Yankees on verge of historic second comeback
(TSX / STATS) -- NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees, the most accomplished franchise in American sports, are on the verge of an unprecedented baseball feat. The Houston Astros, meanwhile, are trending toward sadly familiar territory.
The Yankees moved to the edge of the World Series with a 5-0 victory over the Astros on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. New York leads the series three games to two and will try to win the pennant in Game 6, scheduled for Friday night in Houston.
The 41st trip to the World Series in team history would be different than any other for the Yankees -- or anyone else in baseball history, for that matter.
The Yankees, who dropped the first two games of the ALCS after storming back from an 0-2 deficit to knock off the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-five AL Division Series, are trying to become the second team to reach the World Series by overcoming a pair of two-game deficits and the first to do it after twice trailing two games to none. The 2012 San Francisco Giants trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series, respectively, before winning the World Series.
One could argue the Yankees, if they win Game 6 or 7, would have mounted three enormous postseason comebacks to advance to the World Series. They trailed the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the AL wild-card game before earning an 8-4 win. It was the second-biggest deficit overcome in the six-year history of the wild-card games.
"It's just crazy to think how far our backs were against the wall -- even in the wild-card game," Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said. "To think what we've done, it's been pretty special."
The youngster-infused comebacks -- six members of New York's lineup Wednesday are younger than 30 years old -- have infused the corporation-like Yankees with an underdog mentality they haven't been associated with since 1996. That year, a New York squad that featured the 20-something "Core Four" overcame an 0-2 deficit in the World Series to knock off the Atlanta Braves and win the franchise's first title since 1978.
"Watching our fans brings back a lot of special memories for me as a player," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was the starting catcher on the 1996 team.
The memories that are bubbling to the surface for the Astros and their fans are decidedly less pleasant. If Houston can't win the next two games, the 2017 ALCS will rank with the playoff heartbreaks the franchise endured in the 1980s and again in 2004 and 2015.
In 1980, the Astros blew multi-run, late-inning leads in Games 4 and 5 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the best-of-five NLCS. The next year, after a strike-shortened season, Houston won the first two games of the NLDS against the Dodgers, but the Los Angeles rallied to win the final three games of the best-of-five series.
The 1986 Houston squad frittered away a four-run lead in Game 3 of the NLCS and a three-run lead in Game 6 against the New York Mets.
In 2004, the Astros came back from an 0-2 deficit to win three straight games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS before falling in extra innings in Game 6 and dropping a 5-2 decision in Game 7. Two years ago, Houston was six outs away from eliminating the top-seeded Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the ALDS before the Royals scored seven unanswered runs that sparked their run to the franchise's second championship.
In Houston's only World Series appearance, the Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in 2005.
On Tuesday, the Astros were up 4-0 in the seventh and nine outs away from a three games to one series lead with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander ready to start Games 5 and 6.
"I don't think we're carrying the weight of the past," said Astros pitcher Collin McHugh, one of 11 players remaining from the 2015 team. "It'd be great (to win) for the city, it'd be great for this franchise and organization."
McHugh's words sound good, but the burden the Astros are beginning to carry was obvious to designated hitter Carlos Beltran, who felt compelled to speak to the team after seeing too many downcast faces following the Game 5 loss.
"Sometimes you see people acting different than the way they acted in the regular season," Beltran said. "I just don't want people to feel down, and I don't want people to feel sorry about themselves. We all want to go out there and make it happen."
No one more so than the 40-year-old Beltran, who hit a record-tying eight homers for the Astros during the near-miss 2004 postseason.
"You know what, yeah, you get back here, you think about it," Beltran said. "We were able to play Game 7, we lost against the Cardinals. But now we get the opportunity to make it happen here. That's the goal."
If they can't make it happen? Then the Yankees will make history, and the Astros will repeat it.
Updated October 19, 2017