NEW YORK – Houston, here come the Yankees.
After a strong start from left winger Nestor Cortes, the New York Yankees secured a seat in the American League Championship Series with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday. The Game 5 win capped a back-and-forth series that saw the Yankees eliminated in Game 4 in Cleveland and rain delayed several contests.
“We’ve had conversations in that clubhouse that we’re family, no matter how bad things are going or how good things can go, we have to keep our cool,” Cortes said. “We have ourselves, we have no one to lean on.”
They’ll need more of that when they take on the Astros in a best-of-seven ALCS that begins Wednesday night in Houston when Justin Verlander and Jameson Taillon go head-to-head in Game 1. During the regular season, the Astros and Yankees each finished with the top two American League records, while Houston won five of seven games against New York.
“The challenge is that we’re dealing with a great team,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “In terms of quick turnaround, we’ll be fine. This is baseball. We do that all the time. We’ll go in with some confidence.
To keep up against Houston, the Yankees need the offense that showed against the Guardians on Tuesday. Giancarlo Stanton got the first runs on the scoreboard in the first inning by hitting a line-drive home run on an 87.5-mile cutter by Cleveland starter Aaron Civale over the right field wall, scoring Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo and the Yankees in the top three brought -0. Civale held out another batter, threw just 26 pitches and recorded a single before Guardians manager Terry Francona gave him the hook.
The early run set the tone for Cortes on the mound.
“From that moment I knew that all I had to do was throw strikes to get us as deep as possible,” Cortes said.
Aaron Judge launched another run in the second inning, hitting an 81.3-mile curveball from Sam Hentges over the right midfield wall to make it 4-0. It was Judge’s fourth homer in a winner-take-all game – the highest in Major League history – and the 13th homer for the towering hitter in his postseason career, putting him past Reggie Jackson and Yogi Berra on the 5th most catapulted Yankees history postseason.
“We’re just trying to do our job,” Richter said. “If you’re in the middle of an order, you have to come up and produce. Stanton and Rizzo have done that on all of the shows and I’ve tried to step in there and do what I can.”
The Yankees faced a scary moment in the third inning when shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera collided with outfielder Aaron Hicks at a pop-up to hit left field in front of Cleveland outfielder Steven Kwan’s bat. Hicks left the game with a left knee injury and underwent an MRI at the New York Presbyterian. He will miss the rest of the postseason.
Cleveland later hit back in the third inning with his only run of the game when third baseman Jose Ramirez hit a sacrificial fly on midfielder Harrison Bader and Austin Hedges made it 4-1. The run proved to be the only offense the Guardians conceded in their last game of the season. They scored eight hits, left six runners on base and went 0-on-6 with runners in goal position.
“We pushed them as far as we could and they came out today and beat us,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “They can move on and we can’t.”
Rizzo continued another run for the Yankees in the fifth inning when he hit an RBI single into midfield from Guardians auxiliary James Karinchak to bring in Torres, who stole second base to get into scoring position after a walk.
“We controlled the zone,” Boone said. “That was when we were at our best and you came in the zone. … It was just heavy bats and competitive bats that really set the tone for us.”
Cortes left the game after the fifth inning after throwing 61 pitches and allowing just three hits, one run and one walk while hitting two batters. He worked his way up from just four days of rest, most recently pitching on Friday in Game 2. Throughout the game, Cortes used a mix of his fastball (54%), cutter (26%) and slider (16%) to complete the approach choose to attempt to induce weak contact rather than attempting to bat batters.
While Cortes found out on short notice that he would be starting the series finale when he heard from Boone immediately after Monday night’s game rained, the Yankees dugout agreed that Cortes had better stuff Tuesday than his previous ALDS start.
“Just the legend of Nestor,” Boone said. “I knew he wanted the ball and I just felt like when it rained I felt convinced that Nestor was the one I wanted to go with.”
Cortes leaned into the pressure that comes with starting an elimination game.
“I have nothing to lose,” Cortes said. “I’ve been in the gutter before. I was down so that’s just icing on the cake for me and hopefully there will be more moments like this. I feel like I walked in today with the responsibility in my hands take care of the narrative, take care of my career. I was just happy to perform.
Cortes’ departure after the fifth round handed the keys to the Yankees’ fate to the bullpen, who appeared to be the team’s biggest weak point going into the postseason. First, Boone challenged Jonathan Loaisiga, who allowed Amed Rosario and Ramirez singles before getting Oscar Gonzalez and Josh Naylor to fold before beating Gabriel Arias to end the sixth inning. Loaisiga returned for another inning and finished the seventh, finishing the evening with two innings, conceding three hits and no runs or walks while striking out two.
Clay Holmes added to the optimism surrounding the Yankees’ bullpen when he arrived in the eighth inning and shut down the front of the Guardians order, hitting Rosario and Gonzalez and initiating a groundout for Ramirez.
“I feel like [Holmes] threw the ball really well,” Boone said. “Locked up. He’s arrived at some big spots and I feel like a month or so back before he had the shoulder, I feel like he’s started to really get it going. I thought he was sharp on the show.”
Holmes then passed the ball to Wandy Peralta, who became one of Boone’s favorite assistants throughout the series, pitching in every game against Cleveland. Peralta dropped Naylor before allowing Arias a single, beating Andres Gimenez and allowing Luke Maile a single. With two runners, Peralta tricked Myles Straw into picking a fielder and holed New York’s ticket to a matchup against the Astros.
The Yankees didn’t have much time to spray champagne and drink beer as the team bus pulled into the airport about an hour and a half after the last stop. Had it not rained in Game 5 Monday, the Yankees expected a more festive flight to Houston. But with no day off before the start of the ALCS, the team expects it to be mostly business-related.
“I hope we do some scouting reports on the plane so we can sleep in,” Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole said.
Several Yankees admitted that if they had a day off before Game 1 of the ALCS, they would probably drink more beer and champagne. Instead, the team wrapped up the celebrations quickly, finishing in about 20 minutes before packing up to head to the airport.
“We have other plans,” Richter said. “We’re definitely going to celebrate and enjoy the moment, but there’s a big series coming up tomorrow.”
Game 1 is scheduled to start at 7:37pm ET.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34825534/yankees-eliminate-guardians-set-alcs-showdown-vs-astros Yankees eliminate Guardians to set up ALCS showdown vs. Astros