Yankees Postgame Notebook: Pride and Power push the Pinstripes to the ALCS
CLEVELAND - The Yankees' strategy in Game 5 of the ALDS was the same as it was in Game 2: get to Indians ace Corey Kluber early, ride CC Sabathia as long as he could stay effective on the mound, and use a lockdown bullpen to finish the job.
Mission accomplished, and the Yankees are headed to the ALCS after a 5-2 win over the Indians completed the improbable comeback from down two games to none in the series.
It's hard to believe, because we just beat a really good team," manager Joe Girardi said, "but everybody, everyone played a part in this. I don't think there's anyone that didn't play a part in this, and that's the great thing about it. And the fight in these guys, so proud of them."
Step one was accomplished almost right away thanks to Didi Gregorius. The shortstop, whose 25 regular-season home runs set both a career-high and a Yankees single-season franchise record for the position, clobbered two round-trippers off Kluber, a solo shot in the first and a two-run shot in the third that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
"I watched a lot of clips; every time I faced him, he tried to throw me a cutter on in the front hip, and maybe once in a while a changeup," Gregorius said. "I tried to figure out a pattern, and just tried to wait for a good pitch to hit."
Step two lasted 13 outs, and Sabathia was dominant up until recording the final one. He got those 13 outs in the span of 14 batters, allowing just one hit and striking out 9 in that stretch.
"I was just trying to get off to a good start," Sabathia said. "Didi hitting that home run early gave me the confidence to go out there and just fill up the strike zone and get some swings early in the count. It worked, and I was just trying to leave it all out there."
"That's who CC is, and has been his whole life: the guy you can count on. And he did it again tonight," Girardi added. "This is a very good offense, and we were mostly able to hold them in check."
Step three may have been the biggest, though, because once Sabathia got the first out of the fifth inning, he didn't record another. Four straight one-out singles by the Indians cut a 3-0 lead to 3-2, and left runners on first and second as the lefty departed.
But, just as they have all October long, the bullpen stepped up and carried the Yankees home, starting when David Robertson escaped CC's jam by getting Francisco Lindor to ground into a 6-6-3 double play.
"Lindor is the guy they want to come up in that situation, but we shifted up the middle a little, and Robby threw him a back-door cutter that made him hit it straight to me," Gregorius said. "I got a good hop, got to set my feet a little bit, and ended up turning a big double play."
"I knew I had to make a good pitch; I got away with a fastball away first pitch, and I threw another one that cut a little bit," Robertson said. "He put a good swing on the second one, it seemed like it just didn't hit his barrel, and we got the double play. He's a great hitter, and I was lucky to get him out."
Robertson would pitch two more scoreless innings, and after that, Aroldis Chapman, who couldn't close the door on Cleveland in Game 7 of last year's World Series, avenged himself by getting the last six outs, punctuating the final one with a 101 MPH called strike three to Austin Jackson.
"This is what I was brought here to do. When I came back, I told them that I was ready to pitch whenever, wherever, and however they needed me," Robertson said. "I'll give them everything I've got whenever I get the ball, and if I need to go out there and grind, that's what I'll do."
Added Girardi of Chapman: "Chappy wants to win. Chappy's a winner and that's why we went out and got him again because we knew that he was really, really good at what he did. And he has obviously pitched in the World Series and loves the competition. I mean, his innings were great this whole series."
Easy as 1-2-3, and it let the Yankees triumph in a series where Aaron Judge struck out an MLB postseason series-record 16 times, the designated hitter spot had zero hits in 20 plate appearances, the bullpen had to record 60 of 141 defensive outs, and the manager made a mistake 15 innings into the proceedings that had many calling for his job as soon as the final nail went in the coffin.
"I told these guys after Game 2 that I screwed up, plain and simple," Girardi said. "I've been carrying this burden for five or six days. It's hard, and it would've really hurt if we lost Sunday or Monday, and even worse today - but for me, what these guys did for me, I'll never forget it," Girardi said.
That nail will have to wait, because in what was supposed to be a "transition year," the Yankees are 4-0 in postseason elimination games, and now four wins away from their 41st AL pennant. They were just 2-5 against ALCS opponent Houston this season, but go ahead and try to count the Yankees out - they aren't listening anyway.
"This team is so resilient. We have the pieces to do it, and today showed it," Frazier said. "Who thought we would win three straight? The resilience and determination, guys knowing it's not over until that last out...this group has it, and if we keep playing the way we're playing, I think we'll be okay."
A few more notes and quotes from the ALDS finale:
-The biggest play of the game for the Yankees may have been Brett Gardner's two-out RBI single in the ninth, which ended a 12-pitch at-bat and plated two runs thanks to a bad throw by Jay Bruce. Here's Girardi on the play: "A tremendous at-bat, to be able to add those runs. I start to worry that when you have a long inning and you don't score, it affects your pitcher going back out there, so being able to tack on two runs was really important. Just a great at-bat by Gardy, and a heads-up play by Frazier."
-Frazier's role in all that was working a nine-pitch walk ahead of that Gardner and scampering home with the second run. His take on the sequence: "I've faced Allen dozens of times, so I know what he has. We talk about it all the time, just pass the baton; I did that and got on, and Gardy came in and got it done. It's little things in games that might go unnoticed, but when I saw the ball pop up, it was one of those instinct things. When I popped up from home plate, I couldn't breathe, I was so excited."
-For all the talk of Baby Bombers, it was Gregorius and a trio of 30-somethings who did most of the damage tonight. Gardner on that phenomenon: "We can win a lot of different ways and a lot of guys contribute. Tonight it happened to be the older guys, but it was Didi who set the tone for us. Those two homers early off Kluber were huge, giving CC something to work with, and Robby stepped up big."
-Last word goes to back to the skipper, this his answer when asked if he thinks the Yankees beat the odds by reaching the ALCS: "I don't look at us as beating the odds, because I said from day one I thought we could be really, really good. We saw the talent, and guys kept picking each other up. I thought they kept growing and maturing as players. Not everyone believed in us, but we believed."