NEW YORK -- Until the first cork was popped in Tuesday’s celebration, the Yankees refused to look too far ahead in their mission to raise a championship banner in the Bronx, conscious of the danger in underestimating an upstart Guardians roster. Yet a showdown with the Astros always lurked, a just reward for surviving this grueling American League Division Series.
For the third time in six years, the Yankees travel to Houston with a trip to the World Series on the line, and they are banking on a different outcome. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge homered to support Nestor Cortes’ gritty effort as the Yankees sent Cleveland home with a 5-1 victory in Game 5 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium.
“My ultimate goal is to go out there and win a World Series, and the Astros are a team that’s always been in the way,” Judge said. “They’ve got a great ballclub over there, so you’ve got to go through Houston. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great matchup and we’re going to have some fun.”
Gleyber Torres recorded the final out, receiving a throw from shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa and immediately mimicking the “rock the baby” gesture that Cleveland’s Josh Naylor used circling the bases after a Game 4 homer off Gerrit Cole in Cleveland. Torres said the Yankees felt Naylor’s display was “disrespectful.”
“Baseball always has another opportunity,” Torres said. “We won tonight, and that’s the revenge. Now they can watch the game on TV tomorrow.”
The Yankees have other scores to settle as they jet to Houston, where their World Series dreams were crushed in 2017 and ’19. The visitors’ clubhouse at Minute Maid Park will forever be where Judge watched CC Sabathia weep into his locker in ’17, then heard Brett Gardner’s voice crack in an emotional, teary speech to his teammates at the end of the ’19 run.
It is no surprise that the Fall Classic journey would run through Houston, where the Astros dominated their division with a 106-win campaign. Yet this October, we have already seen the favored Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mets, Dodgers and Braves dispatched by teams with fewer regular-season victories. These Yankees intend to be the next to upset.
“We’ll walk in there with some confidence,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We know they’re a great team, rested and ready. We look forward to the challenge.”
Game 1 of the ALCS will be played on Wednesday at 7:37 p.m. ET, with Jameson Taillon facing Justin Verlander. Taillon said he did not drink a drop of alcohol during Tuesday’s celebration, though he joked that he was wearing plenty. His focus was on the Astros.
“They’re extremely deep,” Taillon said. “Power, they do a little bit of everything, righties, lefties. It’s a good challenge.”
Playing in the 31st “winner take all” game in club history, the Yanks’ anxiety was eased by having their big sluggers connect, a reliable recipe for success over Judge and Stanton’s five seasons together.
Stanton flipped his bat emphatically after a three-run homer off Aaron Civale, who recorded only one out. Judge clubbed a solo shot in the second inning off Sam Hentges. It marked the fourth time Stanton and Judge have homered in the same postseason game, the most by a pair of Yankees teammates.
Overall, the Yankees improved to 28-2 in games when Judge and Stanton each cleared the fences. Finding a television camera near the first-base side of the Yankees’ dugout, Judge grabbed the interlocking “NY” on his chest and kissed his uniform -- an uncharacteristic gesture that sparked thoughts of his pending free agency.
Given a different outcome, after all, there was a chance that Tuesday could have marked Judge’s final game in pinstripes. Now, he plays on.
"It was for the fans,” Judge said. “I've been watching a lot of Premier League soccer games, and I think that got the best of me. The fans brought the energy tonight from the very first pitch. They were on it. They were loud, they were screaming and they made it a fun atmosphere.”
Cortes, too, would feel the love from a sellout crowd of 48,178 -- most of whom endured a baseball-less delay of nearly three hours on Monday, then returned for more on Tuesday.
Starting on three days’ rest, Cortes stingily permitted only a run on three hits. One was a third-inning popup that fell when shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera collided with left fielder Aaron Hicks, who sustained a left knee injury that Hicks said would end his season.
Otherwise, Cortes was efficient and magnificent, permitting only José Ramírez’s third-inning sacrifice fly. The All-Star lefty thrilled a rowdy crowd with one of his trademark hesitation pitches to Steven Kwan in the fifth inning; it sailed high for a ball.
“It feels incredible to be able to do what I did today,” Cortes said. “I didn’t know how long I was going to go out there. I was just trying to give my team innings.”
Anthony Rizzo put the bubbly on ice with an RBI single in the fifth inning, helping to send the Yankees to their 18th ALCS (most all-time) and their third trip in the last six seasons (also 2017 and '19, both against the Astros).
“We know what’s at stake,” Stanton said. “We could be packing up and going home right now. It took everyone tonight, and we’ll be ready to go again tomorrow.”