Sometimes, one play can open the floodgates and drastically change the outcome of a sporting event. A misplayed fly ball with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning turned a just-tied game into a five-run inning for the Yankees as New York crushed the Cleveland Indians, 8-1, on Sunday afternoon.
The scuffling Yankees offense put up as many runs in their sixth inning assault as they have over the course of their previous four games. They got a little help from one of their former outfield prospects, Abraham Almonte, who could not track down the ball as it looked like he was bracing for impact with the wall well before reaching it.
“It’s a ball that should have been caught,” said Almonte after the game while reviewing the play on a tablet. “It was not an easy fly ball, but it should have been caught.”
The Indians took the lead in the bottom of the first against the Yankees’ Luis Severino. After the young New York right-hander struck out a pair swinging to start the inning, Michael Brantley homered to put Cleveland on top, 1-0. Severino struck out Jose Ramirez swinging for his third strikeout of the inning.
It was strikeout city at Progressive Field for several half innings after that. After striking out one in the top of the first, Carlos Carrasco did Severino one better and struck out the side swinging with no damage done in the second. Severino matched Carrasco’s three in a row, striking out Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana swinging to start the home half of the second. He would add two more strikeouts in the third.
Carrasco retired eleven straight to start the afternoon before a two-out seeing-eye single to center by Didi Gregorius. The Tribe right-hander would strand him by striking out Aaron Judge for the second straight at bat to end the fourth.
The Indians had a chance to add to their lead in the bottom of the fourth, but could not deliver the clutch hit. Francisco Lindor started the inning with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. A grounder to short by Brantley moved his All-Star teammate to third with only one out, but Ramirez fouled out to third and Encarnacion lined to right to end the inning.
The Yankees would also threaten in the next half inning as they finally put several runners on the base paths against Carrasco. Back-to-back one-out singles by Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury put two on for the bottom of the order. Ronald Torreyes grounded into a force at second and, with the tying run at third, Austin Romine struck out swinging.
The sixth inning would go an entirely different direction for Carrasco and the Tribe. Brett Gardner singled and moved to third on a double by Clint Frazier to start the inning. After a pop to third by Gregorius, Judge was intentionally walked. Chase Headley flied to center, scoring Gardner with the tying run as Bradley Zimmer fired in to third to hold the remaining runners at bay. Carrasco would get ahead of the third baseman Frazier with a 1-2 count but would lose him to load the bases for Ellsbury. He lifted a fly to deep right that Almonte lost, ruled a triple by the official scorer. Three would cross on the miscue and the Yankees had a 4-1 lead in the blink of an eye. Bryan Shaw came on from the Indians bullpen and gave up a single to left by Torreyes to make it a 5-1 score before he struck out the ninth man to bat, Romine, to stop the bleeding.
Judge would extend that lead with a big blow in the seventh against Mike Clevinger, who was making his first appearance from the Tribe bullpen since being temporarily moved out of the rotation due to a lack of need for five starters for the time being. Two reached, one on a walk and another on a single, to put runners on the corners for Judge. After Clevinger got ahead in the count 0-2, Judge sent a drive two pitches later to the right of center for a three-run game-breaker, giving the Yankees an 8-1 lead.
Severino retired eleven straight before a two-out single by Encarnacion in the seventh. Tommy Kahnle came on for manager Joe Girardi and got Santana to fly to center to end the inning. It would be the last opportunity for the Indians, as Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve combined to retire the next six in order to end it.
The Indians lost ground on the Kansas City Royals with the loss, as they dropped to 59-50 on the season. A win by the Royals cut their deficit in the AL Central to two and a half games. The Yankees remain three games in back of the Red Sox in the AL East at 59-51, as Boston has won six straight.
SEVERINO SOLID INTO THE SEVENTH
Severino (9-4, 2.91) showed his All-Star stuff on Sunday. He worked six and two-thirds innings, allowing just the one run on the Brantley first inning homer and two hits in total. He walked one and struck out nine, retiring as many as eleven straight before exiting.
The Yankees bullpen chased him with two and one-third innings of perfect baseball, striking out one.
CARRASCO CRUISES UNTIL SIXTH
The final line on Carrasco (10-5, 4.06 ERA) was hardly indicative of his effort on the afternoon. He was nearly unhittable for the first four innings, giving up a weak well-placed grounder in the process. The Yankees found a little more success in the fifth before breaking it open in the sixth, leaving Carrasco with five runs earned on six hits with a pair of walks and six strikeouts over five and two-thirds innings of work.
Judge’s homer was his 35th of the season, putting him into some exclusive company in the history of Major League Baseball. He is one of just eleven rookies to ever reach that threshold in a season.
He struck out three times on the day, marking the tenth time this season that he has completed the hat trick, and has now struck out in 24 consecutive games, currently the longest streak in the storied history of the Yankees (both factoids courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau).
His three RBI on the afternoon give him 78 on the year, tied for third in the American League.
NO START FOR SANCHEZ
Girardi opted to bench All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez in the series finale against the Indians. He started at designated hitter on Saturday night, one night after his adventures behind the plate cost the Yankees several runs.
“The start is not the message. The message came from us verbally that, ‘Your defense needs to improve. That you need to get better. You need to work at it,’” said Girardi in his pregame press conference. “We have stressed how important it is. There are certain situations that some people may not think that something that happens in the game affects the next game. It could if it leads to 10 extra pitches for a reliever.”
The Indians activated second baseman Jason Kipnis from the 10-day disabled list prior to the game and started him at second base. To make room on the roster, utility man Erik Gonzalez was optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
Despite a good start on Saturday against the Indians, left-hander Jordan Montgomery was optioned to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre following Sunday’s game. The Yankees were temporarily operating with a six-man rotation with the additions of Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia last week, and the pair will join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Severino as the starters on the staff for the time being.
The Yankees also placed designated hitter Matt Holliday on the 10-day disabled list after tweaking his lower back. First baseman Garrett Cooper was recalled from Scranton-Wilkes/Barre.
ROCKIN’ WITH THE ROCKIES
The Indians will take Monday off before hosting the Colorado Rockies for two games on Tuesday and Wednesday to conclude the split home-and-home interleague series with the NL West club. The Rockies defeated the Indians twice at Coors Field in their earlier matchup this season.
The Yankees will take Monday off as well before starting a series in Toronto with the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images