The Yankees seemed dead and buried through the first two games of the 2017 ALDS. After getting shutout in the series opener, they seemed destined to get back to New York tied, only to meltdown and eventually lose that game in extra innings.
That put them in a 2-0 hole to Cleveland, who were the top seed in the AL and had gone on a 22-game winning streak during the year, with no iota of wiggle room. However in the friendly confines of the Bronx, they got something going, pulling out a 1-0 victory in Game 3, as we read about yesterday. They continued that the following day, jumping on Cleveland pitching early on route to a 7-3 win, evening things up and sending the series back to Ohio.
However after all that, they still had quite the matchup waiting for them in the decider, as Cleveland was set to give the start to eventual 2017 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Either they would go down in a tough way, but not after at least showing some fight, or a magical comeback was in the cards. The Yankees chose magic.
2017 American League Division Series Game 5 - October 11
Final Score: Yankees 5, Cleveland 2
Game MVP: Didi Gregorius
Not only was Kluber back from Game 2, but so was Yankees starter CC Sabathia. Even though Cleveland came away with the win that day, Sabathia was arguably better than Kluber in that game, although neither were lights out. Sabathia allowed four runs, only two earned, on three hits in 5.1 innings. As for Kluber, the Yankees knocked him out after 2.2 innings and six runs. The bullpen couldn’t hang on to the advantage they got from that, but the offense at least showed proof of concept against the soon to be Cy Young winner.
In the first Kluber got two quick outs, including a strikeout of Aaron Judge, who struggled a bit in his first-ever ALDS. That then brought up the No. 3 hitter in Didi Gregorius. Kluber got within a strike of ending the inning, getting ahead 1-2 in the count, but on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Gregorius got the Yankees off to a dream start.
After Sabathia threw a perfect first, the Yankees left a pair of runners on in the second. In what had the potential to be a close, competitive game, missing out on chances was not something that they could seemingly afford to do. It was not a concern here though, as a certain someone was then due up in the third.
With one out and Brett Gardner on after a single, Gregorius stepped to the plate again, and once again, he did the thing:
If you’re only playing half attention to those videos, you might think it’s the same homer, but they’re not. Gregroius second homer looked a lot like his first, but this one was a two-run shot, and gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.
Sabathia mostly cruised through the first couple innings, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, with the one exception being a single that didn’t lead to anything. However, Cleveland began to chip away at him in the fifth. While he struck out the leadoff hitter, Sabathia then allowed four-straight singles to the 6-9 hitters of Cleveland’s order. The last two came from Roberto Pérez and future Yankee Gio Urshela, and both plated runs to get Cleveland within a run. They also knocked Sabathia out of the game after 4.1 innings. That fifth inning was really only the only blemish on the his day, albeit a big one, as he otherwise struck out nine.
Manager Joe Girardi opted to go to David Robertson, who went full “Houdini” and induced a Francisco Lindor double play to escape the jam and keep the Yankees in front.
In the previous playoff round — the AL Wild Card Game against the Twins — Robertson had put in arguably his marquee playoff moment in a Yankee uniform. That day, he went 3.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, helping the Yankees advance after Luis Severino had been knocked out early. What he then did in Game 5 of the ALDS might not match that, but he came pretty close. Robertson went another two frames, retiring six of the seven batters he faced over the sixth and seventh innings, keeping Cleveland off the board in what was still a one-run game. In terms of Win Probability Added, Robertson had arguably the most important performance of the day, putting up a +0.337 WPA.
While the Yankees’ offense put at least one runner on in all of the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, they failed to add the lead they got from Gregorius’ home runs. They then went down in order in the eighth, insuring the lead remained at one as Girardi brought in Aroldis Chapman for a potential six-out save. The first half of those six went smoothly, as he struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. Then, finally, the Yankees got some insurance runs.
An Aaron Hicks single and a Todd Frazier walk gave the Yankees two on and two out when Gardner stepped to the plate in the eighth. He managed to skip one past José Ramírez at second, easily scoring Hicks. The Yankees then got a bit of fortune, as Lindor couldn’t quite handle the relay throw in from the outfield, and it skipped past him. As there had been two outs and two strikes, the runners had gone on contact, meaning Frazier was already safe at third. Lindor’s miscue allowed him to then race home and safely get under the tag to give the Yankees another run.
Because nothing was every truly easily even when he was good, Chapman then walked Ramírez to start the bottom of the ninth. However, he then buckled down and retired the next three hitters, clinching the game and the series.
It’s hard to rate it up there with victories from World Series-winning years, but it terms of “enjoyable to watch”, the Yankees’ comeback in the 2017 ALDS is right up there. A young, fun team with seemingly years of playoff contention ahead of them, took some blows, but came back fighting, giving us a rather remarkable series comeback.