Yankees fans may not be entirely sure yet last night’s Game 5 win over the Indians was a miracle. But there were some critical moments in the game that show the nature and resilience of this team, pointing to the fact there is something extraordinary going on here, and we are witnessing it.
The Yankees snatched victory from the jaws of defeat last night beating an Indians team that had not lost three consecutive games since August, catapulting the team to the ALCS against the Houston Astros on Friday night.
They did it the same way the team has done it all season, with contributions flying in from everywhere, even in the midst of some notable exceptions from players like Aaron Judge, who struck out four times. Overlooked, however, is the contribution Judge made by seeing 27 pitches, second only to Brett Gardner who saw 34, including one remarkable 12-pitch at-bat that we’ll get to in a moment. But let’s begin with the first moment that set the stage for all the others.
All rise for Mr. Sabathia
But it all begins with starting pitching, and last night the Yankees received an abbreviated but still stunning performance from the 37-year old, CC Sabathia, who “finessed” a potent Indians lineup which, for the first time in the series, included Edwin Encarnacion.
Sabathia struck out half of the batters he faced (9-18) with a mix of well-located fastballs that topped out at 92mph. But it was that nasty slider he has mastered that drove the Indians “batty.”
In the top of the fifth with the Yankees holding a three-run lead, Sabathia’s first two pitched sailed wide off the plate, the first indication something was “off.” Four straight singles scored two runs for the Indians, turning the game over to the bullpen. Proving, as many have said all along, The Ole Man was the right man for the job.
Didi opens the show
Somewhere in the back of their minds, the Yankees hitters had to be saying to themselves; this is the next Cy Young winner we’re facing tonight. Is it possible Corey Kluber can have two consecutive clunkers? The Vegas odds plainly said no and the Indians were supposed to win this game, and Kluber was supposed to pitch like the ace he is tossing seven near-perfect innings and Cleveland would be hosting the Astros in the ALCS.
Didi Gregorius did not get the memo and, in the space of two at-bats, he deposited two pitches well into the right-field stands setting the Yankees, and Sabathia, up with a three-run lead.
It cannot be said of Gregorius he is one of those players who come out of nowhere in the playoffs. He’s been doing it all season long for the Yankees.
And his value to the Yankees was spotlighted, not only with his bat but also in the field on two plays in which he turned unassisted double plays, the first of which squelched the Indians rally that had drawn the margin to 3-2.
Gardner’s 12-Pitch At Bat
Brett Gardner was 0-8 after the first two games. He finished the ALDS at 6-13, but no at-bat was more critical or demonstrative of his value to the 2017 Yankees than the one he put together in in the ninth inning.
The half-inning, which would last almost 30 minutes, came about with the Yankees still nursing a one-run lead. Gardner, facing Indians reliever, Cody Allen, put together an at-bat which should go down in the annals of Yankees history.
After fouling off pitch after pitch, Gardner, once Allen missed a bit on the inside edge of the plate, delivered a single to add those all-important insurance runs, allowing the dugout and the Yankees faithful to breathe a sigh of relief. Here’s a GIF of his at-bat in case you missed it.
A Baserunning Bonanza
The Jersey Boy. whose Little League team became champions, now saw his fortunes of joining a team in the hunt as an opportunity to not only revive his career but also as a chance to put an indelible stamp on it.
His stab of a hard hit ball to his right and long throw across in the Indians ninth is the brand of defense he has elicited, to the point where manager, Joe Girardi, had no choice but to find another for Chase Headley, a stellar defenseman in his own right.
But the moment in last night’s game when he dashed from third to home on an Indians misplay to give the Yankees a three-run edge is only indicative of the player and person Frazier is, and what he means to his team.
And it is safe to say; no one had more fun last night than Todd Frazier.
Slamming the door
Aroldis Chapman has had his ups and downs this season with the Yankees. At one point, he lost his job as closer to Dellin Betances because he “lost” his fastball and no one, including Chapman, could find it.
That was then, and this is now. For the second consecutive game, Girardi called on Chapman for a +3 out save, and he delivered two filthy innings, sending his team to Houston and the ALCS.
The cameras panned to him in the dugout as Gardner was engaged in his at-bat that might still be going on. He looked pensive, edgy, and everything a closer should look like when it’s time to just “give me the ball.”
In retrospect, the two runs posted by the Yankees gave Chapman a surge of renewed confidence as he went out, finally, and took the Yankees to Houston.
Yankees Missing pieces
Not really. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird were MIA offensively, but Sanchez caught another outstanding game behind the plate. And as mentioned before, it took twenty-seven pitches to strike Judge out four times.
And Bird, who rightly was called the best pure hitter on the Yankees by Brian Cashman, with that sweet swing is still a mighty threat in the lineup who needs to be dealt with by opposing pitchers every at-bat.
And so it is with these Yankees of 2017, a team I’ve been following for a half-century now and I can honestly say, there’s never been a group of guys in that dugout who have captivated me more.
In case you missed it, here’s a capsule view of Game 5 in the 2017 ALDS.
And the crowning glory of everything is there’s more to come.