After fighting back to a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run infield single, the Cleveland Indians’ defense melted down on the first pitch of the seventh as a “Little League home run” would be the difference in a 5-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday night.
The Yankees’ Austin Romine needed just pitch to cause havoc in the seventh as the Indians worked their back from a 3-0 first inning hole to make it a ball game with a little assistance from New York third baseman Miguel Andujar in the sixth inning. With the crowd re-energized after an unlikely scoring play for Cleveland, it would take just one pitch to knock the winds right out of the sails of the Tribe faithful.
Mike Clevinger‘s first offering of the inning would prove to be the difference in the ball game. Romine sent the four-seamer to right-center, splitting the two outfielders before bouncing off of the wall. Right fielder Brandon Guyer juggled the carom, leading Romine to pick up steam to round second for third. Guyer’s throw went to the cutoff man, second baseman Erik Gonzalez, who fired towards Jose Ramirez at third. The throw skipped halfway between second and third base and hopped past Ramirez. Clevinger attempted to back up the throw, but it scooted past him and into the Indians’ dugout as third base umpire Gabe Morales awarded Romine home plate.
Oliver Perez and Neil Ramirez combined to retire the next three hitters in order in relief of the Tribe’s starter.
The Indians, who had fought and scraped to get four runs across through the first six, could muster next to nothing against the dominant Yankees bullpen. David Robertson struck out a pair in a perfect seventh. Dellin Betances did the same against the meat of the Indians order, getting Michael Brantley to pop to short before striking out Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion. Down to their final three outs against closer Aroldis Chapman, Guyer grounded out before Francisco Mejia drew a walk. He was lifted for pinch-runner Greg Allen, but he would be stuck at first base as Yan Gomes struck out swinging and Rajai Davis flied to right to end it.
The Indians dropped to 51-43 on the season and just 3-6 on their current ten-game homestand to close out the first half of the schedule. The Yankees moved to 62-32 with the win and kept pace with the victorious Boston Red Sox, who won on a walk-off grand slam in extra innings earlier in the day.
The game did not start well for Clevinger and the Tribe, as they fell in a 3-0 hole three batters into the game. Clevinger lost Brett Gardner on a leadoff walk and Aaron Judge won a six-pitch battle with a single to left. Didi Gregorius, back in the starting lineup Saturday, caught a changeup to his liking with the second offering from Clevinger and sent it deep to right-center for a three-run souvenir.
Yankees starter CC Sabathia started the game with a pair of groundouts, but the little homer machine Ramirez launched a homer to the bleachers in left to put the Indians on the board, trailing 3-1 after one.
Clevinger worked a perfect second inning, but had to work around some trouble in the third as Gregorius and Giancarlo Stanton each singled after Clevinger struck out the first two batters of the inning. In a tight spot, he notched his third strikeout of the inning and his fourth out retired in a row via K by getting Aaron Hicks swinging to strand a pair.
The Indians cut the deficit to one run in the bottom of the third. Gonzalez led off the inning with a single to left and stole second. Francisco Lindor grounded to short, moving Gonzalez to third, and he scored on a grounder to first by Brantley to make it a 3-2 game.
Clevinger made it five straight outs via strikeout by getting Bird swinging to start the fourth. He retired the next two in order and worked around a one-out double by Gardner in the top of the fifth. In the sixth, however, Bird made up for the earlier strikeout by clearing a solo shot with two outs in the inning to give the Yankees another two-run advantage.
The Indians rallied in an unconventional fashion in the bottom of the sixth. Lindor struck out to start the frame before a single by Brantley. Ramirez drew an eight-pitch walk to put two on for Encarnacion, who grounded both runners up with an out to third. With a pair in scoring position, Guyer grounded deep to third. Andujar moved back on the play and could not get enough on the throw, pulling Bird off of the first base bag. Brantley scored with ease and Bird’s relay throw to the plate was delayed and not in time to nail the alert Ramirez, whose head first slide tied the game at four. Sabathia would be lifted for Robertson, who walked Mejia to put two on for Gomes, who struck out swinging to end the rally.
Clevinger took a tough fifth loss of the season as the defense’s double error on Romine’s double tipped the scales in favor of the Yankees. He worked six-plus innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits with a walk and eight strikeouts. He threw 97 pitches on the night. The bullpen worked three innings of scoreless relief, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out three.
Sabathia did not factor in the decision, leaving after five and two-thirds innings with the game freshly tied up. He allowed four runs on four hits, walked two, and struck out two. Robertson got the win, his seventh of the year, working one and one-third innings of scoreless, hitless relief with a walk and three strikeouts. Betances earned his 15th hold and Chapman recorded his 26th save of the season.
Gregorius was the only player between the two lineups to record more than one hit. He was 2-for-3 with a single and a three-run homer and also drew a walk. Judge struck out three times in four trips.
The Indians managed just four hits on the night, with Brantley, Guyer, and Gonzalez each getting base hits. Ramirez homered for the 29th time in the first to match his career high set one season ago and tied the game with his hustle play on the bases.
“Guyer did a really good job of getting down the line, but Josey, that only works if you’re going right from the jump,” said manager Terry Francona after the game. “And it’s just like, his baseball internal clock is amazing.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected by first base umpire Jerry Meals in the sixth inning after arguing that Stanton was hit by a pitch during his at bat.
Gomes found out late in the night that he had been named an All-Star for the first time in his career when it was announced that he had been selected to replace Tampa Bay catcher Wilson Ramos (out with a hamstring injury).
Mejia was called up from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game to get in some work with the big league club, while starting pitcher Shane Bieber was optioned back to the top farm club to work through the All-Star break and stay lined up for his next start on the first Tuesday after second half play resumes.
The rubber match of the four-game set is scheduled for a 1:10 PM ET first pitch on Sunday afternoon. All-Star right-hander Trevor Bauer (8-6, 2.23 ERA) will be the first to the bump for the Indians, while the Yankees will send out right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (7-2, 4.68).
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images