The Cleveland Indians watch during the ninth inning of Wednesday's season-ending loss to the New York Yankees. ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND — The postseason heartache continued Wednesday in Cleveland, plunging the city into a morass.
The Indians, the odds-on-favorite to win the World Series at the dawn of the playoffs, completed a swift and shocking collapse, falling 5-2 to the New York Yankees in the decisive fifth game of the American League Division Series.
“Whatever you say isn’t going to make anybody feel better tonight,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona. “But we win together and we lost together. It was an honor to go through this year with these guys.”
BRIGGS COLUMN: Indians’ stars fade in finale
Four days ago, Cleveland led the best-of-five series 2-0 after an improbable comeback in Game 2 and looked poised to complete a sweep of the Yankees. But Aaron Judge robbed Francisco Lindor of a potential series-winning home run in Game 3, and New York seized momentum all the way to the American League Championship Series.
“The difference between Friday and today is about as big as you can get,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “I don’t think at any points in my career that I felt worse than I did on Friday. These guys had my back, and they fought and fought. And they beat a really, really good team.”
In a city that fears the worst, closes its eyes, and hangs on, Game 5 had the tension of a doctor’s office waiting room. Nervous anxiety filled Progressive Field, with fans fearing a haunting past that always lingers nearby.
For the third consecutive postseason start, Indians ace Corey Kluber gave up a home run in the first inning. And it was only the beginning of his nightmarish evening. Kluber gave up three earned runs on three hits in 3⅔ innings, striking out six and walking two.
“I thought the first inning, he came out of the chute good,” Francona said. “I just thought quickly his stuff was strarting to trend down. Just wasn’t his normal, crisp self. A lot of pitches were flat.”
In his past three postseason starts, dating to Game 7 of last year’s World Series, Kluber has allowed 13 earned runs and 16 hits in 10⅓ innings. Of the 48 batters he’s faced, six have hit home runs.
Didi Gregorius hit a solo home run in the first inning and a two-run homer in the third, staking New York a 3-0 lead. The Yankees added two crucial runs in the ninth inning, one off a Cleveland error, its ninth of the series. The Indians were the second-best fielding team in the Majors during the regular season.
Ten years after C.C. Sabathia couldn’t seize an opportunity close out the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS in Progressive Field, the former Indian struck out nine and allowed two earned runs in 4⅓ innings. He was perfect through three innings, striking out six of the first nine batters.
“That’s C.C.,” Girardi said. “That’s who he is — the guy you can count on. And he did it again tonight.”
The 37-year-old 300-pounder, who had two stints on the disabled list and needed painkillers and a brace for his arthritic knee, made 27 starts this season and only had at least eight strikeouts once. In 16 career postseason starts with New York, Sabathia is 7-2 with a sub-3.50 ERA.
Four straight singles in the fifth inning by Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Perez, and Giovanny Urshela provided two runs, trimming the Yankees’ lead to one and sending a surge of energy through the home crowd. An opportunity to take the lead was stymied when Lindor hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Yankee bullpen allowed one hit in 4⅔ innings. The teams combined for 31 strikeouts.
The Indians didn’t lead New York in the final 38 innings and batted .171 as a team with 61 strikeouts in the series. The top of the order — Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez — had averages of .111, .182, and .100, respectively. High-priced slugger Edwin Encarnacion, signed in the offseason to replace Mike Napoli, struck out three times and did not have a hit in seven at-bats during the series.
New York’s best player also had a series to forget — well, other than his Game 3 larceny. Judge was 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts.
In a season where every lever that was pulled produced gold, Cleveland lost its Midas touch. A 22-game win streak, the longest in AL history, now drifts into the rearview mirror, a blip in a season that ultimately turned from prosperity to failure.
“We felt good about ourselves,” Francona said. “We came down the stretch playing very good baseball, and we did some things in this series that I don’t think were characteristic of our team. We made some errors, kicked the ball around a little bit. Sometimes you don’t swing the bat. That’s part of it. But we made it harder in some cases, especially the last two games.”
The franchise has now lost its last eight playoff games when facing elimination, an ignominious streak that began with Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. During that same stretch, Cleveland is 4-18 in games it had a chance to eliminate opponents. The Tribe has lost its last seven (‘97, ‘99, ‘01, ‘07, ‘13, ‘16, ‘17) winner-take-all playoff games.
New York became the 15th team in baseball history to force a fifth game in a best-of-five series when trailing two-games-to-none. Those teams are now 9-6 in Game 5.
Cleveland fell victim to the Boston Red Sox in the 1999 ALDS after taking a 2-0 lead. Once more, the city’s baseball psyche is shattered.
Said Francona: “It’s disappointing.”
Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis throws his bat after striking out against New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. ASSOCIATED PRESS