CLEVELAND -- When this American League Division Series presented by Doosan progressed from Progressive Field, the math, the momentum, the magic -- all of these things were assembled in obstruction of the Yankees. The Yanks had just given up Game 2 in epic fashion, and an Indians team that had not only completed a classic comeback but had won 35 of its previous 39 baseball games needed only to go to the Big Apple and seal the deal.
But with that deal decidedly unsealed, and with the Yankees riding high after their Bronx rebirth, it's impossible to know what to expect out of Game 5 tonight (8 ET, FS1) at Progressive Field. From Corey Kluber trying to avenge a rare misstep to CC Sabathia trying to eliminate his old club at the tail end of his Yankee contract to Edwin Encarnacion trying to boost the Tribe bats so soon after an awful ankle injury, there's intrigue all over the place.
That's what we love about it.
"We have a really exciting game that's in front of us," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Kluber, a presumed AL Cy Young Award favorite in his prime, vs. Sabathia, a former AL Cy Young Award winner in his back pages, might look like a mismatch. But isn't that what we thought going into Game 2, before Kluber got clobbered and Sabathia stepped up with 5 1/3 effective innings against his old squad?
"It will be a great matchup," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said. "I feel great about our chances with CC on the mound. Every time he goes out, he's a big-game pitcher and always has been."
You might not be surprised to hear the Indians feel much the same about Kluber, who, notably, will be making this start on regular rest, as opposed to the extra rest he rode into his Game 2 clunker.
"What we've come to expect out of Corey is excellence," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "I think he expects it out of himself. The other day, baseball happened. He didn't throw eight shutout [innings] and strike out everyone like he usually does. But he'll be ready to go, and I couldn't ask for a better guy to be out on the mound."
Without giving specifics, Kluber said he's identified an issue that caused command problems in Game 2, and he's been mentally prepping for Game 5 all along.
"You don't want to be kind of caught with your pants down," he said.
It might seem that returning home, where they'll be wearing white pants, is advantage enough for the Indians. But did you know that home teams are just 13-17 in all Game 5 scenarios in the Division Series, including just a 6-14 mark over the past 15 seasons (including the Nationals losing to the Dodgers last year)? And returning home certainly didn't do the Tribe any favors when it surrendered a 3-1 advantage in last year's World Series against the Cubs.
So hey, you might look at it the other way and assume the Yankees will ride their good vibes from Games 3 and 4 right on into the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World against the Astros. But we have pretty recent evidence to suggest "vibes" are not exactly an accurate indicator of anything.
In other words, take everything you might assume about this game and toss it into Lake Erie.
In a winner-take-all situation, especially, anything goes. The Indians avoided using Andrew Miller in Game 4 and likewise the Yankees with Aroldis Chapman. It's all hands on deck as both clubs try to get to the ALCS.
The Indians, clearly, need to get their lineup going. With Encarnacion unavailable for Games 3 and 4 because of a sprained ankle sustained in Game 2, the short bench and the lack of big hits from a banged-up roster in which team MVP Jose Ramirez has struggled and Lonnie Chisenhall (calf) and Michael Brantley (ankle) still aren't completely back to 100 percent has caught up to the club. Encarnacion did some running and took at-bats in a simulated game during Tuesday's workout.
"I think he'll be OK," Francona said.
The pressure is on a Tribe team that was the class of the AL this year and has spent all season awaiting its shot at redemption in the World Series. The Yankees, on the other hand, were unexpected entrants into October (relative to preseason prognostications, anyway) and seem to have been enlivened by the experience of fighting for their postseason lives in the AL Wild Card Game against the Twins, and when faced with 2-0 and 2-1 deficits in this ALDS.
"We know we're facing a great pitcher," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "But there's a lot of confidence in that room, and they pick each other up, and they grind out at-bats, and pitchers pick each other up and make big pitches."
The biggest pitches of this ALDS await. Strike all assumptions about this series. All that matters is what's ahead.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.