Yankees complete comeback
Gregorius hits two home runs off ace Kluber and New York advances to face Houston.
CLEVELAND — Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as the New York Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete their comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the division series and dethrone the AL champions.
The Yankees staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s just our time,” starter CC Sabathia said.
After winning twice in New York, manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.
Cleveland’s Series drought turns 70 next year — baseball’s longest dry spell.
The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 22⁄3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year’s spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86-million free agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.
Chapman went to the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth after Brett Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 pitches before hitting an RBI single, with New York’s fifth run scoring when Todd Frazier raced home on right fielder Jay Bruce’s throwing error.
Gardner’s gritty at-bat was symbolic of these Yankees. They wouldn’t give in.
“We can win a lot of different ways,” Gardner said.
When Austin Jackson was called out on strikes to end it, the Yankees rushed to the mound to celebrate with a wide-eyed Chapman. Girardi broke into a huge smile and hugged his coaches.
These baby Bronx Bombers became the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. New York also did it in 2001, rallying to beat Oakland — a series remembered for Jeter’s backhand flip to home plate.
Gregorius, who took over at shortstop following Jeter’s retirement after the 2014 season, hit a solo homer in the first off Kluber and added a two-run shot in the third off Cleveland’s ace, who didn’t look like himself during either start in this series.
One win shy of a Series title last year, the Indians had only one goal in mind in 2017.
They came up short again and have now lost six consecutive games with a chance to clinch a postseason series dating to last year’s World Series, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to the Cubs.
Cleveland is the first team in history to blow a two-game series lead in consecutive postseasons.
Everything was set up for the Indians: Kluber on the mound, Game 5 at home, sensational setup man Andrew Miller rested.
The Yankees, though, wouldn’t be denied, even with Aaron Judge going one for 20 in the series.
“This team has never stopped fighting and never stopped believing,” Girardi said before Game 5. “That’s the mark of a very good team. They know how to persevere and continue to grind out everything, whether it’s an at-bat or it’s on the other side, you’re facing a batter, how you grind it out.”
TODD FRAZIER celebrates after scoring on an error by Jay Bruce in the ninth inning for the Yankees’ final run.