For the second time in their illustrious history, the New York Yankees have battled back from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five postseason series to force a decisive fifth game.
The last time this happened was 2001, when our beloved Bombers stormed back to win the final three games against the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. That group, led by the Core Four, then dominated a Seattle Mariners club that had won 116 games in the regular season to earn a trip to their fourth consecutive World Series. That very special group of pinstriped legends remain the only team to win four straight pennants since divisional play began in 1969.
The 2017 Yankees are now one win away from completing the first leg of that journey. Standing in their way is a Cleveland Indians team that won a league-best 102 games. In the process, they set a new record by winning 22 straight.
Among the vanquished are these same Yankees. The Indians swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in late-August, extending their nascent winning streak to seven. But are they really the same Yankees?
Following that sweep at the hands of the surging Tribe, the Yankees only lost one series for the remainder of the year. They went 21-9 the rest of the way, clinching home field advantage for the Wild Card Game and winning over 90 games for the first time since 2012. Being swept by the defending AL champions seemed to spark something in the Yankees, as losses sometimes do.
Take Friday night's Game Two disaster, for example. The Bronx Bombers lived up to their moniker, belting three home runs. They sent probable AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the showers early. CC Sabathia was cruising along, enjoying a five-run lead. The Yankees seemed to have a series-tying win in hand. Everything was going great. Then suddenly, it wasn't.
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The heroes of Monday's Wild Card triumph became goats. Every decision that Joe Girardi made seemed to backfire. In a nanosecond, we went from counting down outs to a Yankees' win, to contemplating an 0-2 series deficit and possible elimination.
Aside from the loss itself, the team encountered a gut check like never before. The Yankees were peppered with questions about their manager's decisions. Reporters not only openly accused Girardi of incompetence, but also derided him for what they claimed was a lack of trust in his players.
This type of circus-like sideshow would have torn asunder a lesser group of men. But not this team. They seemed to rally together and bond over it. Facing a sweep and elimination on Sunday, they won the hardest type of game there is: a 1-0 pitcher's duel where one mistake could end their season.
"They picked me up," a teary-eyed Joe Girardi said of his players after the Yankees evened the series with a 7-3 Game Four win on Monday night.
This team passed a big character test with flying colors. They have shown grit, poise, focus, and resolve. They simply don't quit.
Not only were the Yankees successful in rebounding from their crushing Game Two defeat to take the next two, but they were impressive in the way that they did it. They needed to play a flawless game in order to come away with the win in the Game Three pitcher's dual. Check. The home runs didn't come early in Game Four, so they had to find another way to get on the board. Check, check.
The Bombers led the majors with 241 home runs this year, but they were only 8-27 in games when they failed to hit a longball. We knew that would have to change if the Yankees were to make a deep run into the postseason. Teams that rely too heavily on home runs rarely win the World Series. We saw that paradigm begin to shift in Game Four.
The Yankees scored their first six runs of the game on three walks, two singles, three doubles, three errors, a passed ball, a stolen base, a groundout to move a runner to third, and a sacrifice fly to drive him in. Sure, they got their seventh run on a Gary Sanchez solo shot, but they won this game the old fashioned way. They put their hits and walks together, they took advantage of Cleveland errors, and they made productive outs when needed. They won Game Four with small ball, and that's a very good sign.
The debate still rages regarding Girardi's decision to line CC Sabathia up to pitch Game Five. I did and still do believe this was the right call. Sabathia is the leader of this team. He has more experience pitching big games than anyone else in the league: 20 postseason appearances (19 starts) and counting. Of all the available choices, CC is the man you want on the mound when everything is on the line.
The last time the Yankees played in a winner-take-all fifth game was the 2012 ALDS. CC Sabathia threw a complete game, leading New York to a 3-1 victory and on to the ALCS.
CC should have been the winning pitcher in last Friday's Game Two. Look for him to step up once again and come away with the victory this time.
It's tough to win three games in a row against anyone. It's harder still in the playoffs. But the Yankees no longer need to win three straight. They only need to win one.
|NEW YORK YANKEES||CLEVELAND INDIANS|
|Brett Gardner - LF||Francisco Lindor - SS|
|Aaron Judge - RF||Jason Kipnis - CF|
|Didi Gregorius - SS||Jose Ramirez - 2B|
|Gary Sanchez - C||Edwin Encarnacion - DH|
|Greg Bird - 1B||Carlos Santana - 1B|
|Starlin Castro - 2B||Austin Jackson - LF|
|Aaron Hicks - CF||Jay Bruce - RF|
|Jacoby Ellsbury - DH||Roberto Perez - C|
|Todd Frazier - 3B||Giovanny Urshela - 3B|
|CC Sabathia - LHP||Corey Kluber - RHP|