In the grand scheme of things, the annals of baseball history will probably not remember this Division Series matchup between the Yankees and Guardians very much. It certainly had its moments, and I will still wince when I see highlights of Game 3 sometime down the road (just as I do with that 2017 Francisco Lindor slam). But it came down to one of the best pitchers of this era shoving in two starts against an underwhelming offense for two wins. Straightforward enough, right?
So for all the tedium and hair-pulling involved in Games 2 and 3, the Yankees still had to win just one of the three non-Gerrit Cole starts. There was a lot of bullpen stress and the rain wreaked havoc on the schedule, but the end result was Nestor Cortes — a good pitcher — facing Aaron Civale — a not-so-good pitcher — at Yankee Stadium for Game 5. Even with Cortes on short rest, there’s a reason why neutral observers favored the Yankees here. All the signs pointed toward them winning, especially if they got Civale in trouble early.
Well, the Yankees indeed got Civale in trouble early, and the script played out as expected from there. It was a welcome return to the familiar after the previous five days:
Thursday, Oct. 13th: Following weird offday, Game 2 rained out hours in advance
Friday, Oct. 14th: Loss in the 10th with go-ahead run on two bloops
Saturday, Oct. 15th: Multi-run blown save and walk-off loss
Sunday, Oct. 16th: Suddenly facing elimination, Cole saves the season
Monday, Oct. 17th: After waiting hours at the ballpark, Game 5 rained out
Now, could one argue that Sunday was at least somewhat normal with a guy like Cole blitzing an offense like Cleveland’s, but I’d counter that there was nothing normal about the threat of the Yankees losing a Division Series to this slap-hitting Guardians team in just four games. It wouldn’t have been as utterly bizarre as the Padres overpowering the 111-win Dodgers in their Division Series, but it would have been a stunning upset if it happened with the Yankees winning just once. The stress of potential embarrassment was on my mind all day on Sunday.
Would I have been quite annoyed if the Yankees lost yesterday, too? Absolutely, but I can stomach five-game series losses a lot easer than the four. In a five-game loss, a bounce or two probably just didn’t go your way, and that’s the difference. In general, it’s more difficult to shrug off the embarrassment of losing in four if your team was the favorite — much more is going on. This might be an unusual perspective, but please remember that I am still very burned by 2002. Blame core memories.
There was still the matter of actually winning Game 5, of course. It was plausible that Cortes might be shaky on three days’ rest with the Yankees’ middle relief faltering, and that Civale could keep the Yankees’ bats quiet for just a few innings before the dominant Cleveland bullpen took over. The combination simply wasn’t likely, though.
As expected, Civale made a mistake to one of the Yankees’ big bats. Giancarlo Stanton has made a living of flicking these pitches into the opposite-field seats for years now.
That was all the scoring that the Yankees really needed, but they got two more runs on an Aaron Judge solo homer and an Anthony Rizzo single that saw him capably cover the plate to drive in a man in scoring position. Both of these events were extremely welcome! But neither were surprising. The casual excellence of Cortes against this Cleveland lineup passed the smell test, too.
People who aren’t Yankees fans were surely disappointed by the lack of fireworks in Game 5. The only buzz accompanied the fact that the Guardians trusted Civale with their season on the line, and once the game got underway, there was nothing to be done about it. As the expected events transpired, it was easy for casual watchers to tune out — just as I used to quickly turn off New England Patriots playoff games the moment that Tom Brady threw his second touchdown of the first quarter.
To all that, I say: Good. If the Yankees enjoy more boring victories in the ALCS against Houston, I will be absolutely delighted. They’ve given us enough stress over the past decade that I could use some carefree wins. May we be so lucky.