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Didi Gregorius homers twice, powering Yankees into ALCS with 5-2 win over Indians

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Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius stole the show during Game 5 of the ALDS against the Indians on Wednesday, helping power the Yankees into the ALCS with a 5-2 win in Cleveland.

Gregorius started the scoring early, ripping a solo home run to right field with two outs in the top of the first inning off of Indians starter Corey Kluber. Gregorius reprised that role in the third, yanking a two-run home run to right field to push the Yankees’ lead to 3-0. He’s the first Yankee with a two-homer playoff game since Raul Ibanez in the 2012 ALDS against the Orioles.

Kluber exited after 3 2/3 innings. He walked Jacoby Ellsbury with two outs, so Indians skipper Terry Francona brought in reliever Andrew Miller. Miller fanned Todd Frazier to exit the inning. Kluber’s final line: three runs on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts.

The Indians finally put together a rally in the bottom of the fifth as Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Perez, and Giovanny Urshela each singled consecutively against starter CC Sabathia to score two runs, making it a 3-2 ballgame. That ended Sabathia’s night. David Robertson came in and got Francisco Lindor to ground into an inning-ending double play. Sabathia’s final line: two runs on five hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

Robertson stayed in for the seventh, working around a two-out walk of Jay Bruce for a scoreless frame. Aroldis Chapman got the eighth, retiring the side in order with a pair of strikeouts.

The Yankees tacked on insurance for Chapman in the top of the ninth as Aaron Hicks singled and reached second on a fielding error by Jackson in left field with one out. Todd Frazier drew a two-out walk. Then, after an 11-pitch battle between Cody Allen and Brett Gardner, Gardner won by lining the 12th pitch for a single into right field, scoring Hicks. Jay Bruce threw to shortstop and cut-off man Lindor, but the ball bounced in front of him and skipped away, which let Gardner score to push the Yankees’ lead to 5-2.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chapman worked around a leadoff walk of Jose Ramirez by striking out Edwin Encarnacion, getting Carlos Santana to ground into a fielder’s choice, and Jackson to strike out looking. The Yankees defeated last year’s American League champions and are back in the ALCS for the first time since 2012 when they were swept by the Tigers.

The 2017 ALCS begins on Friday at 8 PM ET with the Yankees taking on the Astros in Houston.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: