By Cliff Corcoran
With a 5-2 win over the Indians in Cleveland Wednesday night, the New York Yankees became just the 10th team in Major League history to battle back from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series to win that series and advance. New York now heads Houston to face the Astros in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees' Game 5 win was keyed by a pair of early Didi Gregorius home runs that plated three runs, which held up thanks to the work of CC Sabathia, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman. However, the Yankees added two huge insurance runs against Cleveland closer Cody Allen in the top of the ninth. Aaron Hicks started the rally with a one-out single, moving to second on Indians left fielder Austin Jackson's misplay. After Chase Headley popped out for the second out, Todd Frazier worked Allen for a nine-pitch walk.
That brought up the longest-tenured Yankee, Brett Gardner, who was already 2-for-4 on the night with a run scored. After pitching coach Mickey Callaway visited Allen on the mound, the lefty-hitting Gardner worked the Cleveland righty for 12 pitches. Here's a breakdown of his at-bat.
1st pitch: Allen started Gardner off by dropping curve over the middle of the plate, which Gardner took for a called strike at the knees. 0-1
2nd pitch: Allen's second pitch was a 95 mile-per-hour fastball up and away for a ball. 1-1
3rd pitch: Allen came back with the fastball, this time for a strike low and away. 1-2
4th pitch: With Hicks on second, Allen and catcher Roberto Perez seemed to have some difficulty with Perez's signs, prompting Perez to jog to the mound for a quick conference and what was likely a verbal call for a curveball. Perez wanted it near the bottom of the zone to get Gardner to chase, but Allen bounced it in front of the plate. Gardner took the bat off his shoulder but didn't even attempt a swing. 2-2
5th pitch: Having failed with the curve, Allen tried to overpower Gardner with a 95 mph fastball right down the middle, but Gardner fouled it back. 2-2
6th pitch: Perez called for another fastball low and away, but Allen missed up and away. Gardner was tempted by the pitch, but easily checked his swing. Full count. 3-2
7th pitch: With the count full, Hicks and Frazier were in motion with each subsequent pitch. Allen stuck with the fastball here, trying to climb the ladder and beat Gardner at the top of the zone, but, again, Gardner fouled it off. 3-2
8th pitch: Another fastball, in the heart of the zone but on the outer-half of the plate -- another foul ball. 3-2
9th pitch: After four straight fastballs, Allen and Perez went back to the curve, trying to drop one into the zone. Despite the pitch being ten miles per hour slower than the past four he had seen, Gardner recognized the change of speed, anticipated the break and again fouled it off. 3-2
10th pitch: Back to the fastball. Allen came up and in on Gardner, a pitch that would have been ball four, and, at 94 mph, certainly a difficult one to hit after a curveball away. Gardner was jammed, staggering backward as he took a defensive hack at the ball, but, as you may have guessed, he still managed to foul it off. 3-2
11th pitch: Again a high fastball, this time away and just above the zone, another potential ball four, but perhaps one too close to take with two strikes. Gardner fouled it off, the sixth foul ball of the confrontation. 3-2
12th pitch: For most of the fastballs in this at-bat, Perez set up low and away, likely trying to repeat the success of the third pitch in the sequence. Allen repeatedly missed high. On the twelfth pitch, however, he missed all the way across the plate, delivering in inside fastball, belt-high over the inside corner of the plate. At 93.6 mph, it was also the slowest of the nine fastballs Allen threw in the confrontation. This time, Gardner kept it fair, shooting the ball into right field on one hop past the dive of second baseman Jose Ramirez. Hicks, off with the pitch, scored easily. Frazier stopped at third. However, right-fielder Jay Bruce's throw back to the infield skipped past shortstop Francisco Lindor, allowing Frazier to scramble home, just ahead of the throw from third baseman Geovany Urshela, for the second run of the inning and final run of the game.
Those runs gave Chapman and the Yankees some crucial breathing room in that final frame, which began with leadoff hitter Ramirez working Chapman for a walk. Gardner's battle with Allen, meanwhile, will stand as one of the signature moments in a game that will linger in the memories of baseball fans of all stripes for a long time.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.