CLEVELAND — The look of relief on Joe Girardi‘s face was akin to a death-row inmate who received an 11th-hour reprieve from the governor.
The New York Yankees completed their comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five American League Division Series on Wednesday night by beating the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 at Progressive Field.
The Yankees’ season appeared on its last legs when they left Progressive Field last Friday down 2-0 in the series. They lost 9-8 in 13 innings in Game 2 after blowing a five-run lead and Girardi failing to challenge what turned out to be a pivotal missed call by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
Thus, Girardi was emotionally drained after the Yankees moved on to meet the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. Game 1 is set for Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The Yankees seemed to have Game 2 in hand, leading 8-3 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Iassogna ruled that the Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall was hit by a Chad Green pitch to load the bases.
Television replays appeared to show the ball hitting the knob of Chisenhall’s bat and then being caught by catcher Gary Sanchez for what should have an inning-ending strikeout. However, Girardi did not challenge the call, and Francisco Lindor followed with a grand slam to draw the Indians within a run.
The Indians tied in at 8-all on Jay Bruce’s home run in the eighth inning and won it on Yan Gomes’ RBI single in the 13th.
However, the Yankees then won three games in a row to take Girardi off the hook and advanced to the ALCS.
“I was about as low as I could be as a baseball (person),” Girardi said. “I’ve been carrying this burden for five or six days. It’s hard. If we lose on Sunday, it really hurt. If we lose on Monday, it really, really hurts. If we would have lost (Wednesday night), it probably would have hurt even worse.
“So, for me, what those guys did for me, I’ll never forget it.”
Girardi held a brief meeting before Game 3 when the series shifted to Yankee Stadium. Shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was the star of Game 5 with two home runs, said the manager set the tone for the Yankees’ comeback.
“He admitted his mistake,” Gregorius said. “It just shows everybody is united on this team. Everybody has accountability. That’s the best thing. If you make a mistake, you admit it then that’s in the past. We, as a team, have each other’s back.
“All he told us, ‘Hey let’s play one game at a time right now and that’s all we can control.’”
Speculation was rampant in New York that Girardi might be fired if the Yankees lost the series, though some of the talk subsided when the Yankees tied the series.
Regardless, beating the Indians, whose 102-60 record in the regular season was tops in the AL, was one of the highlights of Girardi’s 10 seasons as manager.
“There’s just a ton of fight in this club,” Girardi said. “It’s a great mixture of youth and veteran players that are the leading the way. It hard to believe what happened. We just beat a really, really good team.”