They did it!
The New York Yankees stormed back from a three-game deficit in the ALDS to defeat the defending pennant-winning Indians on their home field. The combination of CC Sabathia, Didi Gregorius, and a lockdown bullpen carried the team and helped make it happen on Wednesday night. Now, the Yankees will head to Houston for Friday's ALCS opener.
Let's take stock of what we learned from this memorable series victory over the Tribe.
5. The Yankees can rely on their bullpen at any time.
Although Yankees fans were understandably nervous when manager Joe Girardi sent Aroldis Chapman to the mound to record the final six outs, the move panned out perfectly. The Indians could not touch Chapman. It became clear that if he threw his pitches for strikes, the Yankees would be heading to Houston.
Incredibly, the Yankees still had a multitude of options to tap into in case they didn't want to stretch Chapman out for two innings. Tommy Kahnle has been as reliable as it gets, while set-up man David Robertson is every bit of a stone-cold closer without the job title.
Dellin Betances can expect more work in the upcoming seven-game series, adding to the well of talent that the Yankees have in the 'pen. As long as the starters can offer four or five solid innings each night, this team will be in winning shape.
4. Aaron Judge is going to improve in the ALCS.
The bad news? Aaron Judge went 1-for-20 with just two RBI and one run scored in the ALDS. The really, really great news? The Yankees won anyway.
Judge, a top pick for American League MVP, has proven that he can be a streaky hitter this season, and taking on some of the filthiest right-handed pitching in the league can exhaust a slugger like him, but the 25-year-old rookie's ability to stay calm in the face of adversity made all the difference in his late-season renaissance. It's not wrong to assume that he'll break out of his slump in time for a big weekend.
Houston might have the best lineup in the American League, but their starting pitching shouldn't give Judge as much trouble as the Indians' staff did. A breakout is on the horizon, and that ought to terrify even the most faithful of Astros fans.
3. Didi Gregorius is a bona fide star.
A star was born.
Didi Gregorius has been nothing less than a godsend since joining the Yankees in 2015. The 27-year-old shortstop has improved with each season, ripping 25 home runs during this year's memorable Yankees campaign. He capped off the effort with three more dingers in the ALDS, two of which single-handedly carried the team over Cleveland in Game 5.
He's as likable as a personality as he is masterful at the dish, and it's time we start recognizing Sir Didi as a face of this franchise. He's done everything in his power to earn that honor.
2. You can't put a price on veteran leadership.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, Yankees GM Brian Cashman had to make a decision about veterans like Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. Their roles were projected to diminish amid an influx of young talent the Yankees had acquired over the previous two seasons, but Cashman decided to stick with his guns and ride them out.
Ellsbury has been a disappointment for most of the year, while Gardner has been putting on a clinic. But it's their value in the clubhouse that likely played a huge role in keeping this young core stable following a Game 2 meltdown in extra-innings.
CC Sabathia is another name that deserves a mention in the veteran leadership department, especially after spinning a gem with the season on the line in Game 5. And Gardner's dramatic ninth-inning at bat will go down as one of the best in Yankees postseason history.
Great teams have great leaders. That's why the Bombers are still alive and dreaming big.
1. Joe Girardi is an above-average manager.
This should have never been up for debate in the first place.
There's no denying that Joe Girardi completely botched Game 2. Even the skipper himself stumbled to find a logical excuse for failing to challenge what looked like an obviously incorrect hit-by-pitch call. It became clear that he knew more than anyone that he might cost his team a chance at the series-- and lost his job besides.
With the team team rallying around Girardi to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole and win the series, they signaled that (1) these guys will go to war for their manager, and (2) a single major blunder doesn't override the incredible job he's done with this young, talented core. If the Yankees were to let Girardi go (yes, he had to answer those questions throughout this series), there'd be a line out the door and around the corner for his services.
He's an above-average manager. Period.