Didi Gregorius quickly jumpstarts the Yankees in Game 5 as he cranks two home runs off Corey Kluber in his first two at-bats.
CLEVELAND — Didi Gregorius would never go with the storyline. In the spring of 2015, he was the new shortstop of the New York Yankees, succeeding the guy who held the job the previous 19 years. Still, Gregorius would never say he was replacing Derek Jeter, claiming he was just going to be himself.
In the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series, Gregorius replaced Jeter. His two homers for the ages in the first three innings chased Corey Kluber and provided the Yankees with the runs they needed to advance to the ALCS with a 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians. They overcame a two games to none deficit, and eliminated the defending AL Champs, who were the hottest team entering the postseason.
Next, the Yankees will face the Astros in Houston beginning Saturday with the winner of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series going to the World Series.
By taking over Game 5, Gregorius saved his manager, Joe Girardi, from infamy, and perhaps his job. Girardi’s bad Game 2 decisions will never leave his resume, but now they won’t leave an indelible mark. Gregorius’ game will also allow Aaron Judge — who struck out a record 16 times in 20 at-bats in the ALDS — to get another chance in the ALCS.
Gregorius is not considered a Baby Bomber, but he is just 27, a mere two years older than Judge. He hit 25 homers this regular season, a number Jeter never reached. He is a better defender than Jeter ever was.
In the fifth inning of Game 5, he ended a rally by niftily handling a grounder toward the middle, stepping on second and rifling to first to double up the speedy Francisco Lindor. It was the most important defensive play of the game.
To start, CC Sabathia didn’t need much help. He only pitched 4 ⅓ innings, but he did enough. Sabathia was unhittable until he wasn’t. After being perfect through three, Sabathia gave up a single in the fourth, but retired three straight after that. Dating back to Game 2 — when Girardi took Sabathia out prematurely — Sabathia had retired 23 of 25 Indians, only giving up a single and a walk.
In the fifth, he unraveled, allowing four consecutive hits and two runs. David Robertson, with the assist from Gregorius, cleaned up the mess and the Yankees remained up a run after five innings. Robertson got the game to the eighth and handed the ball to Aroldis Chapman, who took care of the final six outs.
Gregorius, though, is the reason the Yankees are going to the ALCS. The Yankees honed in on Gregorius during Jeter’s final year of 2014. Gregorius had already bounced around a little, having already played for the Reds and Diamondbacks. That’s when Yankees super scout Tim Naerhing thought he could be special, even though Gregorius wasn’t even playing everyday for Arizona.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman took Naerhing’s recommendation and, in a three-team trade, dealt pitcher Shane Greene to acquire Gregorius.
He has replaced Jeter. In fact, he did Jeter one better. Jeter never hit two home runs in a playoff game. Gregorius is suddenly doing what Jeter did so many times — he is leading the Yankees toward a possible championship.