Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After two games of the AL Division Series, the Yankees seemed primed for a blink-and-you-missed-it October visit. The winter would be devoted to recriminations over Joe Girardi's tactical meltdown in Game 2 threaded around hopeful talk of young players growing after a fine season.
But after coming back from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Indians, the Yankees have crushed anyone's timetable on the arrival of their looming juggernaut, including (probably) their own. Maybe they weren't supposed to be this complete, this fast, but here they are.
Watch out, Astros, beginning in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series, which starts Friday night in Houston. Watch out, the rest of baseball, now and in the coming years.
These Yankees are built to win this October after taking down the team that looked invincible this season, the one that won 22 in a row and finished with 102 victories. Who knows what the Yankees can accomplish now?
They shrugged off the tumult following Girardi's Game 2 blunders, and the saving-the-pitcher's rhythm nonsense he tried to sell as the explanation for not challenging the Lonnie Chisenhall hit by pitch.
They were not bogged down by the emotion of Girardi's mea culpa a day later, either. And, to Girardi's credit, the manager smartly addressed the team about the mess, acknowledged that he, in his words, "screwed up, plain and simple," and also urged his players to continue to fight and grind.
"I was about as low as I could be," Girardi said in his press conference after Game 5. "It happened on Friday. I've been carrying this burden for five or six days. It's hard. If we lose on Sunday, it really hurts. If we lose on Monday, it really, really hurts. If we would have lost (Game 5), it probably would have hurt even worse.
"So, for me, what those guys did for me, I'll never forget it."
There was plenty more the Yankees had to overcome. Their biggest offensive threat, Aaron Judge, turned the series into his personal whiff-a-thon, striking out 16 times - the most ever in a postseason series - in 20 at-bats, and still the Yankee survived.
When a bullpen ace such as Dellin Betances or Chad Green struggled, they had multiple other power arms to send in waves at the Indians. David Robertson was tremendous in Game 5; so was Aroldis Chapman. Tommy Kahnle saved Game 4.
The Indians have a brilliant manager, Terry Francona, some of the best players in the game and had their ace pitcher, Corey Kluber, rested and ready for a decisive Game 5 at home. But the Yanks still jumped out to an early lead on two home runs by a guy who should be a bigger New York star than he is, Didi Gregorius.
Then the Yanks withstood a Cleveland rally and put away the series with a ninth inning filled with gritty at-bats that proved the club is not just about the stars on the roster. Brett Gardner and Todd Frazier can hurt you, too.
CC Sabathia allowed two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 5, certainly not flashy stats. But he struck out nine, keeping pressure on the Indians after Gregorius' homers and keeping the Progressive Field crowd at bay. And when Robertson cleaned up Sabathia's fifth-inning jam, there was the big lefty, roaring from the top step of the dugout.
When the series tightened, the Yankees, who have what appears to be a wonderful mix of young, electric talent and veteran cool, did not seem to feel any heat.
The Indians, who are carrying around a championship drought that dates back to 1948, sure looked antsy, though. They made seven errors in the last two games, leading to seven unearned runs.
The Yankees took advantage. It's kind of a metaphor for their season.
While they hoped they could contend, there was plenty of skepticism about their chances. Heck, even the Yanks were wondering what Judge could become (a slugging monster, that's what) and Luis Severino was no sure thing.
But they played well and GM Brian Cashman and his front office bought in, trading for Sonny Gray and making the big deal with the White Sox that landed Robertson, Frazier and Kahnle.
Gregorius took over for icon Derek Jeter (no pressure, Didi!) with few blips and has evolved into one of the Yanks' best players. Gary Sanchez is a frightening at-bat. There are more young players with star potential working in the minors for their Bronx chance.
The Yankees tilted their rebuild schedule on its ear. By beating Cleveland in the ALDS, they've tilted this October's expectations, too.
That champagne celebration that played out in the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland Wednesday night, Yankees dousing each other with bubbly? We may have to get used to those. Now -- not in some near-future.