Joe Girardi made a seemingly simple tweak to the Yankees' lineup for Game Five of the ALDS by moving left-handed hitter Didi Gregorius up one notch from the cleanup spot, breaking up righties Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Of all the moves he made — or could have made — this one seemed to get the least attention. Yet, it may have been the Yankees skipper's most brilliant decision of all.
Indians ace Corey Kluber was dealing. After retiring Brett Gardner on a bunt attempt to begin the game, he struck out Judge swinging on a 3-2 slider that appeared off the plate. Instead of drawing Sanchez next, though, Kluber had to face Gregorius, who promptly deposited a fastball into the right-field seats to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
They say it's not a lead until a pitcher keeps the opposing team off the board in their half. CC Sabathia did just that. He struck out Lindor and Kipnis looking before getting Ramirez on a groundout to end the first.
New York extended its lead to 3-0 in the third. Gardner led off with a single. After Judge struck out, Gregorius smashed a Kluber curveball for his second home run of the game. He is the 18th Yankee to have a multi-homer postseason game, and the first player to hit three long balls in winner-take-all games in the same year.
Kluber didn't make it out of the fourth inning. He was pulled after issuing a two-out walk to Greg Bird. The probable AL Cy Young Award winner finished the ALCS with a 12.79 ERA in his two starts versus New York.
Sabathia looked great, striking out nine of the first 13 batters he faced. He didn't allow a baserunner until the fourth, when Lindor led off with a seeing-eye groundball single through the shortstop hole. The Indians shortstop was left stranded when Sabathia struck out Encarnacion looking on a perfectly placed slider.
When Santana struck out swinging to open Cleveland’s home half of the fifth, Sabathia appeared poised to go deep into his 20th career postseason start. Then he suddenly lost his effectiveness. Four straight singles by Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Perez, and Giovanny Urshela shrunk the Yankees' lead to 3-2 and knocked CC out of the game.
David Robertson came on in relief and induced Lindor to ground into an inning-ending double play. D-Rob pitched through the seventh, getting eight critical outs to stop the Cleveland comeback attempt and earn the win.
Aided by two Indians’ errors, New York pushed across a couple of insurance runs in the ninth to give closer Aroldis Chapman some breathing room. He didn't need it. Chapman struck out four of the seven batters he faced, working around a lead-off walk by Bruce in the ninth to get the two-inning save and send the Yankees to their 16th ALCS.
The Yankees have completed one of the greatest comebacks in their illustrious history, overcoming an 0-2 series deficit to defeat the league's top seed. They move on to face the Astros in the ALCS, which begins in Houston on Friday. The Bronx Bombers are now four wins away from their 41st Word Series appearance.