A solo homer by Michael Brantley to kick off the eighth inning capped a three-run inning as the Cleveland Indians rallied from a 2-0 hole to defeat the New York Yankees, 5-2, in the first half finale from Progressive Field on Sunday.
A good pitching matchup between right-handers Trevor Bauer and Masahiro Tanaka lived up to its billing as both starters scattered a pair of runs in their starts. It would be the Indians’ ability to strike through against the strong Yankees bullpen in the eighth inning that would prove to be the difference on the afternoon.
Tanaka was lifted in a tie game after six and one-third innings of work, replaced by Chad Green, a right-hander who came on in a big way for the Yankees a season ago. After working out of a first-and-third jam in the bottom of the seventh, he returned to the mound for manager Aaron Boone in the eighth inning, but was met by immediate resistance from the Indians.
Brantley needed just two pitches to give the Indians their first lead of the day as he started the eighth. After taking a strike looking down the middle, he got a second fastball a little higher in the zone and put a charge into the ball, sending it deep to right and over the leaping attempt from right fielder Giancarlo Stanton to put the Tribe on top, 3-2. Green’s inning would not get much better, as Jose Ramirez singled to center, stole second, and moved to third on a throwing error by New York catcher Kyle Higashioka. Edwin Encarnacion was hit by a pitch and exited the game with an undisclosed hand injury for pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez, who promptly stole second himself to put two in scoring position for Cleveland. Yonder Alonso struck out looking for the first out and Green intentionally walked Jason Kipnis to load the bases for Yan Gomes. The newest Tribe All-Star made the Yankees pay for the move, sending a fly ball to right field to score Ramirez just ahead of a strong throw from Stanton to make it 4-2. Kipnis stole second to put two in scoring position for Tyler Naquin, but he would not have to swing the bat as a wild pitch by Green scored Gonzalez to make it 5-2. With Kipnis standing at third, Naquin fouled off several pitches before striking out on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
With a three-run lead, Cody Allen came to the mound and handled his business for the 20th time in 21 opportunities this season. He struck out Greg Bird and Miguel Andujar before hitting pinch-hitter Clint Frazier. Neil Walker popped to his counterpart at second as the Yankees’ last hope.
The Indians will head into the All-Star break with a 52-43 record, including a 31-19 mark at home (despite a 4-6 homestand over the last week and a half). They hold a seven and a half game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. The Yankees fell to 62-33 on the year and lost a game on the Boston Red Sox, who were victorious over the Toronto Blue Jays by the same 5-2 final. They are four and a half game behind the AL East frontrunners.
The Yankees had some early threats against Bauer and the Indians. They loaded the bases in the first on a one-out single by Aaron Judge, a two-out single by Stanton that put runners on the corners, and a walk by Aaron Hicks to load the bases, but Bird grounded to second to strand three.
After being retired in order in the second, the Yankees struck through for a run in the top of the third. Brett Gardner singled to right to lead off the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch by Bauer. Judge struck out before a single by Didi Gregorius that put runners on the corners for the dangerous Stanton. Bauer struck him out looking for the second out, but Hicks knocked in the game’s first run with a two-out single to right to make it 1-0 New York.
The Yankees got a second and final run on the day in the next inning, when with two down, Walker homered deep to right to make it 2-0.
Tanaka handled the Indians early in his no-decision. He set down the first five in order before a two-out single by Kipnis in the second. He was stranded on a fly out by Roberto Perez. Tanaka had a 1-2-3 third, but ran into trouble in the fourth against the dangerous Encarnacion. Leadoff man Brantley took a strike looking before walking on four straight balls. Ramirez struck out on three straight pitches, but the next one to Encarnacion was launched over the wall in left for a game-tying two-run shot, his 22nd, to make it a 2-2 game.
Bauer pitched seven innings, retiring the final seven that he faced in order after Stanton singled with two down in the fifth. He came away with a no-decision, allowing two runs on seven hits with a walk and seven strikeouts on 110 pitches. Tanaka lasted one out into the seventh, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Carrasco (11-5) got the win with an inning of scoreless relief while striking out a pair. He was available for a relief appearance over the weekend after a light 85-pitch effort in five innings his last time out on Wednesday. It was his first relief appearance since 2014.
The Indians could not muster much with the bats with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-5 on the day while stranding six. Kipnis and Ramirez each had two-hit games. Stanton was the only Yankee to record more than one hit, notching a pair of singles in four trips while striking out in his other two plate appearances. Judge struck out three times for the second straight game and entered the All-Star break going 3-for-16 in the series against the Indians with seven strikeouts, one double, one run scored, and no runs batted in.
Encarnacion departed in the eighth inning after being hit by the Green offering in the hand. The injury initially appeared worse than it was to Tribe skipper Terry Francona.
“He got the meat of the hand fortunately, and he checked out fine,” said Francona. “That was a big sigh of relief. That looked like it whacked him pretty good.”
Francona also shared on Sunday that reliever Andrew Miller is inching closer to a return. He is going to begin a rehab assignment in Columbus with the Triple-A Clippers on Tuesday night. He threw batting practice in Akron on Saturday and it reportedly went well.
“We’re not just going to have him pitch once,” said Francona. “He’s going. But just watching him the other day, that back leg was back up in the air again. And he wasn’t flying off of that. It was really exciting to watch that.”
Baseball will take pause for the next few days as the best of the 2018 season gather in Washington, D.C., for this season’s All-Star Game festivities. Six different members of the Tribe have been selected for the contest, including replacements Bauer and Gomes. Corey Kluber will not partake in the game on Tuesday night.
The 2018 second half schedule resumes on Friday night, when the Indians open a three-game series from Arlington, Texas, in their final look at the Texas Rangers this season.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images