CLEVELAND (TNS) — Didi Gregorius had provided the thunder, homering twice and sending Corey Kluber toward another early exit in an intense Division Series.
Vanquishing the Indians ace played into the Yankees' perfect scenario for a deciding Game 5. And CC Sabathia's sensational start increased the winning vibe inside the visiting dugout at Progressive Field.
Yet, it came down to a raw battle of the bullpens on a cool, windy Wednesday night — a fight the Yankees survived.
David Robertson recorded eight essential outs and Aroldis Chapman's six-out save gave the Yankees a 5-2 win, completing a dramatic comeback from down 0-2 in the series.
On Friday night at Houston, the Yankees and Astros will begin a best-of-seven Championship Series, with the AL pennant on the line.
Brett Gardner's classic, 12-pitch at-bat against hard-throwing closer Cody Allen — fouling off several high fastballs — resulted in a key, RBI single in the eighth that plated an extra run due to another Cleveland error.
As Jay Bruce's throw from right field got loose on the infield, Todd Frazier hustled all the way home.
And the error that Girardi made here in Game 2 — not challenging a sixth-inning play, which led to blowing a five-run lead — is but a postscript.
After a tremendous regular season that should net Kluber an AL Cy Young award, the right-hander will also be remembered for two short October stints — on full rest — for a club that was favored to return to the World Series.
One strike away from a 1-2-3 first inning, Kluber watched Gregorius pull a 94-mph 1-and-2 fastball over the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead, temporarily unplugging an electric, standing crowd of 37,802.
Kluber stranded two baserunners in the second, but Brett Gardner singled to start the third.
And after Aaron Judge (0 for 5, 4 strikeouts) struck out, Gregorius sent an 0-and-1 curveball into the right field seats for a 3-0 lead — once more electrifying the Yankees dugout.
Judge went 1 for 19 in the ALDS with 16 strikeouts, establishing a new postseason single series record.
In the fifth, Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Perez (RBI) and Giovanny Urshela (RBI) delivered consecutive one-out singles, ending Sabathia's night.
But Robertson immediately got Francisco Lindor to hit into an inning-ending double play turned by Gregorius, preserving the Yanks' 3-2 lead.
And after going just 22/3 innings in Game 2, Kluber lasted 32/3 innings in Game 5.
All told, Kluber was charged with nine runs over 61/3 innings in his two Division Series starts. The Yankees hit four homers against him, after being twice dominated by Kluber in August — when the Indians started on an historic 22-game winning streak.
Terry Francona's team had won 35 of 39 games before the Yankees stopped them in Game 3, a 1-0 win.
And after getting strong starts from Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, it was Sabathia's turn.
Trusting an elimination game to the 37-year-old Sabathia, who made the transition from power pitcher to finesse, was never a question for manager Joe Girardi.
"He's been through it so many times ... I think it's in his DNA. He embraces it," Girardi said before the game. "He embraced it wherever he's been. You think about how he took the ball so often in Milwaukee (in 2008, pitching the Brewers to their first postseason in 25 years) and what he's meant to our playoff runs here. He's the guy for us."
Sabathia breezed through Cleveland's order the first time through, retiring nine straight, with two strikeouts each inning.
And when Perez tried to bunt for a hit — a practice Sabathia is on record as despising — the lefty made a sliding catch of the popped up bunt, smiling as he took out a large divot between the mound and home plate.
After Lindor's leadoff single in the fourth, Sabathia racked up two more strikeouts — benefitting from what appeared to be a generous high strike zone by plate umpire Jeff Nelson, which drew the ire of the Indians and their fans.
Sabathia took that 3-0 lead into the fifth, striking out leadoff hitter Carlos Santana before yielding those four straight hits and exiting with runners at first and second.