Looking Back: Lindor Spoils Pettitte’s Big Day in Bronx

When a season has not played out as hoped, sometimes a team has to look for solace in ruining the day of other teams still in the playoff races.

While the Cleveland Indians had shown a marked improvement over the month of August, the playoff race was still just a pipe dream for the now younger club looking to end the year on a strong note and, if a couple of things fell into place the right way, maybe, just maybe, could sneak into a wild card spot. It was not out of the question, but it was far from a guarantee.

With the Indians coming to town for a four-game series, the New York Yankees sat in first place in the American League East by a game and a half while Cleveland was six and a half games out of the second wild card position. A better and more energetic Tribe team would put the squeeze on the Yankees, taking two of the first three games of the series before the Sunday series finale on a day dedicated to the career of Andy Pettitte, whose number 46 was retired in a ceremony prior to the game.

That day, with many former Yankee legends in attendance, was spoiled by the upstart Indians from the jump.

A one-out ground rule double in the first inning by Mike Aviles put the Yankees on the defensive early. After Michael Brantley popped up for the second out, Carlos Santana took former Indians ace CC Sabathia deep to the Cleveland bullpen for a two-run homer. It was Santana’s 15th homer of the season, but just his first hitting right-handed. Strangely enough, after homering off of righties 14 straight times to start the season, four of his last five came from the right side of the plate.

“The ball jumped off his bat,” Indians manager Terry Francona said after the game. “That swing is in there and we just haven’t seen it very much.”

After getting a runner into scoring position in each of the first two innings, the Yankees finally struck through against Trevor Bauer in the third. Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole second, and advanced to third on a fly out by Carlos Beltran. Brett Gardner, who had walked prior to the flyout, stole second (the 200th of his career) and an error on the throw by Indians catcher Yan Gomes allowed Ellsbury to score to cut the Tribe lead in half. Bauer picked up his defense and struck out Brian McCann and Greg Bird looking to evade further scoring.

Sabathia exited in the third with right knee issues.

The Indians got the run they gave away back in similar sloppy fashion in the fifth. Against reliever Nick Rumbelow, Aviles reached safely to start the inning on a throwing error from third baseman Chase Headley. A single from Brantley moved Aviles to third. Santana lifted a fly to left, but Aviles was thrown out at the plate trying to score. With Brantley on second after the play at the plate, pinch-hitter Jason Kipnis was intentionally walked and Branden Pinder entered in relief. A walk to Gomes loaded the bases and a five-pitch walk by Abraham Almonte pushed the third run of the day across.

The Indians would strand two on in the sixth and would leave Almonte standing on third to end the seventh after his two-out triple provided the Yankees with a scare. It would loom large in the bottom half of the frame, when New York finally struck through against the Indians pitching staff.

Stephen Drew led off the inning with a nine-pitch walk. After Bauer struck out Alex Rodriguez swinging, he was lifted for reliever Kyle Crockett, who promptly gave up a double to right that moved Drew to third. Gardner struck out and manager Francona went back to his bullpen to bring in Bryan Shaw.

That move failed the Tribe skipper as Beltran dropped a ground-rule double down the left field line that scored both base runners and tied the game up at three all. Shaw got McCann to ground out to end the threat.

The strong backend of the Yankees bullpen was set to take the stage now, so the Indians had their work cut out for them if they were going to get back into the game. Dellin Betances, a second-time All-Star in 2015, started the inning by uncharacteristically walking Giovanny Urshela on four straight pitches. With Francisco Lindor in at the plate, Urshela was caught trying to steal second. Three pitches later, Lindor did the unthinkable against Betances – the big right-hander watched as the little switch-hitter cleared the fence down the right field line with a solo home run, the first homer given up by the setup man to a lefty all season long.

The 21-year-old Lindor’s third hit of the game and second straight three-hit game gave the Indians a 4-3 lead, one that would prove to be enough for the Tribe. Shaw retired two and gave up a single in the eighth. Cody Allen worked a four-out save, striking out three straight before getting Gardner to fly out to end it. It was the 34th save of the year for the Indians closer Allen and the second win of the season for the Tribe’s setup man Shaw.

“I faced him yesterday and his fastball is great and his slider is very, very good,” said Lindor of Betances following the game. “Every time you face a guy and see his pitches, it’s one thing to see them on the computer and it’s another thing actually seeing it live.”

Bauer allowed just two hits on the afternoon – solo singles in the third and sixth innings – in working a no-decision. He was charged with one earned run and two total runs while striking out seven, but issuing a half dozen free passes.

“He didn’t give up a lot of hits and competed really well,” said Francona. “Most days, a lot of days, six walks will hurt you, but it didn’t. I thought he kept his composure, and I thought it was a good step forward for him.”

The loss for the Yankees knocked them out of their foothold of first place, surrendering the East’s top spot to the Toronto Blue Jays by a half-game. Little did they know at the time that they would spend just one more game, the next day, in the top spot in the division as the Jays would catch fire and the Bronx Bombers would find themselves fighting for the playoffs in the wild card play-in game at season’s end.

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

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