The ticking of the clock moves us ever closer to the decisive Game 5 of the Yankees’ American League Division Series matchup with the Guardians. By the end of the night (weather-permitting), we will know whether or not the Yankees’ pitching staff will be game-planning for the Houston lineup in the ALCS or golf course-planning for the offseason. That’s the beauty of a winner-take-all rumble: There will be answer, and that will be that.
Longtime Yankees fans are highly familiar with this exact scenario, too. The Yankees have played quite a few ALDS Game 5s over the years since the advent of the Division Series. In fact, their record is appropriately a dead heat at 5-5. So with the 11th edition looming, it’s worth a mini-retrospective at those other 10 ALDS Game 5 matchups.*
*Note: The ALCS was previously a best-of-five from 1969-84, and the Yankees’ 1976 and 1977 classics with the Royals went the maximum five games. So even though they weren’t Division Series showdowns, consider this an honorable mention to those memorable Game 5s. Shout-out to Chris Chambliss, Sparky Lyle, and friends!
Final: New York 7, Milwaukee 3
For brevity’s sake, we won’t normally go as long on one Game 5, but some context is needed here. The Division Series was not a playoff tradition until the American and National League split from two divisions to three in the mid-’90s, with one Wild Card entrant marking the fourth playoff team in each league. 1981, however, marked the first Division Series because the midseason strike divided the season into two separate halves. MLB decided to make the first- and second-half winners of each division play each other in October to determine who would advance to the League Championship Series.
So the 34-22 first-half-winning Yankees played the 31-22 second-half-winning Brewers. Since Milwaukee moved to the NL in 1998, this still stands as their only playoff meeting with the Brew Crew. The Yankees cruised to a 2-0 lead after a pair of games at County Stadium and needed to win just once in the Bronx to advance. But the Brewers put a scare into this battle-tested core by taking Games 3 and 4 behind heroics from future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers, and they took an early 2-0 lead in Game 5 as well.
Then, the Yankees finally woke up against Moose Haas behind who else but “Mr. October” himself:
Reggie Jackson’s two-run bomb tied the game and Oscar Gamble went back-to-back with a solo shot to put New York in front. The Yankees tacked on some insurance runs while Dave Righetti, and Goose Gossage kept Milwaukee at bay in relief of Ron Guidry to close out the 7-3 victory.
Final: Seattle 6, New York 5 (11)
There’s a good argument that one of the first scheduled Division Series was actually the best of all in its 28 seasons of play. It just so happened to end in the most crushing heartbreak for a generation of Yankees fans. The Mariners were in their first-ever playoff series and the Yankees were in their first in 14 years (beloved captain Don Mattingly finally made his postseason debut). After Jim Leyritz walked off Game 2 in the midst of 15th-inning rain, the Yankees appeared destined for the ALCS with a 2-0 lead.
But they never won in Seattle. The Mariners took two to force Game 5, and though the Yankees had a 4-2 lead in the eighth, Buck Showalter had lost faith in John Wetteland and his bullpen after collapses on back-to-back days. Sure, there was a promising kid named Mariano Rivera, but at the time, he was a fifth starter throwing his first playoff innings. So Showalter let ace David Cone hang out there as Ken Griffey Jr. clubbed a bomb in the eighth and the light-hitting Doug Strange drew a bases-loaded walk on Cone’s 147th (!) pitch to tie the game.
The Yankees briefly had hope again when Randy Velarde singled off Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson in relief to put New York up in the 10th, 5-4. He was stranded in scoring position after strikeouts of Leyritz and Paul O’Neill, opening the door for normal Yankees starter Jack McDowell to fall apart at the hands of Edgar Martinez and company.
Pain. Nothing but pain.
Final: Cleveland 4, New York 3
Although this was another painful Division Series loss, the Yankees winning it all in 1996 made it hurt a little bit less. Still, please don’t think that I’m dismissing the agony in the moment. The Yankees had this series in hand, up 2-1 with a chance to close Cleveland out in Game 4 and Rivera on the mound. But Sandy Alomar Jr. had other plans, and that necessitated Game 5 when Omar Vizquel walked it off.
Game 5 didn’t have the same thrills; it was just a close ballgame. Cleveland got to Andy Pettitte for four runs by the end of the fourth, and rookie Jaret Wright won his second game of the series with 5.1 innings of three-run ball. The Yankees battled back to make it a one-run affair over the final three innings. Cleveland’s bullpen held tough, stranding the potential run in scoring position during both the eighth and ninth to advance.
Final: New York 7, Oakland 5
After limping into the postseason with just 3 wins in their last 18 games, the Yankees faced a challenge in the upstart A’s. They were determined to upset the scuffling two-time defending champions, and they pushed New York to the brink with an embarrassing 11-1 blowout win over Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium in Game 4. Yankees skipper Joe Torre later referred to the return to Oakland for Game 5 as “the flight from hell” that “nobody wanted to make.”
Perhaps motivated by the tedious travel and obit-esque pregame comments from Oakland’s Eric Chavez, the Yankees erupted in the first inning at the Coliseum for six runs off Gil Heredia.
Although it was an impressive statement, the Yankees did end up needing their bullpen because the lineup went to sleep from there and Pettitte was gone before the end of the fourth in a 7-5 ballgame. Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, and Rivera did the job with three-hit shutout ball over the final 5.1 innings.
Final: New York 5, Oakland 3
The A’s got an ALDS rematch the very next year and looked to be in even better position to knock the Yankees off their pedestal. They took a 2-0 series lead at a time when no team had ever lost a best-of-five after winning the first two games on the road. Behind Mike Mussina, Game 3 in Oakland turned into a 1-0 classic made famous by Derek Jeter’s “Flip Play.” The Yankees then clobbered the A’s in Game 4, 9-2, to force a Game 5 back in the Bronx.
