CLEVELAND, Ohio — Scuffling down the stretch last year, the New York Yankees faced their first non-eastern division opponent during the American League Wild Card Series and rediscovered their mojo against the American League Central Cleveland Indians. It appears as though bouncing out of the East was the change of scenery the Yankees needed. New York took three of four contests from Cleveland, the power ball was restored, timely hitting was there for the most part and power pitching was on display. The Yankees still have their issues but at least they seem to be waking up.
It was almost as though the Yankees were shaking all of the bad baseball out of their system in the first inning. After that comedy of errors with the Yakety Sax music in the background, New York actually rebounded to play a solid game. The Yankees battled back and pulled off a solid 6-3 victory.
CAN’T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?
With one out in the first frame, Brett Gardner muffed a fly ball off the bat of Cesar Hernandez. Clint Frazier couldn’t throw out Jose Ramiez at second base, on a ball hit to right, that Aaron Judge probably would’ve recorded an out on the throw. Cleanup hitter extraordinaire, Mike Ford, had a ball hit by Eddie Rosario deflect off his glove that enabled Hernandez to score. The mess continued on a Franmil Reyes slow roller to Domingo German that was muffed, as Ramirez scored. A Josh Naylor single to right plated the third Tribe run.
Those plays, along with a “great route Magellan,” Aaron Hicks played in the third inning into a Reyes triple, were about as bush as it gets.
CARE GLEYBEAR FACTOR
The Yankees’ “care factor” certainly improved from that inauspicious start. Not only did German settle down and strike out six across six frames but the offense battled away.
Kyle Higashioka set the table in the third inning with a double to right off Aaron Civale. With Gardner batting, a balk advanced Higashioka to third base. After Gardner struck out, DJ LeMahieu was back to his old ways with RISP, serving an RBI single to left.
Following an Aaron Judge strikeout and a Ford walk, Gleyber Torres, with some help from dubious fielding from Naylor in right, allowed the Yankees to knot the contest at three on a base knock and error.
It was the first of a three-hit evening for Torres.
Facing Nick Wittgren during the seventh inning, the Yankees pieced together a rally. LeMahieu was called out on strikes. Judge walked. Ford went down swinging. Torres collected a double for his third hit on the night. Hicks coaxed a walk to load the bases.
With the shift on, Rougned Odor, who looked might cold without his beard, went against the shift and notched a two-run single back up the box, giving New York its first lead of the inning at 5-3.
It’s not even fair. Aroldis Chapman added that splitter to his arsenal and it’s nasty. Chapman whiffed Roberto Perez on the pitch to start the ninth inning. Around a walk to Amed Rosario, Chapman utilized his sinking fastball to fan Jordan Luplow and Hernandez to end the ball game. Yet another multiple strikeout effort by the Yankee closer.
This Yankees 5-3 victory was almost a carbon copy of the first one. New York fell behind early but pounded back for the win.
Another Jordan used to rule against Cleveland. Jordan Montgomery, however, had himself a spotty outing and couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Following a pair of one-out walks in the first frame, Reyes turned round Frazier in left, smacking an RBI double.
An RBI ground out to shortstop by Eddie Rosario and an RBI single to left by Amed Rosario, posted the Tribe to an early 3-0 advantage.
Thankfully, the Yankee bullpen between Lucas Luetge, Darren O’Day, Chad Green, and Chapman, blanked the Indians from the fifth inning on.
BRONX BOMBERS BUST OUT
Out-homer your opponents and more often than not you’re going to win. It’s a fairly simple formula. The Yankees used their power to their full advantage Friday evening.
The pitcher’s duel essentially lived up to its billing between Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber. Power pitching and power hitting was the formula for success in the Yankees’ 2-1 victory. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Torres hustling out of the box in this one too.
COLE ON A ROLL
Even after toiling early and upset by his standards, Cole set the refuse to lose tone. The lone blemish came in the fourth frame, Judge knocked down what would’ve been a home run but ended up being a Ramirez triple to right. Eddie Rosario sliced an RBI single to left for the 1-0 edge.
Otherwise, Cole pounded the strike zone all evening. He had it all working, the four-seam fastball, knuckle-curve, changeup, slider, all to the tune of 11 Ks. This reminded me so much of 2001 Mike Mussina, if not more overpowering and finer precision. With those 11 strikeouts, Cole became the first pitcher in Yankees history to record 50+ Ks and five bases on balls or fewer in a five-game span. He is also tied with Max Scherzer for the most 10+ strikeout games since 2018 with 35. Another big plus was the seven strong innings of work that Cole provided with a tired bullpen.
POW WOW TIME!
Say it with me again, if you out-homer your opponent, you’re going to win more often than not. The Bronx Bombers proved this again, where opportunities for base runners were few and far between against Bieber, who registered nine Ks of his own.
Jonathan Loiasiga has certainly raised his game to another level this young season. Loaisiga put out a Justin Wilson fire with one on and two out in the eighth. He then routinely retired the Tribe in order to close out the ninth inning.
This series was not a great one to have a 3-0 lead. It was the Yankees this time around who squandered an early advantage and dropped the series finale 7-3.
Facing Triston McKenzie in the fourth frame, Gio Urshela got the Yankees on the board with a two-run tater to center. The ensuing batter, Ford, took McKenzie deep to right for a 3-0 advantage. When you out-homer your opponent, you win more often than not but unfortunately, that was the extent of the banging by the Bombers.
Jameson Taillon looks a lot like 2020 Michael King. He fires the ball for the first time around the order, gives you a few lights out innings but then the wheels fall off. Yes, he had six strikeouts and looked sharp for the first three innings but I don’t need to hear about “stuff,” I need to see results.
The Indians didn’t necessarily hit him hard but they found the right spots. Three consecutive singles from Hernandez, Ramirez, and Eddie Rosario pushed across the first Cleveland run. Following a mound visit, Taillon yielded a three-run thump to right by Reyes for the difference-maker, giving the Tribe a 4-3 edge.
NOPE, NOT THAT NELSON
No, Aaron Boone, that’s not your 2003 teammate, Jeff Nelson, it’s Nick Nelson and he’s not pitching well. Nelson would be optioned to the Alternate Site after the game. Why he was called upon at 4-3 in the fifth frame is beyond me. Especially when you had a rested bullpen and Luis Cessa, who was eventually called upon and provided a pair of scoreless frames to go the rest of the way.
Nelson was rocked for three runs on four hits in his unremarkable two frames of work. Bye Felicia.
Having entered the game earlier as a pinch-hitter, Frazier also flashed the leather in the eighth inning, going airborne to rob Luplow in left for the final out.