Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge staggered Cleveland with early homers, and the New York Yankees beat the Guardians 5-1 Tuesday in the decisive Game 5 of their AL Division Series to set up another rematch with Houston for the pennant.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone won his gamble by starting Nestor Cortes on three days’ rest over Jameson Taillon, making the late switch after Monday night’s rain caused a postponement.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona stayed the course with Aaron Civale instead of switching to 2020 Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber on short rest. Civale had trouble throwing strikes, and the Guardians never recovered from Stanton’s three-run homer just 21 pitches in.
Cortes dominated with three-hit ball for five innings for the win, Jonathan Loaisiga, Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta finished with five-hit scoreless relief.
The sellout crowd of 48,178 cheered as the Yankees when Myles Straw hit a grounder for the final out. Second baseman Gleyber Torres stepped on the bag to end it, then mimicked rocking a baby with the ball – a jab at Guardians slugger Josh Naylor, who made the motion rounding the bases after a homer off Gerrit Cole in Game 4.
Taillon will start Wednesday night’s AL Championship Series opener at Houston, which goes with Justin Verlander. The AL matchup features the league’s top two regular-season teams in the 106-win Astros and 99-win Yankees, a contrast to the NL championship between wild-card San Diego and Philadelphia.
Houston beat the Yankees in a seven-game championship series in 2017 and over six games in 2019. The Astros went on to their first World Series title in 2017 but later were found to have used a video camera to signal opposition pitches to their batters.
AL East champion New York, seeking its 28th title and first since 2009, may be without Aaron Hicks. The left fielder came out of the game after hurting his left knee in a third-inning collision with rookie shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera.
AL Central champion Cleveland, the youngest team in the majors and with a $68m payroll that’s a fraction of the Yankees’ $274m, remained without a championship since 1948. The Guardians led 2-1 in the best-of-five series before the Yankees won 4-2 behind Cole on Sunday to force the series back to New York. Cole was warming up in the ninth inning of Game 5, just in case.
Cleveland have lost 11 straight postseason elimination games, a major league record. The Guardians seemed jarred by the early deficit and failed to ask for a video review in the fourth inning when Andres Gimenez clearly beat a diving Anthony Rizzo to the first-base bag.
Cortes, a fan favorite with his hesitation delivery that he used in the fifth, allowed one run, struck out two and walked one while throwing 61 pitches.
Stanton and Judge homered twice each in the series, and New York outhomered Cleveland 9-3 while scoring 16 of its 20 runs on long balls. Judge became the first player with four homers in a winner-take-all postseason game, breaking a tie with Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Stanton, Didi Gregorius and Troy O’Leary.
Rain had cleared out and the game began with left and center field in brilliant sunshine on a 57F afternoon. There were scattered empty seats for the 4.07pm start, and fans loudly booed Naylor whose exuberant “rock the baby” home run trot Sunday got New York’s attention. Fans serenaded Naylor with rocking motions and chanted “Who’s Your Daddy!” as they did for Boston’s Pedro Martinez two decades earlier.
Civale, a 27-year-old right-hander, was in Cleveland’s rotation before being sidelined three times this season with injuries. He appeared flustered, throwing just 12 of 26 pitches for strikes, getting only one swing and miss and just one out.
Torres walked on four pitches leading off, Judge struck out on a full-count curveball and Civale hit Rizzo on the left thigh with a pitch.
Civale started Stanton with an outside curveball in the dirt, and pitching coach Carl Willis went to the mound. Civale threw a cutter that missed low and outside. and catcher Austin Hedges set up on the low, outside corner, Civale left a cutter up and Stanton lined it 379ft into the short right-field porch, a drive that would be a home run in only three of the 30 major league ballparks.
Civale faced just one more batter, leaving after Josh Donaldson’s infield single.
Judge hit an opposite-field drive to right in the second on a curveball from left-hander Sam Hentges, Judge’s 13th postseason homer. The Yankees are 27-2 when Stanton and Judge homer in the same game.
Jose Ramirez drove Cleveland’s run with a sacrifice fly in the third after the bloop single down the left-field line by rookie Steven Kwan, the play that caused Hicks’ injury. Kwan was 9 for 21 (.429) in the series.