Oakland might have scored first off Roger Clemens, but New York scored more off Mark Mulder. By the third, the Yankees had a lead that they would not relinquish thanks to — once again — yeoman’s work from the bullpen. The most memorable play came in the eighth, when Jeter fell into the stands reeling while in a Terrence Long popup:
Bolstered by another October Jeter highlight, Rivera threw two zeroes on the board for the save, sending New York to its fifth ALCS in six years.
Final: Los Angeles 5, New York 3
For as much as I feel sorry for Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, let me assure you that I do not for one microsecond miss the days when the Angels would torch Torre’s Yankees. In 2002, they shocked the world by dispatching the four-time defending AL champions in a mere four-game ALDS, and a similar ballclub was back to try and do the same in 2005. At first, the script played out in similar fashion to ‘02, as New York won Game 1, blew a lead and lost in Game 2, and then were pushed to near-elimination with an 11-7 Angels win in Game 3 after new ace Randy Johnson came up small. This time, the Yankees did take Game 4, sending the ALDS back to Angel Stadium for the finale.
A quick 2-0 Yankees lead in Game 5 was lost on one of the ugliest outfield collisions that you’ll ever see. Adam Kennedy lifted a drive to right-center that saw Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield converge. Disaster ensued:
Woof. The Angels soon had a 5-2 lead on Mussina’s Yankees, and while Johnson somewhat atoned for his Game 3 nightmare with 4.1 shutout innings of relief, the Yankees just couldn’t get any closer outside of a solo homer by Jeter. They even had three hits in the ninth off 2002 nemesis Francisco Rodríguez, but thanks in part to an Alex Rodriguez double play (the 2005 MVP went 2-for-15 in that ALDS), K-Rod survived. A good stop by Darin Erstad on Hideki Matsui’s sharp grounder ended the series.
Final: Detroit 3, New York 2
Remember what I just about those Angels constantly finding ways to poke the Yankees in the eye in October? Well, those powers somehow made their way to the Motor City (they now seemingly reside in Houston). The Yankees and Tigers met each other in the playoffs three times between 2006 and 2012, and New York went a dismal 3-10 against Detroit in the three series losses.
This 2011 ALDS was the closest that the Yankees came to taming the Tigers. Just as in that 2005 rumble with the Angels, the Yankees were on their heels after falling behind in the series, 2-1 — even with a dramatic Game 1 victory on Robinson Canó’s grand slam. Beleaguered starter A.J. Burnett improbably helped save their season in Game 4 at Comerica Park with assists from Curtis Granderson and the Yankees’ offense.
Back in the Bronx for Game 5 however, New York fell behind early on back-to-back homers by Don Kelly and Delmon Young. The pitching staff held Detroit to three runs, but the mish-mash quartet of Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit, and José Valverde kept stranding runners despite 10 Yankees hits and 3 walks. New York went down in order in the ninth and that was all she wrote.
Final: New York 3, Baltimore 1
This ALDS against the Orioles will always be remembered for Raúl Ibañez’s absolutely stunning homers to tie Game 3 in the 9th and win it in the 12th. They gave New York a 2-1 series lead, which was not-so-promptly lost during a grueling 13-inning marathon that saw the O’s take Game 4 with a 2-1 win.
So it went to a winner-take-all Game 5, where the Yankees were delighted to hand the ball to CC Sabathia. The ace had gone 8.2 innings on 120 pitches in a Game 1 victory that wasn’t decided until the ninth. Somehow, Sabathia was even better for the grand finale. The Yankees gave him three runs and he rolled with it, dominating Baltimore in a complete-game, four-hit masterpiece.
Final: New York 5, Cleveland 2
Just five years ago, an Aaron Judge-led ballclub squared off in ALDS Game 5 with an impressive Cleveland group led by José Ramírez. The story of this series was a New York comeback after Cleveland went ahead, 2-0, with a Game 2 assist from Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Masahiro Tanaka and Greg Bird helped the Yankees survive a 1-0 thriller in Game 3, and New York pummeled Trevor Bauer in Game 4, forcing a return to Progressive Field for the finale.
In said finale, shortstop Didi Gregorius got the better of Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, clubbing a pair of homers to give New York a quick 3-0 lead.
From there, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman threw 4.2 innings of no-hit ball in relief of the reinvented Sabathia. Brett Gardner delivered some much-needed insurance with two down in the ninth on a two-run single, and the Yankees were off to that fateful ALCS in Houston.
Final: Tampa Bay 2, New York 1
The only good thing I’ll say about Game 5 of the 2020 ALDS is that at least future editions won’t have to end on this soul-crusher. This was already a weird Division Series due to the COVID-induced circumstances of all five games taking place on consecutive days at the fan-empty neutral site of Petco Park in San Diego. Giancarlo Stanton did everything he could to push the Yankees into the ALCS with a barrage of bombs, but the Yankees still needed to secure a 5-1 victory in Game 4 just to bring it to Game 5.
Gerrit Cole was as good as one could have hoped on three days’ rest, as he held the Rays to just an Austin Meadows solo shot through 5.1 innings. That was Cole’s only hit allowed, but the Yankees had just one run on the board as well (thanks to Judge’s own dinger). The bullpens battled, and a 1-1 ballgame reached the bottom of the eighth. Enter Mike Brosseau and at least a million heavy sighs across Yankees fandom:
For the second year in a row, Chapman had coughed up a bomb to essentially end the Yankees’ season. New York did have a chance to counter in the ninth, but Diego Castillo finished the Yankees off. Let us hope that 2022 has a kinder fate in store.
Just for fun, here’s how I would rank these 10 Game 5 showdowns from a Yankees fan enjoyment perspective.