By Ernie Palladino
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First, the Yankees weren’t supposed to get to the postseason at all. Too young, too inexperienced.
“Hogwash,” they said.
After Friday’s Game 2 of the AL Division Series, lost to mistakes on the field and in the dugout against the big, bad Indians, the Bombers were not supposed to win three straight against a power-laden team that weeks earlier had set a record by winning 22 consecutive games. Nor were they supposed to beat Cleveland’s Cy Young-quality ace, Corey Kluber, especially after the clunker he pulled before his team got him off the hook that same game.
And yet, there the Yankees were Wednesday night, just a few minutes before midnight, dancing on the Progressive Field infield as a packed house sat in stunned silence.
As unlikely as it sounds, the Yanks are off to Houston and their first ALCS appearance since 2012. Their 5-2 victory in Game 5 — another test nobody but the craziest of backers thought this young team could possibly pass — came as unexpected as it was unpredictable.
Just as well that they won it in Cleveland, though. Had they done this at home, the crowd might just have destroyed the new place with all the stomping and hooting and hollering.
Leave it to the Yanks. Better yet, leave it to the veterans whose efforts carried this team through this game. Not the kids like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, whose series-long silence continued with a combined 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts. Not Greg Bird, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, himself.
No, it was the veterans who made this next leg possible. Didi Gregorius early, Brett Gardner late. Old CC Sabathia starting and middle-aged David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman finishing up.
Start with Sabathia, whose 37-year-old body continues to perform despite the aches and pains. Who knows what lies ahead for him in the ALCS. But if it all goes downhill for him as he heads into free agency, let the fans remember that he left it all out on the field in the ALDS. Literally. There were his nine strikeouts over the brilliant 4 1/3 innings. But there was also the hole his tender right knee dug halfway to the Orient as he slid for Roberto Perez’ third-inning bunt.
He was commanding, undone only because Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Perez, and Giovanny Urshela stopped swinging for the fences and went the opposite way for two runs on four straight singles in the fifth.
But even those adjustments couldn’t bring Cleveland even. Gregorius, a season-long producer whose contributions were somewhat overshadowed by Judge and Sanchez, had put the Yanks up 3-0 with a solo homer in the first and a two-run shot in the third off Kluber. And once Robertson came in, it was lights out for the Cleveland Power Company.
Seven out of the next eight Indians went down before Chapman, last year’s trade bait turned this year’s hero, came in for a six-out save. The only thing was, he had to wait almost a half hour for his final act as the Yanks busied themselves tacking on two insurance runs in the ninth.
It was none other than Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, who provided the sealing hit, a single that first scored Aaron Hicks and then Todd Frazier, who never stopped running once he saw Bruce’s throw bound away from cutoff man Francisco Lindor.
The at-bat was a thing of beauty in itself, as Gardner made Cody Allen serve up 11 pitches before he lined No. 12 into right. Even more impressive was that it marked his second 12-pitch at-bat of the game.
Chapman had cooled off during the wait and walked Jose Ramirez to start the ninth. But he quickly gathered himself. And when Jackson went down looking for the third out, the celebration began.
Now they continue on this track of unpredictability. The expectations of a developmental season are deep in the past. They have achieved far more than anyone would have thought.
Who knows if the Yankees will take four games from the Astros. The important thing is that they’re in the ALCS.
And who would have predicted that six months ago?
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