NEW YORK — It was champagne showers in the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that indicated something special happened Tuesday evening in the Bronx. From the moment Frank Sinatra’s ensemble of “New York, New York” rang throughout the baseball cathedral walls — as Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta forced a five-batter effort to get Myles Straw to ground out for the final out of the American League Division Series — it solidified the Yankees 5-1 win, sending them to American League Championship Series where they will face the Houston Astros on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
All the power resided in the bats and arms of players who sought to make an instrumental and monumental impact. An unfinished business mentality hovered over the AL East champions and birthed a sentiment that will carry the Yankees team to Houston as they look to face their postseason foes.
It all started with Yankees Game 5 starter Nestor Cortes setting the tone with an eight-pitch first inning. Cortes entered the game for his second postseason appearance and his first winner-take-all game. Prior to the game, manager Aaron Boone stated he believed the Yankees bullpen would make an early appearance, “ [I] Just want him to go as hard as he can, and he’ll probably be shorter, so obviously, the bullpen is going to play a big role in this I would imagine.”
Cortes did not believe there was any need to make it a bullpen game, as the crafty lefty excited the crowd with a five-inning display that allowed only one run on three hits and two strikeouts in the win-or-go-home game.
The Cuban-American was the key fixture in sending the Yankees to the ALCS, their third visit to the series in six years (2017, ‘19, ‘22). Throughout his outing, Cortes’s command was intact and never cracked despite giving up an RBI sac-fly to the Guardians’ most valuable player, José Ramírez.
“It feels incredible to be able to do what I did today,” Cortes said after leading the Yankees to the ALCS. “I didn’t know how long I was going to go out there. I was just trying to give my team time, innings, whether it was two innings, three, four, or five innings. And it feels great to come on top and lead the team to the CS [Championship Series].”
When Cortes needed an offense to place runs on the board, two of the Yankees’ most coveted players stepped up to the plate to handle business in the batter’s box. Giancarlo Stanton came to Yankee Stadium locked and loaded when he sent a 107.5 mph rocket above the right field wall to breathe the first signs of life into the Yankees’ offense in the first inning, giving them a necessary and quick 3-0 lead.
“He cares. He cares a lot,” Cortes said on Stanton, who ended the game by going 1-for-4 with two RBI. “Before this series even started, this guy he doesn’t speak very much during the season, but when he addresses a team and when he comes out and speaks, everybody listens to him because, obviously, he cares. He’s been an MVP. He’s done it all. I think he’s missing a World Series ring, so when it comes down to these moments, he’s hands-on with everybody and giving us everything he has, and we appreciate everything he does.”
Guardians starter Aaron Civale pitched in his first postseason game and wasn’t able to fend off the strength that lies deep within the Yankees’ offense. After Josh Donaldson followed Stanton’s homer with a single, Guardians manager Terry Francona made the urgent call to the bullpen after the Game 5 starter struggled through five Yankees batters, earning one out — an Aaron Judge strikeout — in the first inning before being relieved by Sam Hentges.
“Before we had a chance to settle into the game, you know, he elevated a cutter to Stanton, and it’s three, and then there’s an infield hit,” Francona said, expressing his thoughts on Civale’s short outing. “I felt terrible taking him out that quickly, but I just didn’t think we could give up anymore.”
It was a matter of time before MLB home run leader Aaron Judge took on a pitch to intensify the postseason atmosphere with an electric blast. It certainly sent the Yankee Stadium crowd of 48,178 into a deafening roar when they realized the offense came to play with the powerful attributes that make them the team they are today. Judge’s 394-foot blast in the second inning tact on a lone run, extending the Yankees lead to 4-1. His second home run of the ’22 postseason would be his fourth home run in a winner-take-all game, the most in MLB history.
With everything going right for the Yankees, a scary situation caused Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks to exit the game after colliding with rookie shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera at the left-field foul line. After attempting to walk off the pain, Hicks remained truthful to the Yankees medical staff and manager Aaron Boone, relinquishing his left field position to Marwin Gonzalez.
Hicks is expected to miss six weeks, confirming during the postgame celebration that he will not be able to help the Yankees continue their quest for a 28th World Series championship.
As the plastic drapes came down and the Yankees began to pack their bags for a flight to Houston, an overall conclusion would affirm that a performance that was inherited from desperation — that can only be found when facing a win-or-go-home game — made it imperative for the Yankees to continue their trek unlike other elite franchises like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.
With the American League Division Series finale cementing the final four, the Yankees hope to start the next series off on the right foot with Jameson Taillon (14-5, 3.91 ERA during the regular season) on the mound against CY Young award winner Justin Verlander and the AL West champions Astros, who will have home-field advantage in the Championship Series. The first game is slated for Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at 7:37 pm EST.
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