Athletics

A's escape from New York

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A's escape from New York

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- After 34 innings of pure unbridled agony in the Bronx, the A's can escape New York with their heads held high. On Sunday the scrappy A's faced the possibility of suffering through a crippling sweep and found a way to salvage the series with a 5-4 win.

INSTANT REPLAY: A's 5, Yankees 4

As manager Bob Melvin said after Saturday's extra inning loss, they played their hearts out. Oakland pushed the Yankees to the limit but fell just short in the first two games. Taking the series finale is crucial as the A's head to Texas for a four-game series still in striking distance of the division-leading Rangers.

RELATED: MLB standings
"It was a big game," Melvin said. "Each and every game will be big, but probably to this point and time of the year that was our biggest win." It was the biggest game of the year until Monday's game in Texas, then Tuesday's game, and Wednesday's game, and Thursday's game, and so forth. The magic number for Oakland to clinch a spot in the Wild Card playoff game is nine. They are four games behind the Rangers in the American League West with seven games to play against Texas. "Playing these games that mean something is the coolest thing I've been a part of," Cliff Pennington said. "It's awesome."Pennington went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBI against the Yankees on Sunday. He gave the A's a 3-0 lead in the second inning when he crushed a slider thrown by Yankees' starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda into the right field seats, and smacked the game-winning RBI single against Kuroda in the sixth inning. Pennington has turned his season around since being moved from shortstop to second base. "He's just back to the type of player that you saw last year," Melvin said. "I don't know if it has anything to do with just making that change but it kind of gave him a re-birth." Once Pennington gave the A's the lead in the sixth inning the bullpen locked down the game. The A's relievers combined to pitch five scoreless innings against the Bronx Bombers, an impressive feat especially when considering they were a depleted and tired unit after two consecutive extra innings games. "Those guys stepped up huge," Pennington said of the bullpen. "They've been stepping up huge for us all year. That's been pretty much the backbone of this team from day one anyway." Oakland's relief pitchers threw 17 23 innings in the series against the Yankees. No inning was bigger than the ninth inning on Sunday. That's when closer Grant Balfour took the mound with a one-run lead and a chance to send the A's off to Texas with some momentum. He retired the side in order but not before one moment that made the collection of A's players, and fans' hearts skip a beat. With one out Alex Rodriguez hit a towering fly ball toward the short porch in right field. Josh Reddick tracked the ball to the wall and made a hop as he caught it. The 43,867 in attendance thought the game was about to be tied at five. "I don't want to say it skips a beat, you'd have to have your eyes open for it to skip a beat," Melvin said jokingly."The way things went for us in this series you never know," Balfour said. "I knew he didn't get it good but I knew that he's strong enough. He doesn't have to hit a ball perfect to get it out especially down that right field line it's so short." Rodriguez went 0 for 5 and struck out three times. He was booed by his home crowd several times during the game. Two of the three strikeouts came with starting pitcher A.J. Griffin on the mound. He had A-Rod's number, but struggled with the rest of New York's lineup. Griffin only lasted four and one-third innings. He allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks. After starting an Oakland record 6-0, he's had two consecutive sub-par starts. "He just ran into a little bit of a tough spot," Melvin said. "They're always going to work the count and get your pitch count up, foul some balls off like they did for him." Not getting swept by the Yankees helps ensure the loose A's clubhouse doesn't start getting tense. Many of the players in the A's clubhouse haven't dealt with the pressures of a playoff chase.
"We can't play with our backs against the wall," Balfour said. "We've got to play free and easy baseball and enjoy it, give it all we've got, because we've been good all year so let's just keep going."

Who can we blame for epidemic of teams losing three straight elimination games?

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AP

Who can we blame for epidemic of teams losing three straight elimination games?

Fox’ Matt Vasgersian, who does his job well,  declared the New York Yankees’ American League Division Series win over Cleveland to be amazing.

It is not. Not any more.

In fact, the Yankees winning three elimination games in succession is a feat that has happened seven times in the past three years. And we can only conclude from that that they’re not making teams that can avoid the bad beat the way they used to.

The 2017 Indians joined the 2016 Indians, Warriors and Thunder, the 2015 Clippers, Capitals and Texas Rangers, the 2014 Penguins and Sharks, the 2013 Red Wings, the 2012 Reds and Cardinals, the 2011 Penguins, the 2010 Bruins and Capitals as proud laryngectomy victims – teams that needed to win only one of three (or in the Sharks’ case, four) games to advance in the playoffs (or in the Warriors’ case, win).

That’s 15 times this “amazing” thing has happened, which means that by any estimate, teams that needed to win three consecutive games to escape the icy hand of Uncle Death are now pretty much the norm in this decade.

