Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees seemingly own every shred of momentum in this AL Division Series after rallying from two games down to force a deciding Game 5. But is that, plus all the obvious grit in their team DNA, enough to overcome the Indians' momentum-killer?
Cleveland will send rested ace Corey Kluber to the mound Wednesday night at Progressive Field against the Yankees and CC Sabathia. In a series that's turned on Yankee redemption tales, the Indians could use one of their own in Kluber.
The righty might be the single biggest influence on the outcome of Game 5, but at least the Yankees know they can score against him.
They smashed his veneer of invincibility in Game 2, scoring six runs against the pitcher likely to win the AL Cy Young Award. Kluber couldn't get out of the third inning. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks homered off him. Had the Yankees held on to win that game, which they led by five runs at one point, this series might already be over.
It's not, though, so both teams sit nine innings from either advancing or wincing.
If Kluber is his old self, the Yankees are likely cooked, no matter how Sabathia fares. But maybe there's a Yankee edge from this: Perhaps the Indians are beginning to feel creeping pressure from not already knocking out the Yanks.
There are high expectations for the Tribe after a huge regular season, which inluded an AL-record 22-game winning streak and 102 victories overall. They are coming of a 2016 season in which they blew the World Series after taking a 3-1 lead over the Cubs.
Oh, and there's that nagging championship drought that dates all the way back to 1948.
Cleveland was incredibly sloppy in a 7-3 loss Monday night in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, committing four errors and allowing six unearned runs. Tightness?
Trevor Bauer, starting on short rest, didn't have it, setting up Terry Francona for some second-guessing. At times, the Indians looked like all they wanted was to scamper back to Cleveland and take their chances with Kluber.
"The whole night, we made it hard on ourselves to win," Francona said in his press conference after Game 4. "We kept trying, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can't not finish plays or, you know, not make plays. It just makes it really difficult."
It seems unlikely that such a good team would be so bad again, especially with Kluber on the mound.
And it's not like the Yankees don't have their own issues. One question looming over Game 5 for them: Do they have to win to ensure Girardi's Game 2 blunders don't permanently stain the perception of his managerial career?
He did not challenge the now-notorious Lonnie Chisenhall hit by pitch and the game devolved from there. His pitching choices came under scrutiny. Since then, though, Girardi has managed expertly in Games 3 and 4. And he had already masterfully coaxed 26 outs from the Yankee bullpen in the Wild Card game over Minnesota.
Still, it's possible that Girardi's mistakes are all anyone will remember about this Yankee season if they lose Game 5. Forget the warm, fuzzy feelings that surged as the Yankee youngsters thrived, making the future seem bright. For some, as soon as the Yanks made the playoffs, the future became now. Expectations soared exponentially.
We haven't even reiterated here that Girardi's contract is up after the season and his job security is fodder for daily debate.
It's all been emotional for the Yankee manager. Tears sprang to Girardi's eyes in his postgame press conference Monday when he was asked about Game 2 and the ensuing emotional roller coaster of having to prepare his wife and kids for the likelihood of being booed at Yankee Stadium before Game 3. He was indeed booed during introductions.
"It's as difficult a loss as I've had as a manager," Girardi said, referring to Game 2. "And it's difficult because I care so much. And it's not just -- it's not caring about myself. It's caring about everyone else that is involved and that is wrapped up in the Yankee basebal.
"You know, whether it's the fans, the front office, the owner, the players, the trainers, the support staff, the coaches. I really care. And, you know, we've gotten it back to 2-2, and we got a shot now.
"So it's a totally different feeling than it was the other day, and these guys have picked me up."
Can the Yankees, who have won three straight elimination games this postseason, do it again? Can Cleveland, so hot for so long, really lose three straight for the first time since July 30-Aug. 1? Or does Kluber get his redemption tale?
At least we know this: Whatever happens should be great theater.