The Yankees season could have ended in abject disappointment after a crushing 6-5 road loss to the Cleveland Guardians on Saturday. The defeat put them down 2-1 in the best-of-five divisional series facing elimination back at Yankee Stadium for Game 4. If they ever needed Gerrit Cole to live up to the nine-year, $324 million contract he signed with the team in December of 2019, it was Sunday.
The 32-year-old, five-time All-Star, who led the American League in wins last season with 16 and all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts this season tallying 257, responded to the charge, unleashing a repertoire of pitches that shut down the Guardians batters. Cole went seven innings, striking out eight in giving up two runs. Outfielder Harrison Bader’s three-run homer in the second was enough offense to power the Yankees to a 4-2 win.
Still facing the prospect of an early playoff exit, the Yankees jumped on the Guardians early in the decisive Game 5 in the Bronx on Tuesday afternoon. Giancarlo Stanton crushed a three-run homer in the first inning and they never looked back, tacking on two more in a 5-1 victory as starter Nestor Cortes and three relievers shut down their determined but overmatched opponent to send the Yankees to the American League Division Series.
“We definitely had to throw the first punch in a game like this,” said Stanton afterwards.
There, they will take on a different beast in the Houston Astros, guided by manager Baker, who is only missing a World Series title on what is inarguably a Hall of Famer resume. This is the third time the Yankees and Astros are meeting in the ALCS in the last six years.
The Astros had the best regular season record in the AL at 106-56. The Yankees registered the second most, going 99-63. Game 1 was last night in Houston, with Justin Verlander, one of the greatest pitchers in the game’s history, and baseball’s earned run leader this season at 1.75, facing the Yankees’ Jameson Taillon, who was 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA during the regular season.
Game 2 is tonight in Houston while Games 3, 4 and 5 are scheduled to be held at Yankee Stadium Saturday, Sunday and Monday respectively.