NEW YORK — Ecstasy and agony await. One team is going to feel the euphoric lift of moving on, while the other will have infamy etched into its team history. That is what is in the on-deck circle for the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees.
They started training eight months ago, and now it will come down to Wednesday night, Game 5 of the ALDS. Winner takes all.
The Yankees, after tying the series at two with a 7-3 Game 4 win on Monday, might save manager Joe Girardi’s job. The Game 2 loss, the worst-managed game of Girardi’s life, still burns. It can be pretty much erased with a win on Wednesday.
“These guys have picked me up,” Girardi said.
A loss in Game 5, and Girardi will be blamed, and it will be hard to argue otherwise. Wednesday’s score will mean the beginning of something truly special for Girardi — or the end.
The Indians will desperately try to avoid adding another item in Cleveland’s tortured sports history. The hottest team in baseball, the No. 1 seed in the American League, will try to avoid blowing a two-games-to-none series lead. The Indians last lost three in a row on Aug. 1.
On Monday, the Baby Bombers gave another glimpse of what is in store for baseball over the next few years — and maybe longer. Their 23-year-old ace, Luis Severino, redeemed himself after his one-out wild-card flameout by throwing seven innings of three-run ball.
Aaron Judge, 25, has been a strikeout machine, K-ing in 12 of his 15 ALDS at-bats, but just like with his home-run-denying catch in Game 3, he impacted the game. This time, it was maybe the game’s biggest hit, a two-out, two-strike, second-inning RBI double that extended the Yankees’ lead to four runs.
By the end, the sellout crowd, which once again made the new stadium sound like the old one, was chanting, “We want Kluber! We want Kluber! We want Kluber!”
“It will be electric,” Judge said.
History is on the Yankees’ side. Of the 15 teams that have come back from an 0-2 hole in a best-of-five, nine have gone on to win the series. The Yankees got to Kluber in Game 2, while Sabathia seemed to have the Indians’ number before Girardi lifted him too early in the midst of the big lefty retiring 12 of 13 batters and with a pitch count at 78.
On Monday, Girardi had few decisions to make, but he might have been in the crosshairs of criticism if it weren’t for reliever Tommy Kahnle. Girardi gave the ball to Dellin Betances for the eighth inning. Betances is a four-time All-Star who grew up a Bleacher Creature, but he is struggling. Brought in to protect a four-run, eighth-inning lead, Betances could not find the strike zone. He walked two batters before Girardi took him out.
Kahnle entered and retired every batter he faced, including five on strikeouts. That allowed Girardi to stay away from Aroldis Chapman, which could prove to be a very important decision come Wednesday night.
If it weren’t for Girardi’s Game 2 issues, the Yankees would be playing with house money. The Indians are the team that hasn’t won a World Series in nearly seven decades. They are the ones who were one game from a title last season. They are the ones who went 33-4 to end this season.
“Everybody doubted us,” Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius said. “Nobody expected us to be this far. Nobody expected us to be playing this good. Nobody expected us to be competing against these guys because they’re the best team. But we’ve still got heart for the game. We’ve still got love for the game. So we’ve got to go out there and battle. There’s a reason why we’re here. There’s a reason why every team is playing for the ring.”
It will burn the Yankees, and especially their fans, if they lose Game 5. They will know they could have won this series.
If the Indians are on the wrong end of the score, it will be another tough blow for a city that patched up some of its heartbreak with LeBron James‘ NBA title in 2016.
Ecstasy and agony. These two teams have combined to play 333 games since April. It will all come down to one more.