CLEVELAND – These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.
The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.
Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.
The bend-but-don’t-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York’s season.
“These guys had my back and they fought and fought,” Girardi said. “They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I’ll never forget it. “
The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 168-cm dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.
After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he “screwed up” and felt horrible about it, the Yankees — with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge — 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.
“Nobody wanted the season to be over,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It doesn’t wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It’s disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games.”
The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 2⅔ 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. An elated Girardi hugged his coaches.
On Friday, Girardi was crestfallen, afraid he had wrecked the season.
“After Game 2, Joe came up to me in this same spot (outside the manager’s office) and said, ‘Hey, man. I’m sorry,’ ” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I told him, ‘We just have to keep battling. Nothing is over yet.’ No one on the plane home thought it was over at all.”
The Yankees 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.
Red Sox fire Farrell
John Farrell racked up a lot of wins and a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox. But past success wasn’t enough to save his job after consecutive early playoff exits.
Boston fired Farrell on Wednesday after the team’s second straight loss in the AL Division Series.
The Red Sox announced the move less than 48 hours after they were eliminated from the World Series hunt with a 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros . Farrell’s contract had been scheduled to run through the 2018 season.
“I thought it was the appropriate time to make a change for the betterment of the organization,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.
Farrell managed the team to its eighth World Series title in 2013, his first season in charge of the club.