NEW YORK (AP) – In the end, the Cleveland Guardians ran out of comebacks. And the youngest team in the majors failed to end baseball’s oldest championship drought.
Unwilling to start ace pitcher Shane Bieber on short rest, the Guardians fell behind immediately when Aaron Civale went down and never recovered Tuesday during a 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of their American League playoff series.
New York took the Division Series three games to two and advanced to face Houston in the ALCS clash of the titans.
Cleveland went home for the winter with a lot to be proud of — plus the familiar pain of October heartbreak after losing a major league record 11th straight postseason elimination game.
The franchise is 1-8 in winner-take-all playoff games, dropping its last eight since winning Game 1 in the 1997 ALDS against the Yankees at home. The streak began with an 11-inning loss in Game 7 of that year’s World Series against the Marlins in Florida.
The only longer such streak in major league history is Oakland’s current nine-game losing streak in winner-take-all games that began in 2000.
And this loss was Cleveland’s eighth straight loss with a chance to win the postseason series. The last five have come against the Yankees, the first three against the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series.
In a word — ouch.
But with 17 rookies making their major league debuts this season, the baby Guardians appear to have a bright future, especially with outfielder José Ramírez signed through 2028.
After a thrilling late-season surge led them to an unexpected AL Central crown, the Guardians entered the postseason seeking the team’s first World Series title since 1948 in the first year after the franchise’s name change.
They defeated Tampa Bay in the wild-card round, then – with a payroll nearly $200 million less than New York’s – the Guardians moved within one win of upsetting the favored Yankees by rallying for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 6- 5 wins in 3rd game.
It’s been a hallmark of their entire season — Cleveland topped the list with a team-high 29 wins going into its last game and has done so three times in the playoffs, all three with rookie Oscar Gonzalez giving the go-ahead.
The Guardians also won 12 times during the regular season when they trailed after seven innings, matching the franchise mark. They totaled 40 comeback wins, tied for fourth in the majors.
But they couldn’t overcome the AL East champion Yankees and a pair of star players who became Cleveland’s arch-nemesis in October: Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton.
Cole won twice in the series, including Game 4 on the road to improve to 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four career postseason starts against Cleveland.
Stanton hit a three-run homer in the first inning against Civale for his fourth homer in seven playoff games against Cleveland.
Civale walked his first hitter on four pitches, struck out Antony Rizzo with two strikes before Stanton came on and lasted just five batters in his postseason debut.
The 27-year-old righty won his last three regular-season starts with a 3.18 ERA, but hasn’t pitched since Oct. 5. He went 1-3 with a 4.78 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees — including 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA in two outings this year, allowing 10 runs and 12 hits in nine innings.
But after Monday’s second rainout of the series, he was the pick ahead of Bieber starting on three days’ rest — something the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner has never done.
“It’s not because he can’t throw. He just went through a lot,” manager Terry Francona explained. “He had an injury last year and had an outstanding year, but it probably wasn’t as easy as he made it out to be.”
Bieber was limited to 16 starts last year due to a strained right shoulder. He threw 101 pitches in 5 2/3 innings last Friday in Game 2.
The choice to start the Civals, however, was one of several questionable decisions by the Guardians on a day when they simply looked out of sorts.
Amed Rosario appeared on a rare bunt with a runner on and nobody out in the first inning. In the fourth, Francona didn’t challenge a call at first base when replays showed he would have won.
Lefty reliever Sam Hentges gave up a solo homer to Aaron Judge in the second, and the Yankees added a run in the fifth on Rizzo’s RBI single.
Truth be told, the Guardians tried to rally.
They loaded the bases in the third against All-Star lefty Nestor Cortes — who started on three days rest for the Yankees after a rainout. Ramírez’s sacrifice fly cut the deficit to 4-1, but Gonzalez flied out to end the inning.
Cleveland had runners on second and third in the sixth when Josh Naylor grounded out to short and rookie Gabriel Arias struck out.
Myles Straw grounded out with two out in the ninth to end it, and the Guardians were sent packing once again in October.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports