CLEVELAND — These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.
The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.
Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the American League Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.
The bend-but-don’t-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
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With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York’s season.
“These guys had my back and they fought and fought,” Girardi said. “They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I’ll never forget it.”
The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 5-foot-6 dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.
After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he “screwed up” and felt horrible about it, the Yankees — with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge — came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.
Cleveland’s Series-winning drought turns 70 next year — baseball’s longest dry spell.
“Nobody wanted the season to be over,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It doesn’t wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It’s disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games.”
The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 22/3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year’s spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86 million free-agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.
CHICAGO — Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough.
So much for all those questions about heart and character.
Strasburg shook off an illness and pitched seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 to send their National League Division Series to a decisive Game 5.
“I just focused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could,” Strasburg said.
Moments after Sean Doolittle closed out Strasburg’s first career playoff win, the focus shifted to the final game of the series in Washington on Thursday night. Kyle Hendricks starts for the World Series champion Cubs after throwing seven sharp innings in a 3-0 victory over Strasburg in Game 1.
Washington manager Dusty Baker was noncommittal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark the most likely candidates.
“You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today,” Baker said.
Strasburg got sick after his terrific performance in the playoff opener, and the Nationals had planned to go with Roark even after a persistent rain washed out Game 4 on Tuesday. That led to a flurry of comments and criticism about whether the ace had the right stuff to pitch in big moments.
But Strasburg felt better when he woke up Wednesday and told Baker he wanted the ball. That was all Baker needed to hear.
“I could see the focus and determination in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the office and we talked to him,” the manager said.
Standing tall as clouds of mist rolled through Wrigley Field, Strasburg struck out 12, allowed three hits and walked two. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has 22 Ks in 14 innings in the series, allowing only a pair of unearned runs in the opener.
Red Sox fire Farrell
BOSTON — John Farrell racked up a lot of wins and a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox. But past success wasn’t enough to save his job after consecutive early playoff exits.
Boston fired Farrell after the team’s second straight loss in the AL Division Series.