CLEVELAND — They stood in different spots of a mostly silent visitors’ clubhouse here Friday night after as crushing a loss as is imaginable.
To a man, players repeated a form of the same declaration.
We can do this. For some, even we will do this.
Somehow, against the defending American League champs and the best the AL had to offer this season, the Yankees did.
Sparked by two Didi Gregorius homers off Corey Kluber, nine strikeouts from sage lefthander CC Sabathia and 4 2⁄3 brilliant innings by a bullpen that was the gold standard of the AL, the Yankees completed their comeback from an 0-2 series hole, defeating the Indians, 5-2, in Game 5 of the ALDS in front of 37,802 disappointed fans at Progressive Field.
“Very happy, very excited,” managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said as he made his way to the visitor’s clubhouse that was soon soaked in Champagne and beer. “What a great team.”
A team that seemed buried after blowing an 8-3 lead in the sixth inning in Game 2, falling 9-8 in 13 innings, a loss most remembered for Joe Girardi failing to challenge a critical hit by pitch call.
“No one’s happy when you’re playing the American League champions and you lose the first two games,” said David Robertson, who struck out two over 2 2⁄3 hitless, scoreless innings. “But we did what we needed to do [in the Bronx] and came back here motivated to win a series. We’ve got a lot of threats in the lineup, we’ve got a lot of great pitchers. We’re just a good team. We’re young but we’re a good team.”
The Yankees added two runs in the ninth off closer Cody Allen, giving Aroldis Chapman, who struck out four over the final two innings, a three-run cushion. Brett Gardner’s single that capped a 12-pitch at-bat drove home Aaron Hicks, and Todd Frazier scored after the throw short-hopped shortstop Francisco Lindor and bounced away.
“Incredible,” Aaron Judge said. “But that’s Gardy for you.”
The Yankees, who earned their first trip to the ALCS since 2012, face the Astros, who went 101-61 in running away with the AL West, in Game 1 Friday night in Houston.
“Another great team,” said Greg Bird, whose homer off Andrew Miller in Game 3 helped send the Yankees to a 1-0 victory that kept the season alive. “But if we’re going to get to where we want to be, we’ve got to beat good teams. We know that and there’s still work to be done.”
For the second time this series, the Yankees worked over Kluber, who lasted fewer than four innings in exactly one of his 29 starts this regular season, in which he went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA. He lasted 2 2⁄3 innings of Game 2 and just 3 2⁄3 in Game 5.
Gregorius, who set a franchise record for homers by a shortstop with 25 this season, quickly deflated the crowd with a first-inning solo homer. He did further damage to their collective attitude with a two-run blast in the third that made it 3-0.
“That gives you a lot of confidence,” Sabathia said of the first-inning homer. “The dugout was fired up, everybody was fired up. That was a huge hit for us.”
Gregorius joined Yogi Berra (Game 7 of the 1956 World Series) and Jason Giambi (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS) as the only Yankees to hit two home runs in an elimination game.
The 37-year-old Sabathia was perfect through three innings and retired 13 of the first 14 he faced. He struck out six of his first nine batters and had a no-hitter through three innings. But after four straight singles with one out in the fifth made it 3-2, Joe Girardi brought on Robertson. The righty got an inning-ending, 6-6-3 double-play ball off the bat of Francisco Lindor.
After the fifth, the Indians, who went an AL-best 102-60 and had one of the best offenses in baseball but hit .171 and struck out 61 times in 164 at-bats this series, had just two base runners the rest of the way.
“I’ve said that they were the best team in the American League all year,” Gardner said. “Best pitching staff, best rotation. It means a lot. It means we’re pretty good, and I like our chances going into Houston.”