By Jason Keidel
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For the world west of the Hudson, it’s been eerily warm this October. Normally, there’s a rainbow of foliage coating our roads, lawns and parks. Yet it looks and feels like July right now. Not even the thunderstorms that occasionally blow horizontal rain can break the muggy mist over the five boroughs.
But all of it has been a perfect metaphor for the Yankees, who are getting hot in this AL Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. They brought a downpour of baseballs to the Bronx over the last few days. It was like watching The Weather Channel. We broke out the measurements. And when the storm finally passed over River Avenue, it all added up to a pair of Yankees wins, including a 7-3 victory on Monday night.
Add to that a fine, comeback performance from Luis Severino, and you have a deciding Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.
It had to be an equally odd feeling for Indians manager Terry Francona, who has the best pitching in baseball, to burn a trail to the mound early in Game 4, as the Tribe used their third reliever by the third inning. Making matters worse, the Indians forgot how to field, committing two errors that led to a 5-0 deficit entering the fourth. All of the runs were unearned. Cleveland committed four errors overall, punctuating a most woeful visit to Gotham.
But the Yanks still had to capitalize. Considering how lost they looked after blowing that five-run lead in Game 2 — which led to fans calling for Joe Girardi’s vocational head — all Bombers supporters have to be breathing a bit better right now.
There’s a cliche — largely reserved for the NBA — that says a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a road team wins. If that’s true, then it’s hard to explain this series. Just two days ago we were writing premature postmortems for the Bombers, yet it does keep with one pattern: home teams this postseason entered the game with a 12-2 record, outscoring the visitors by 40 runs.
No matter how things end this week, the Yankees have had a sublime season, bursting our collective dream bubbles for the summer, soaring above our more muted expectations. But now that they’re here, nine innings from the ALCS, they might as well try to win it, against epic odds, their third straight against a team that recently won 22 straight. It had also been 46 days — really, 46 — since the Indians lost two in a row.
A stat Yankees fans may find more palatable? The indians are now 0-5 in their last five chances to clinch a playoff series, dating to last year’s World Series. Cleveland has failed on 16 of its last 19 such chances.
What else do the Yankees have going for them? Well, the momentum of two straight wins and the knowledge that they can play with a 102-win club. Though they face Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, on Wednesday the Yanks already hammered him in Game 2. And while he may not be an ace anymore, is there anyone you’d rather see on the mound in a Game 5 than CC Sabathia?
No Yankees starter can approach the hefty lefty’s experience or savvy, his guts or guile. Lost in the managerial mayhem of Game 2 was Sabathia’s excellent outing, during which he’d retired 11 straight batters, and 12 of 13 before he was pulled by Girardi, perhaps prematurely.
Consider how much life has changed and improved for the veteran southpaw. Not long ago, fans were bashing him for ducking out on the team right before the playoffs to check into rehab for a drinking problem. As always, the online tough guys took their gratuitous, anonymous shots. But even more logical fans shredded the veteran pitcher, as if he planned to suffer from addiction and his escape exactly for October. It was just a bad moment for Big Apple baseball fans, who usually sound smarter, wiser, and kinder. Now he’s about to pitch the biggest game of the year.
Sabathia is easily the most underrated, and under-appreciated Yankee in 2017. But he won’t be if he wins his next start.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel