A postseason run that already had the Yankees succeeding multiple times in the face of the implausible had them Wednesday night accomplish what seemed impossible.
They finally beat Dallas Keuchel.
The Yankees did so in a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, watched by another thunderous sellout crowd of 49,647 at the Stadium, and now find themselves one win away from the World Series.
And good luck convincing any of those fans that the Yankees, not expected to seriously contend for a title until 2018, won’t finish off the Astros and return here next week for the middle games of the World Series.
“It’s great, but we’re not done,” said Aaron Judge, whose RBI double off Keuchel in the third made it 2-0. “We’ve got an important game coming up here and we’ll focus on that. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
After Thursday’s off day, the Yankees send Luis Severino to the mound in Friday night’s Game 6 against Justin Verlander, who struck out 13 in a 2-1 victory in Game 2.
“I think they’ve changed some minds is the bottom line,” veteran Todd Frazier said of the young core of the Yankees, who in 2017 weren’t quite supposed to be ready for this kind of postseason run. “They’ve changed a lot of minds, and you’ve seen what they can do.”
Keuchel came in 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees, striking out 62 and walking eight. Those numbers included Game 1 of this series when he threw seven shutout innings, struck out 10 and walked one. Wednesday he was gone after 4 2/3 innings, having allowed four runs and seven hits.
Though he struck out eight, Keuchel was emphatically outpitched by Masahiro Tanaka, who struck out eight in seven shutout innings.
“Everybody was talking about Keuchel, and he’s a good pitcher,” said Didi Gregorius, who had two hits. “But we had a really good pitcher going out there for us.”
Tanaka was backed by a 10-hit attack, including two from Gary Sanchez, who had a run-scoring double off Keuchel and homered off Brad Peacock. Designated hitter Chase Headley had three hits.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the poise we’ve shown as a club,” Headley said of a team that trailed the DivisionSeries 0-2 and faced the same deficit in the ALCS. “We’ve struggled individually, struggled as a team but there was never any panic.”
Continued stellar work by the rotation, with Tanaka the latest example, has played a significant role.
Yankees pitchers have dominated a vaunted Astros offense, which led the majors in runs (896), average (.282), and OPS (.823), among other categories. It has totaled only nine runs through five games.
“They’ve been great,” Greg Bird said of the rotation. “If they give us a chance, we can do some damage. I feel like they’re confident in us and we’re confident in them.”
Bird delivered perhaps the night’s most significant jolt of confidence in the second. After Starlin Castro’s two-out double, Bird roped a 2-and-0 fastball to right that put the Yankees on the board and gave them their first run against Keuchel in three postseason starts.
“Getting on a great pitcher like that early is key,” said Bird, who is 4-for-13 in the series. “It puts pressure on him early. It’s big. That was a big spot I felt like.”
Judge, who’s hitting .313 this series with a .450 on-base percentage, made it 2-0 with his double in the third.
“You wanted to jump on him early,” he said. “Because if Keuchel gets in a groove, he’s unhittable. Bird coming up big for us, that’s what we needed at that time.”
Run-scoring singles by Sanchez and Gregorius in the fifth made it 4-0 and Sanchez’s homer off Peacock in the seventh made it 5-0 and rocked the Stadium one last time. At least for this series.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Headley said of the crowd noise the pasts three nights. “I haven’t seen anything like it in Major League Baseball since I’ve been here. Reminds me of college football games. It’s a huge advantage for us.”