CLEVELAND — They stood in different spots of a mostly silent visitors’ clubhouse here Friday night after as crushing a loss as is imaginable.
To a man, players repeated a form of the same declaration.
We can do this. For some, even we will do this.
“We’ve won three games in a row before,” David Robertson said.
Somehow, against the best the American League had to offer, the Yankees did.
Sparked by two Didi Gregorius homers off Corey Kluber, nine strikeouts from sage left-hander CC Sabathia and 4 2/3 brilliant innings by a bullpen that was the gold standard of the American League, the Yankees completed their comeback from an 0-2 series hole, defeating the Indians, 5-2, in Game 5 of the ALDS in front of 37,802 disappointed fans at Progressive Field.
The Yankees added two runs in the ninth off closer Cody Allen. Brett Gardner’s single on a 3-and-2 pitch drove Aaron Hicks, and Todd Frazier scored after the throw short-hopped shortstop Francisco Lindor and bounced away.
The Yankees, who earned their first trip to the ALCS since 2012, face the Astros in Game 1 Friday night in Houston.
Kluber lasted fewer than four innings in exactly one of his 29 starts this regular season, in which he went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA. He lasted 2 2/3 innings of Game 2 and just 3 2/3 in Game 5.
Gregorius, who set a franchise record for homers by a shortstop with 25 this season, quickly deflated the crowd with a first-inning solo homer. He did further damage to their collective attitude with a two-run blast in the third that made it 3-0.
Gregorius joined Yogi Berra (Game 7 of the 1956 World Series) and Jason Giambi (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS) as the only Yankees to hit two home runs in an elimination game.
Sabathia, the 37-year-old left-hander, was perfect through three and retired 13 of the first 14 he faced. He struck out six of his first nine batters and had a no-hitter through three innings. But after four straight singles with one out in the fifth made it 3-2, Joe Girardi brought on Robertson. The righty got an inning-ending, 6-6-3 double-play ball off the bat of Francisco Lindor, whose grand slam turned Game 2 around.
Robertson struck out two in 2 2/3 hitless innings, turning things over to Aroldis Chapman. The closer, who posted a 0.61 ERA over his last 14 appearances of the regular season, struck out four over the final two innings for the save.
Brett Gardner attempted to bunt Kluber’s first pitch of the game, a 94-mph fastball, toward first but it went straight to Carlos Santana, who recorded the out. Aaron Judge worked the count full before striking out swinging on a curveball. Gregorius stunned the roaring crowd by crushing a 1-and-2 fastball to right, improving to 2-for-14 in the series. Kluber struck out Sanchez, but the night’s most meaningful blow had been struck. The Yankees again had stripped Kluber, early on, of his unhittable veneer.
Given a lead, Sabathia did his job in keeping the crowd out of it. He struck out Lindor on a slider, and did the same to Jason Kipnis. Sabathia got Jose Ramirez to ground to third to end the 14-pitch inning.
An opening-inning script could not have been written any better from the Yankees’ perspective.
Gardner got things started in the third with a leadoff single and Judge struck out, dropping to 1-for-17 with 14 strikeouts. Gregorius launched a curveball into nearly the same spot he hit the first-inning fastball, making it 3-0.
Sabathia provided another shutdown inning, striking out two and catching a popped-up bunt by Robert Perez. Sabathia charged off the mound to make the catch, his bulky right knee taking out a sizeable divot between the mound and plate as he made the catch.
Andrew Miller relieved Kluber after he walked Jacoby Ellsbury with two outs in the fourth, and he struck out Todd Frazier.
Lindor led off the bottom half with a single and went to second on Ramirez’s grounder to second. Sabathia struck out Edwin Encarnacion for the third out. He was back in the lineup for the first time since spraining his right ankle in Game 2.
Sabathia opened the fifth with his ninth strikeout but the string of hits followed. After Giovanny Urshela poked one to right to make it 3-2, Girardi was out of the dugout quickly, bringing on Robertson to face Lindor. Robertson got ahead 0-and-1 before Lindor hit into a 6-6-3 inning-ending double play.