Too many maddening and crushing instances involving Joe Girardi occurred during and after Game 2 of this wholly unpredictable AL division series that some of the earlier details from last Friday night in Cleveland might still be a tad fuzzy right now.
The Yankees must recall and lean on their rare tattooing of Indians ace Corey Kluber that night as they prepare for the unlikely winner-take-all Game 5 they have forced with consecutive home victories over the Indians, including a spirited series-tying 7-3 win Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
CC Sabathia and Kluber, Cleveland aces past and present, will square off again on Wednesday night for the right to face Houston in the ALCS.
And the Yankees suddenly should like their chances to pull off a series reversal few thought was possible a few days ago.
“I love it. I don’t like it, I love it,” Brett Gardner said about Sabathia facing Kluber in Game 5. “I feel great about it. We all love playing behind CC. He’s a big-game pitcher and there’s no bigger game than this. Hopefully, there will be down the road in a few weeks.
Corey Kluber was rocked by the Yankees in Game 2.
(Jason Miller/Getty Images)
“But he obviously stepped up at their place against Kluber, so we’ll try it all over again and see if we can hopefully play more games at Yankee Stadium.”
OK, admit it, when the Yanks arrived back in the Bronx on Saturday, one day after Girardi’s colossal video-review blunder led to a horrid giveaway defeat, who among us truly saw that coming or expected to even see a rematch of those starting pitchers from Game 2 in a decisive fifth game?
CC earned the start over Sonny Gray because the veteran lefty was solid enough last Friday to depart with an 8-3 lead – that is, before Girardi’s mistake and a few more by a gassed bullpen put the Yanks in an 0-2 series hole.
But they also showed that night that Kluber, the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young award, occasionally can bleed on the mound. They clubbed him for six runs – including homers by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks – and knocked him out in the third inning for his shortest outing of the year.
CC Sabathia returns to where it all began for him — in Cleveland — for the Yankees in Game 5.
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
They have no choice but to believe they can do it again.
“I think any time you get to a certain pitcher, you have to have confidence,” said Chase Headley, who is 0-for-10 in the series after striking out three times on Monday. “He’s been tough on us this year, on everyone. We got to him last time, but that works both ways, too.
“I’m not going to say he’s scared of us, by any means. I don’t think that at all. But he has to know that we’re capable of getting to him.”
Just as the Yankees know they are fully capable of becoming the 10th team in baseball history to come back and seize a five-game series after dropping the first two games. One of those, of course, was the 2001 Yanks against Oakland, highlighted by a 1-0 victory in Game 3 behind Mike Mussina – similar to Masahiro Tanaka’s season-saving gem in this series – and Derek Jeter’s famed flip play.
Yankees vs. Indians 2017 American League Division Series
Terry Francona’s Indians had been on a 35-4 roll through Game 2, but they now have lost five consecutive potential closeout games in postseason play after also blowing a 3-1 lead last October in the World Series.
“We’re down 0-2 and here we are back to 2-2,” Gardner said. “We’ve played three games now at home with our backs against the wall, win or go home, the wild-card game and the last two days. And I think our fans really have set the tone.”
Indeed, the Stadium was teeming with energy and swagger again on Monday, maybe even a small retro dose of mystique and aura, as the Yanks opportunistically plated six unearned runs on four Cleveland errors to back a defining bounce-back performance by Luis Severino.
Severino recorded 21 outs — or 20 more than he had in the AL wild-card victory last week against Minnesota — and left the mound to hearty sing-song chants of his last name after completing the seventh inning with a 7-3 cushion.
Aaron Hicks hit a three-run home run off Corey Kluber in Game 2.
(Andrew Schwartz/For New York Daily News)
Severino’s quick redemption certainly suggests that Kluber can and probably will pitch more effectively on full rest in his second chance at the Yanks.
But if they got to him once…
“It definitely gives us some confidence going in. We have a good idea of the kind of stuff that he has,” Gardner said. “He’s a great pitcher, maybe the Cy Young winner…But we’ll try to get CC some runs early in the game and go from there.”
Even if this marked the final get together in the Bronx for 2017, the good times unmistakably have returned this year to the Stadium.
Now we will see if Sabathia and the Yanks can earn at least a couple more October home dates in the ALCS.