Indians players watch the ninth inning from the dugout Wednesday. The Yankees won 5-2 to sweep the final three games of the ALDS and end the season for the 102-win Indians. AP
CLEVELAND -- Overcoming adversity has been part of the Indians’ pedigree since their surprising run all the way to Game 7 of the World Series last year.
Wednesday night at Progressive Field, the never-say-die Tribe’s postseason dreams were laid to rest.
Losing their third straight game after opening a commanding lead in the American League Division Series, the Indians dropped a 5-2 decision in Game 5 to the Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 37,802 stunned fans at Progressive Field.
New York got a pair of early home runs from shortstop Didi Gregorius off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and then hung on against a sagging Indians offense that managed only five hits.
It was a shocking development for the Indians, who entered the postseason as the AL’s top seed and the odds-on-favorite to capture their first World Series title since 1948 after a 102-win regular season that included the longest winning streak (22 games) in AL history.
“It’s disappointing,” manager Terry Francona said. “We felt good about ourselves. We came down the stretch playing very good baseball, and we did some things in this series that I don’t think were characteristic of our team. We made some errors, kicked the ball around a little bit.
“Sometimes you don’t swing the bat. That’s part of it. But we made it harder to win in some cases, especially the last two games.”
It continued a disturbing pattern for the Indians, who have failed to win in 14 of their last 17 chances to close out a postseason series, including six straight dating back to when they owned a 3-1 World Series lead on the Cubs last year. Cleveland is 4-18 in potential elimination games since Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
Cleveland is the first team in MLB history to lose a postseason series after owning a two-game lead in back-to-back years.
Meanwhile, the Yankees became just the 10th team in MLB history to win a five-game series after dropping the first two games.
“I think when you have that good of a season, over 100 wins, I think it makes it that more disheartening when you don’t finish the job, when we know what we were capable of, the fans know what we were capable of,” Jason Kipnis said. “I think everyone in here and everyone that’s part of the organization knows we had higher hopes than this. It’s baseball, man. It just didn’t work out.”
CC Sabathia, who won the Cy Young award with Cleveland in 2007, outpitched Kluber for the second time in the series.
The big left-hander retired the first nine hitters he faced -- six on strikeouts -- before shortstop Francisco Lindor led off the fourth with a single.
Kluber was better than his shockingly poor performance in Game 2, but he still didn’t resemble the Cy Young award frontrunner he was for the final five months of the regular season.
The right-hander allowed three runs on three hits, while walking two and striking out six over 3 2/3 innings. He allowed nine runs and four homers over six innings of two ALDS starts, with speculation that Kluber was dealing with a lower-back injury that plagued him during the first month of the regular season, appearing to have merit. When he was removed from the game, Kluber was bending over on the mound, favoring his back.
“Starting out, I thought the first inning was -- came out of the chute good,” Francona said. “He didn’t locate the first home run to Didi, but then he gathered himself and went back out and looked good. I just thought quickly, his stuff was starting to trend down. Just wasn’t the normal, crisp -- especially the movement. A lot of pitches were flat.”
After producing 13 runs over the first two games of the series, the offense vanished for the Indians, who scored just five times in three straight losses. A pair of stars, Lindor and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez, went a combined 4-for-38 in the series.
The Yankees scored first for the fourth time in five games, with Kluber allowing a solo homer to the third batter, Gregorius, who lined a 1-2 pitch over the right-field wall.
Brett Gardner started the third with a single and after Kluber struck out Aaron Judge for the second time, Gregorius got him again with a two-run shot that put New York in front 3-0.
The Indians, who struck out 15 times on the night, finally caught up to Sabathia in the fifth, stringing together four straight base hits to score twice on RBI singles from Roberto Perez and Giovanny Urshela.
But Cleveland never threatened again.
The Indians’ bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw kept it close, combining to pitch four scoreless innings, but Cody Allen allowed a pair of runs in the ninth.
One of the runs scored on a throwing error from Jay Bruce -- one of three on the night for Cleveland, which committed seven errors over the final two games after leading the AL in fielding percentage during the regular season.
It was a cushion Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman didn’t need. Chapman closed the books on Cleveland’s season with two scoreless innings, permitting only one batter to reach on a walk.
“Nobody wanted the season to be over,” Francona said. “It doesn’t wind down. It comes to a crashing halt. And nobody, myself included, was ready for it to be over.”
“It’s a sad day for me, for the team, for the city of Cleveland and for our families,” Lindor said. “Hats off to the Yankees. They absolutely outplayed us the last three games and they deserved to win.
“I didn’t think we were going to (lose) this early. I was thinking I was going to do it all the way to Nov. 1 with the champagne. I wasn’t thinking about doing it here, early in October. It’s tough. It hurts.”
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