Is history on the side of the Yankees completing an ALDS comeback?
CLEVELAND -- In June 2016, LeBron James and the Cavaliers turned Cleveland into Believe-land when they rallied from three games to one down in the NBA Finals to win the championship, giving the city its first sports title since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964.
Mere months later, the Cleveland Indians, who haven't won a World Series since 1948, were up 3-1 in the World Series against the Cubs, and had three chances to make it two straight linear sports season titles for the 'Land. They lost three games in a row, though, and had to watch as the Cubs won Game 7 at Progressive Field and celebrated their first title in 108 years on the Indians' field.
Less than a year from that moment, the Indians may have a case of déjà vu. Cleveland sprinted to a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, but the Yankees won Games 3 and 4, bringing it back to Ohio for a deciding Game 5 and giving the Indians an 0-5 record in their last five chances to eliminate a postseason opponent.
All of the pressure seems to be on the Indians on Wednesday night, but Tribe manager Terry Francona knows that his team won't be pressing, simply because they can't.
"We don't view (their recent elimination game record) like that; I think if you did, you could set yourself up to press, so we play every game like it's our last game," Francona said Tuesday. "I think there are so many things that are within a game that sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a little margin. Like the other night, if (Aaron) Judge is 6-foot-2, we win the game, and everybody's like, 'you guys swept 'em.' There's a lot going on in between that I think people lose sight of."
Of course, Francona is intimately familiar with both sides of the coin, for he was the Boston Red Sox manager in 2004 when they came back from down 0-3 against the Yankees in the ALCS and won eight straight games to break an 86-year title drought in Beantown.
So, he knows the mentality of a team fighting from the verge of extinction, and Wednesday, he won't be focused on the negative of being on the opposite side.
"You know what? I never have gotten too shook up in thinking like that, because our job is to just win the game we're playing," Francona said. "If you do that, it makes it a lot easier. When you get put in these situations, the coaches, myself, the players, we have something to fall back on. What's our goal? To win the next game. That's always the goal. It doesn't change (Game 5), and I think it really helps when you play the whole season that way."
The players agree.
"I don't think (the 2016 World Series) weighs on the team," Game 5 starter Corey Kluber said. "We closed our first two playoff series last year pretty well. I guess that's the way it is, but I don't think it's weighing on guys. We haven't talked about it at all. I don't necessarily see guys trying too hard or anything like that, we just didn't play well enough to win the last two games."
The Yankees, meanwhile, can draw on the experience of the one man in their dugout who knows the feeling the Indians might have if they lose tonight. That's Todd Frazier, who was on the 2012 Reds team that went up 2-0 in the NLDS against the Giants before losing three straight.
"The Giants beat us (in Game 3), and the momentum kind of shifted a little bit. Next thing you know, they win the next game by five runs, and then we're playing (Game 5) at home feeling like our backs were against the wall," Frazier said prior to Game 4. "Eventually, we ended up losing three straight. Been in the predicament before, and now I'm on the opposite end."
Frazier further said that the team hadn't talked about that just yet as of Game 4, as they were still "just at the point where we're trying to keep that momentum alive and find ways to win games." They still might be there, as the third baseman noted that the goal is the same for both teams -- "fighting to get W's, that's it" -- but then again, the Yankees also seem to turn it on in potential elimination games.
Game 5 will already be their fourth "do or die" game in six postseason nights and their sixth such game out of the last 10 overall, a stretch going back to September 29 -- the day after a loss to Tampa Bay put the Yankees dormie in their quest for the division title. They're 5-0 in those previous contests, so they already have the confidence that they can thrive under pressure.
"The fact that we've been able to play in some of these games -- the (Wild Card) game against Minnesota, then against Cleveland where you're down 2-0, and 2-1, facing a guy we really didn't do anything off of the last time -- I think that helps," manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously, we know we're facing a great pitcher, but there's a lot of confidence in that room, and they pick each other up and they grind out at-bats and pitchers pick each other up and make big pitches, so it should be a lot of fun."
And more fun, in part, because while the Yankees won't admit it, they're playing with house money just by being here.
"I've seen them step up a lot during the course of the season, but obviously, you know, when you're in the playoffs, I think it's important to learn how to win those games," Girardi said. "I think you see players mature pretty quickly in these type of games. Obviously, (Game 5 is) a really big game, and let's see what happens."