CLEVELAND -- When the Yankees pursued Didi Gregorius as the potential successor following Derek Jeter's storied tenure at shortstop, the decision-makers in the front office expected him to be an above-average defensive player who featured occasional pop against right-handed pitching.• Dress for the ALCS: Buy Yankees' postseason gear"Postseason hero" did
CLEVELAND -- When the Yankees pursued Didi Gregorius as the potential successor following Derek Jeter's storied tenure at shortstop, the decision-makers in the front office expected him to be an above-average defensive player who featured occasional pop against right-handed pitching.
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"Postseason hero" did not appear on any of the scouting reports that accompanied Gregorius' arrival, but it will now forever be part of his history in the Bronx. Gregorius homered off Corey Kluber in his first two at-bats on Wednesday, helping to power the Yanks to a 5-2 victory over the Indians in the deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan.
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"It means a lot," Gregorius said. "It's one of the big moments so far in my career. I tried to help the team and came up big right there with a couple of home runs."
Gregorius ensured that the Yankees never trailed in the final three games of the ALDS, providing Carsten Sabathia with a near-instant lead in the first inning to help propel the franchise to its 16th appearance in the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World.
"Didi is the one who set the tone," said Yanks outfielder Brett Gardner. "Corey Kluber is as tough as it gets. For us to come out and get an early lead against him and give CC a little bit of room to work with, it was really nice."
In the first inning, Gregorius said he was sitting on a 1-2 fastball from Kluber, who obliged with a 94.1 mph offering that Gregorius mashed high and deep into the right-field seats, silencing all but a small pocket of Yankees fans packed into Progressive Field. The two-out homer had a 95 mph exit velocity and a 32 degree launch angle, according to Statcast™. It was projected to travel 375 feet.
"It's only what, my third hit in the postseason?" Gregorius said. "I always want to try to get better for the team. I try to get on base and everything. It's really important for me and for the team. It was amazing to get everybody going. For me, it was probably the key hit right now in my career."
Gregorius -- whose 25 regular-season homers set a Yanks shortstop record previously held by Jeter -- struck again in the third inning. With one man on and one out, Gregorius sent Kluber's 0-1 curve for a ride into right field. The blast, which also scored Gardner, traveled out at 99 mph with a 31 degree launch angle, going a Statcast-projected 378 feet.
Having also hit a three-run homer in the first inning of the Yankees' 8-4 win over the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game, Gregorius has three home runs this postseason, though he came into Game 5 with just one hit in 13 ALDS at-bats.
"He's been incredible," Sabathia said. "Each year he gets a lot better at the plate. Defensively, he's amazing. And he's the middle of our defense and the middle of our lineup, and he carries us a long way."
Gregorius became just the fourth player to take Kluber deep twice in the same game, joining the Rangers' Rougned Odor (April 3, 2017), the A's Matt Chapman (July 15, 2017) and the Tigers' Justin Upton (Sept. 16, 2016).
"Two pitches, really. I made two mistakes to Didi," Kluber said. "I put two balls right into his bat path and he's a good hitter. He hit two home runs. That's really what stands out. It ended up being the difference."
Gregorius is the fourth Yanks player to have a multihomer game in an ALDS. The last to do it was Raul Ibanez in Game 3 on Oct. 10, 2012, vs. the Orioles. Wednesday's effort was the 24th time a Yankee hit more than one homer in a postseason game, a feat accomplished by 18 players.
"Whenever we needed a clutch hit or someone to come up big for us, it's been Didi all year doing that for us," Aaron Judge said. "To see him come up big like that against a Cy Young winner is pretty impressive."
In winner-take-all postseason games, there have been just nine multihomer performances. Gregorius is the third Yankees player to do so, joining Yogi Berra (Game 7 of 1956 World Series) and Jason Giambi (Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series).
"I always believed in myself," Gregorius said. "There's always people that are going to doubt you. At the end, it's up to you how hard you want to work."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.