratch can be reached at

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.