I didn’t see THAT coming.
I’ve been a Yankee fan since I was 8 years old, and I didn’t think they had a chance in hell. Of course, Cleveland wasn’t going to let them come back from a 2-0 hole. I was sure of it. The Indians were definitely going to come back in Game 5. And Game 4. And Game 3. They won 102 games during the season, 11 more than the Yankees. They set a modern-day record by winning 22 games in a row. They weren’t supposed to lose to a wild card team. After they came back from 8-3 in Game 2, I knew this team definitely was going to win the World Series. We’ve seen teams like that before: the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2015 Royals, the 2016 Cubs… the teams that always to win. No lead is safe against them. They won the first two games in Cleveland, and they did it with virtually no help from Corey Kluber and Jose Ramirez.
Then Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino remembered how to pitch, Didi Gregorius turned it up about five notches, and somehow the Yankees had gotten the series to five games. I still thought the Indians were going to win. Even when Aroldis Chapman went out for the ninth inning with the Yanks up 5-2, I still thought Cleveland would come back and win. Only when he struck out Austin Jackson for the final out did I really believe it: my Yankees — my underdog Yankees — had beaten the best team in the American League. I’ve seen my team win a lot of postseason series, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about one as I am about this one. Because who the hell thought the 2017 Yankees would be one of the final four teams standing?
Had New York lost this series, Joe Girardi would likely be out of a job. You may recall that in Game 2, whiny Joe chose the worst time to abandon his nickname. The guy who challenges everything decided not to challenge Lonnie Chisenhall being hit by a Chad Green pitch, despite Gary Sanchez immediately jumping up and yelling that the ball had hit the bat.
Talk about a time to sing “You’re blind, ump! You’re blind, ump! You must be outta your mind, ump!”
The next batter was Francisco Lindor, who hit a goddamn grand slam. If Girardi keeps his job next year, he should thank the Indians for blowing the series. It didn’t hurt that Cleveland’s two best players, Ramirez and Lindor, went a combined 4 for 38 at the plate and likely Cy Young winner Kluber pitched a combined 6.1 innings in his two starts, which is two-thirds of an inning fewer than he threw in his ONE start in the division series against Boston last year. In those 6.1 innings, Kluber gave up 10 hits, 4 of which were home runs, and 9 earned runs to the tune of 12.79 E.R.A. Girardi owes them each a bottle of wine.
Boy, it seems like a long time ago that Trevor Bauer did his best Greg Maddux impression and made the New York Yankees look like the New York Mets. (Sorry, Mets fans.)
Can they keep the magic going in the ALCS? They face the Houston Astros, who, way back in July, were considered the best team in the league. Cleveland snagged all the headlines in the second half, but the Astros wound up winning just one fewer game. Likely MVP winner Jose Altuve leads the charge for a team that outscored their opponents by 196 runs, second only to the dear, departed Indians. Can they be beaten?
As it has often been this season, Altuve’s main MVP competitor Aaron Judge (All Rise) is the key. He had an abysmal division series, going 1 for 20 with an astounding 80% of his at bats resulting in a strike out. His teammates, notably Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks, stepped it up in the absence of Judge’s bat, but if Judge can remember not to swing at the outside slider, it could make the difference between him playing in the World Series and watching it on his Amazon Fire TV.
The Yankees have the hardest throwing pitching staff in the game. Here’s an incredible stat: in Game 4 of the ALDS, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, and Tommy Kahnle threw a combined 94 fastballs, and NONE of them were slower than 96 mph. However, if any team can combat that power, it’s Houston, who had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball and hit .301/.373/.525 off fastballs in the regular season. The Astros beat up on Yankee pitching more than any team in baseball this season. Most are predicting a Houston victory. The Baby Bombers are, once again, the underdogs.
On the other hand, as Yogi Berra once put it, “some teams are just overwhelming underdogs.”