NEW YORK – In the end, the Cleveland Guardians ran out of comebacks. And the youngest team in the majors was unable to halt baseball's oldest championship drought.
Unwilling to start ace pitcher Shane Bieber on short rest, the Guardians fell behind immediately when Aaron Civale flopped and they never recovered Tuesday during a 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of their American League playoff.
“We pushed them about as far as we could,” manager Terry Francona said.
New York took the Division Series 3-2 and advanced to face Houston in an ALCS clash of titans.
Cleveland went home for the winter with plenty to be proud of — plus the familiar pain of October heartbreak after losing its 11th consecutive postseason elimination game, a major league record.
The franchise is 1-8 in winner-take-all playoff games, dropping the past eight. The streak began with an 11-inning loss to the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
The only longer such skid in big league history is Oakland’s current nine-game losing streak in winner-take-all games that started in 2000.
And this defeat marked Cleveland's eighth in a row with a chance to clinch a postseason series. The last five have come against the Yankees, the first three to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series.
In a word — ouch.
But with 17 rookies who made their major league debuts this season, the baby Guardians appear to have a bright future ahead, especially with switch-hitting slugger José Ramírez signed through 2028.
“We had a great season,” designated hitter Josh Naylor said. “I don't think anyone thought we would be here.”
After a big September surge carried them to an unexpected AL Central crown, the Guardians entered the postseason looking for the team's first World Series title since 1948 in the initial year following a franchise name change.
They swept Tampa Bay in the wild-card round and then — with a payroll nearly $200 million lower 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 victory in Game 3.
It was a hallmark of their entire season. Cleveland topped the majors with a team-record 29 wins in its final at-bat and did it three times in the playoffs, with rookie Oscar Gonzalez delivering the go-ahead hit each time.
The Guardians also won 12 times during the regular season when trailing after seven innings, matching a franchise mark. They produced 40 comeback wins in all, tied for fourth-most in the majors.
But they couldn't overcome the AL East champion Yankees and a pair of star players who have become a consistent 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 postseason starts against Cleveland.
Stanton laced a three-run homer off Civale in the first inning for his fourth homer in seven playoff games versus Cleveland.
“Left a pitch up and one of the guys that gets paid to hit home runs hit a home run," Civale said.
Civale walked his first hitter on four pitches, plunked Anthony Rizzo with a two-strike cutter before Stanton came up and lasted only five batters in his postseason debut.
“I felt terrible taking him out that quickly, but I just didn’t think we could give up any more,” Francona said.
The 27-year-old righty won his last three regular-season starts with a 3.18 ERA, but hadn't pitched since Oct. 5.
“It is what it is,” Civale said. “Did our best to stay ready throwing bullpens, throwing side sessions in between, throwing extended bullpen sessions. Did what we could with what the situation was and made the most of it.”
After the game, a despondent Civale sat staring into his locker with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head before heading into the shower.
“Obviously disappointed,” he said. “Just didn’t have great command early on and didn’t last very long. Wasn’t lack of effort. Think I just didn’t have great control.”
Civale entered 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 the second rainout of the series Monday, he was the pick over starting Bieber on three days' rest.
“I’ve never done it. But could I have? Sure,” said Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner.
Bieber threw 101 pitches over 5 2/3 innings last Friday in Game 2. He was limited to 16 starts last year because of a strained right shoulder.
“It’s not because he can’t pitch. Just, he’s been through a lot,” Francona explained before the game. “He had an injury last year and he’s had a remarkable year, but it’s not been probably as easy as he’s made it look.”
The choice to start Civale was one of several questionable decisions by the Guardians on a day when they simply seemed out of sorts.
Amed Rosario popped up 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.
“We ran out of time,” Francona said.
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.
True to form, the Guardians tried to rally.
They loaded the bases in the third against All-Star lefty Nestor Cortes — who did start on three days' rest for the Yankees after the rainout. Ramírez's sacrifice fly shaved the deficit to 4-1, but Gonzalez flied out to end the inning.
Cleveland put runners on second and third in the sixth for Naylor, serenaded all evening with chants of “Who’s your daddy?” by the Yankee Stadium crowd after his rock-the-cradle home run trot in Game 4.
Naylor lined out to shortstop, and rookie Gabriel Arias struck out.
In the ninth, Myles Straw grounded out with two on to end it, and the Guardians were sent packing one more time in October.
“I know they are hurting right now, because they care, and they worked unbelievably hard,” Francona said. “Also reminded them that this needs to be a starting place for us. This can’t just be a good story this year. We need to take this and go, because I think we have a chance to have something really special.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports