A panorama from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium/Andrew nyr/Wikicom
By Matt Spalding
As the fans filed into Yankee Stadium on a brisk, sunny Tuesday afternoon in the Bronx, the message was simple - Survive and advance.
The Yankees did just that, defeating the Cleveland Guardians 5-1, advancing to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2019.
“It was never easy for New York, who came into the playoffs fresh off the celebrations of Aaron Judge’s record-breaking season. Judge broke the American League home run record in the second to last game of the season, capping off an all-time great campaign. With that settled, the team had a few days off and prepared themselves to face the Cleveland Guardians, the American League Central Champions. Game One went to New York, but after a rainout moved Game 2 all the way to Friday, Cleveland fought back, winning 4-2. Heading to Cleveland tied 1-1 in the best-of-five series, the situation proved itself immense on Saturday night, but the Bombers entered the final half-inning up three runs, determined to take a 2-1 series lead in this first-to-three format. The lead did not hold, however. Oscar Gonzalez, who had walked off Tampa Bay just a week prior in the same building to get to this point, slapped a two-run single back up the middle to send the Guardians faithful home happy.
Sunday’s Game Four was a test of the willpower of the entire Yankees roster. Ace Gerrit Cole took the mound for New York, with the fortune of being on a full five days of rest. The Yankees' offense wasn’t very loud, accounting for four runs, but Cole was lights out. Over seven innings of work, he allowed two runs, walking only one, and striking out eight. The dominant performance allowed for a winner takes all Game Five - to be played back in New York.
From midday Monday, the forecast was not convincing whatsoever for Game 5 to be played as planned, with the first pitch at 7:07 Eastern Standard Time. It took officials until 9:30 that evening, two and a half hours after the scheduled first pitch, to officially postpone the game. With that, an unorthodox, maybe even old-fashioned vibe was attached to Tuesday’s game.
The first pitch was just after four o’clock, and the sun was fighting a losing battle to remain strong over top of the Yankee Stadium facade. A chill filled the air, the norm for October baseball, but certainly not helped by a firm gust of wind. The Yankees got off to a blazing start, with three runs courtesy of a Giancarlo Stanton opposite field home run. Guardians starter Aaron Civale was yanked by manager Terry Francona after registering only a single out in the first inning. From there on, it was smooth sailing for the 27-time world champs.
Starting pitcher “Nasty” Nestor Cortes, who emerged as a star this season, was almost flawless in five innings of work, allowing only one run on three hits. The Yanks case was helped by the new Home Run King, Aaron Judge, who added to his record-breaking regular season total of 62 with a solo shot in the 5th.
The back end of the Yankees pen, anchored by Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta, closed things out on the Guardians season, cementing a 5-1 victory. As Gleyber Torres caught the final out, he cradled his arms and “rocked the baby,” mocking the taunt that Guardians 1B Josh Naylor dished out after a Game 4 home run. While rounding the bases, he stared at pitcher Gerrit Cole, yelling “That’s my son!” Naylor might’ve intended for it to motivate his teammates, but it lit a fire under the Yankees and their fans. “Revenge,” 2B Gleyber Torres told reporters after the Game 5 win. “Now they can watch on TV.”
The Yankees travel to Houston for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday evening. After falling to the Astros twice in 2017 and 2019, one thought will be on the mind of all those who don pinstripes: Revenge.
Matt Spaulding is a writer for the Voice.