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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Surging Yankees ready to wrap up ALCS

Yankees outfielders Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge celebrate

Yankees outfielders Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge celebrate after defeating the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

One win away from the World Series is not the time for reflection, so forgive the Yankees if they reacted in somewhat businesslike fashion after Wednesday’s 5-0 silencing of the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

But the party is coming, don’t worry.

As sure as we were that the Yankees’ Game 4 stunner already had demoralized Houston beyond repair, humiliating the once invincible Dallas Keuchel — to the unbridled joy of the vocal 49,647 fans that rocked the Stadium — was the finisher. What more evidence do you need?

Even for the careful Aaron Judge, who diligently follows the Jeter handbook when it comes to charming the media, had to take a moment to check himself when asked how he felt to be one victory from the Fall Classic. Judge paused for a few seconds, exhaled, then offered the correct response.

“It’s great,” Judge said, through the usual polite smile. “But we’re not done.”

Not yet anyway, and Justin Verlander is waiting in Friday’s Game 6 when this ALCS switches back to Minute Maid Park, where he struck 13 in his complete-game victory. Still, think about this: The Astros did win the first two, at home, but barely. Keuchel and Verlander pitched brilliantly, yet the Yankees lost a pair of 2-1 games. They easily could have won both, and this week, the Astros were non-competitive in the Bronx. The AL West champs should already be on the golf course.

Apparently, triple-digit wins during the regular season don’t mean as much as they used to. The Yankees rallied from an 0-2 deficit to shock the 102-win Indians, and they now have forced the Astros, who had 101, to the brink of elimination, kicking Keuchel to the curb in the process. The way they’re rolling now, why shouldn’t we expect them to do the same to Verlander?

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the poise we’ve shown as a club,” said Chase Headley, who exorcised the DH curse with a three-hit game. “We struggled individually, struggled as a team, but there was never any panic. And that’s been the whole philosophy — don’t worry about what’s coming. Just worry about that one game.”

Next up Wednesday was Keuchel, who had allowed only seven earned runs in 57 2⁄3 innings against the Yankees, holding them to a .181 batting average during that dominant stretch. In Game 1, at Minute Maid Park, Keuchel struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings.

To these Yankees, however, Game 5 was a new day, in a different place, with an adjusted mindset. For a franchise steeped in more than a century’s worth of glory, this group has remarkably short memories, and whatever futility haunted the Yankees in Houston had long since evaporated as soon as they returned to the Bronx for the middle games.

In this case, it helped that the Yankees leaned on their twenty-something core — Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird — a trio too young to worry about past failures against Keuchel, or anyone else, for that matter. Having seen Keuchel just six days ago, and knowing his bedeviling accuracy within the strike zone, they made sure to be alert for that rare mistake. This time, these Yankees didn’t miss it.

Bird was the first of those three to break through in the second inning when he followed Starlin Castro’s two-out double with a line-drive single to right. An inning later, it was Judge’s turn, and he pulled an 88-mph cutter — the same pitch he whiffed on earlier — for an RBI double past the diving Alex Bregman.

Lastly, it was Sanchez, whose RBI single in the fifth took a backseat to his booming solo homer in the seventh, a cannon shot that disappeared so quickly into the leftfield bleachers that Marwin Gonzalez didn’t even offer a courtesy jog. Just turned his head and watched the vapor trail.

“We’re just deep, one through nine,” Bird said. “Everyone has their own style, but when you piece it all together, it’s a great lineup. These guys are so good, if you give them another chance, anything can happen.”

The Yankees keep creating those second and third chances, rising from the most dire of circumstances, against long odds. But after three Bronx beatdowns, they have the hammer now — for the first time this postseason — and the surging confidence to drop it on the Astros in Houston.

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