And why, you ask? I blame Twitter. I blame global warming. I blame video games. I blame smartphones. I blame phones. I blame the new president. I blame the old president. I blame Satan. I blame participation trophies and orange slices and juice boxes. I blame the players and I blame the owners and I blame the fans and definitely those smarmy bastards in the media. They’re the worst.

I blame you. Hell, I think I blame Matt Vasgersian.

But whomever is at fault, we have here an epidemic of feet strangling their owners when everything seems their cheeriest. And unless we live in such misery-enriched times that good times are only precursors to far worse ones, there is no sensible explanation. Players’ windpipes are no smaller than they were a decade ago. The Internet is older than seven years. Close-out games are not materially more difficult than they were before 2010.

And yet winning that one extra game is suddenly like finding out your SAT test has been written totally in anagrams. In other words, when things look brightest, that’s when you know you’re totally screwed.

And if you don’t believe me, ask Terry Francona. In a few weeks maybe. Not right away. Not unless you’re keen to see how it feels to have your neck used as a bathmat.

 

Cleveland blows 2-0 series lead, Yankees win Game 5, head to ALCS

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USATSI

Cleveland blows 2-0 series lead, Yankees win Game 5, head to ALCS

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.

The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.

Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.

The bend-but-don't-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York's season.

"These guys had my back and they fought and fought," Girardi said. "They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I'll never forget it. "

The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 5-foot-6 dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.

After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he "screwed up" and felt horrible about it, the Yankees - with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge - came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.

Cleveland's Series drought turns 70 next year - baseball's longest dry spell.

"Nobody wanted the season to be over," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It's disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games."

The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year's spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86 million free agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.

Chapman went to the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth after Brett Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 pitches before hitting an RBI single, with New York's fifth run scoring when Todd Frazier raced home on right fielder Jay Bruce's throwing error.

Gardner's gritty at-bat was symbolic of these Yankees. They wouldn't give in.

"We can win a lot of different ways," Gardner said.

When Austin Jackson was called out on strikes to end it, the Yankees rushed to the mound to celebrate with a wide-eyed Chapman. An elated Girardi hugged his coaches.

The Yankees became the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. New York also did it in 2001, rallying to beat Oakland - a series remembered for Jeter's backhand flip to home plate.

Gregorius, who took over at shortstop following Jeter's retirement after the 2014 season, hit a solo homer in the first off Kluber and added a two-run shot in the third off Cleveland's ace, who didn't look like himself during either start in this series.

One win shy of a Series title last year, the Indians had only one goal in mind in 2017.

They came up short again, and have now lost six consecutive games with a chance to clinch a postseason series. The skid dates to last year's World Series, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to the Cubs.

Cleveland is the first team in history to blow a two-game series lead in consecutive postseasons.

Everything was set up for the Indians: Kluber on the mound, Game 5 at home, sensational setup man Andrew Millerrested.

The Yankees, though, wouldn't be denied. They battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first inning of their wild-card game against Minnesota and then had to overcome a crushing loss in Game 2, when Girardi's decisions led to him being booed at Yankee Stadium.

But these Yankees displayed pinstriped pride.

They're moving on.

JUDGE NOT

The Yankees advanced without much help from Judge, who struck out four times in Game 5 and went 1 for 20 (.050) in the series with 16 strikeouts - an ALDS record. But the 6-foot-7 rookie might have saved New York's season in Game 3, when he reached above the right-field wall to rob Francisco Lindor of a two-run homer in a 1-0 win. "I didn't do my job at the top of the order, but my teammates came up big for me," Judge said.

KLUBER KLOBBERED

Kluber was one of baseball's most consistent pitchers all season, winning 18 games and leading the AL with a 2.25 ERA.

However, October was cruel to the right-hander. He allowed nine runs, including four homers, over 6 1/3 innings in two postseason starts, hardly what he or the Indians expected.

Kluber overcame a back issue earlier this season and it flared up this fall.

"He's fighting a lot," Francona said. "I think you also have to respect the fact that guy wants to go out there and he's our horse. And sometimes it doesn't work."

SLUMPS

The Indians batted .171 as a team with All-Stars Francisco Lindor (2 for 18) and Jose Ramirez (2 for 20) unable to snap out of funks.

SWEET SWING

Gregorius set a franchise record for home runs in a season by a shortstop with 25, one more than Jeter hit in 1999 when No. 2 led the Yankees to a second straight World Series title.

Gregorius got New York off to an ideal start, homering with two outs in the first when Kluber grooved a fastball. The shot deep into the seats in right raised the anxiety level to an already jittery Cleveland crowd fearing the worst.