Bird’s Blast Off Miller Helps Yankees Avoid ALDS Sweep; Yankees 1, Indians 0
Bob Toth | On 09, Oct 2017
In a game dominated by stellar pitching by both ball clubs, a leadoff solo home run by New York’s Greg Bird off of former teammate Andrew Miller in the seventh inning provided the only run of the contest and the Yankees held off a late Cleveland Indians rally in a 1-0 final on Sunday night.
The victory guaranteed at least one more day in the Yankees’ season as they fended off elimination in the American League Division Series and avoided a sweep at the hands of the Tribe, who lost for just the fifth time in the last 40 games and were shut out for the first time since July 14 in Oakland, the first game of the second half of the season.
The overshadowed story of the game was the impressive pitching by both teams. The two clubs each provided very similar lines on the mound, with the Indians allowing a run on five hits with four walks and eleven strikeouts in eight innings, while the Yankees worked nine innings of scoreless, five-hit baseball with two walks and eleven strikeouts.
Masahiro Tanaka, making his fifth career start against the Indians and the first postseason start of his four-year MLB career, was coming off of a 15-strikeout performance in seven shutout innings in his final start of the regular season against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was nearly as effective on Sunday and started his night by striking out Francisco Lindor to begin the game and Jose Ramirez to end the first.
Carlos Carrasco was on the bump for the Indians, also making his first postseason start. He missed all of the playoff excitement last season after being drilled by a line drive on the hand during a September contest with the Detroit Tigers, and despite some rough outings in recent years against the Yankees, he too was sharp right out of the gate. After getting Brett Gardner to ground out to open the home half of the first, he struck out Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez swinging to complete the scoreless first.
Both teams got their first base runners of the game in the second. After Jay Bruce struck out to start the second, Carlos Santana singled to right. He would not last long on the base paths, however, as Austin Jackson doubled him up on a grounder to third.
The Yankees struck out twice more in the second, wasting a two-out hit by pitch of Bird on the first pitch of his at bat. A double play ball helped Carrasco in the third as Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk to lead off the inning, but Aaron Hicks grounded into a 4-6-3 twin killing. Gardner flied to center to end the inning.
The Indians orchestrated their first scoring opportunity in the top of the fourth, but would fall flat. After a groundout by Lindor, Jason Kipnis hit a fly ball to deep right. Judge raced back but could not cleanly field the fly. By the time he tracked the ball down, Kipnis pulled up safely at third base with a standup triple. In a prime scoring situation, both Ramirez and Bruce struck out swinging as the Tribe stranded a key runner just 90 feet from the plate.
The Yankees ended any talk of a no-hitter from Carrasco in the bottom of the frame, when they registered their first hit of the night against the Tribe’s right-hander. After Carrasco struck out Judge looking and got Sanchez to ground to short, Didi Gregorius came through with the two-out single to center to keep the inning alive. It would be a moot point as Starlin Castro went down on strikes, but the Yankees had a tally of some sort on the scoreboard against Carrasco.
The Indians wasted base runners again in the fifth and sixth. Santana started the fifth with a walk and two batters later was forced at second on the front end of a 4-6-3 double play. Roberto Perez got the team’s third hit of the game with a leadoff single the next inning, but three straight outs in the air left him standing right at first base. The most painful of the bunch was a deep drive to the wall in right by Lindor that was met by the gigantic 6’7″ Judge, who pulled back what would have been a souvenir and kept the Indians from taking a lead.
New York went down in order in the fifth, but finally threatened against Carrasco in the sixth, ultimately knocking him out of the game. Hicks reached safely on an infield single, but Carrasco got a two-for-one ball as Gardner grounded into a 6-3 double plays. Judge kept the inning alive with a five-pitch walk and Sanchez moved him up 90 feet with a single to center. Gregorius drew a five-pitch walk of his own to load the bases and manager Terry Francona retrieved Miller from the bullpen to get a tough final out. He did just that, getting Castro to pop up a slider to Lindor in shallow left as the Yankees left the bases loaded.
While Miller was able to work out of a high pressure situation in the sixth, it would be one pitch of the seventh inning that would prove to be the difference on the night. With the count even at 1-1 after a pair of sliders, Miller went to the fastball against Bird and he turned on it, sending a blast down the right field line and into left-handed hitters’ heaven at Yankee Stadium. The solo homer broke up the tie, putting the Yankees on top for the first time since blowing a big lead against the Indians on Friday night.
Miller would retire the next man before Tyler Olson finished off the inning with a pair of strikeouts.
With a lead, manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen, bringing in David Robertson. He retired Jackson with a fly out before walking Michael Brantley. Lonnie Chisenhall was announced as a pinch-hitter for Perez, but Girardi countered with Aroldis Chapman. Yan Gomes picked up a bat, but struck out swinging on a fastball up and out of the zone, recording 103 miles per hour during the broadcast. Giovanny Urshela looked overmatched as well, striking out on four pitches.
Olson came back out for the bottom of the eighth and gave up a leadoff double to Gardner on a ball misplayed by Kipnis before Joe Smith came on and worked out of trouble, getting strikeouts of the big boppers Judge and Sanchez before intentionally walking Gregorius to face Castro, who grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Cleveland did not go down without a fight against Chapman in the ninth. Facing the top of the order, the hard-throwing lefty struck out Lindor swinging for the first out. As he had two nights ago, Kipnis drove a single to center off of him to put the tying run on base. Ramirez reached on an infield single off of the glove of a diving Todd Frazier at third base to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Bruce could not deliver, striking out for the fourth time on the night in his return to the Big Apple. Santana fought off fastball after fastball from Chapman, working the count full before launching a fly ball deep to center that was reeled in for the final out of the night.
Tanaka worked a second straight game with seven scoreless innings worked on the mound. He allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out seven in earning the first postseason win of his career. He threw 92 pitches (65 for strikes) and worked ahead in the count much of the night. A devastating splitter helped him force 21 swings and misses on the night.
Carrasco was not involved in the decision. He lasted five and two-thirds scoreless innings, giving up three hits and three walks while striking out seven. His command was not as crisp as Tanaka’s, as he got ahead of just nine of 22 batters faced on the night. He got 18 swings and misses of his own, but just 55% of his pitches were strikes on the night.
Miller took the loss for Cleveland, allowing one run on one hit with a strikeout in two-thirds of an inning. Chapman earned his first save of the ALDS, striking out four and giving up two hits in one and two-thirds innings. He needed to throw 34 pitches in the ball game, putting his ability to work in Game 4 into question.
Rain looms in the forecast in New York for Monday, where the two teams will resume their best-of-five series with the fourth faceoff. The Yankees will send young right-hander Luis Severino to the mound, looking for an improved showing after getting shelled early by the Minnesota Twins last Tuesday in the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium. The Indians will start Trevor Bauer on short rest, as they used their previously scheduled Game 4 starter Josh Tomlin in the latter innings of Friday’s 9-8 come-from-behind victory.
First pitch from the Bronx is scheduled for 7:08 PM ET. The game will be broadcast on FS1.
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images