A total of 31,531 fans, the second-largest Progressive Field crowd of the season, saw the Indians rally back from an early 2-0 deficit with five runs in the middle innings to knock off the New York Yankees, 5-2, from downtown Cleveland on Friday night.
A beautiful night for baseball, chock full of dollar hot dogs and postgame fireworks, brought many fans to Progressive Field for a tough contest against the American League East leading Yankees on the first Friday for baseball in the month of June. The Tribe, looking to bounce back after a close loss at the bats of the Minnesota Twins in their series finale Thursday night, aimed to get back over the .500 mark with some tough competition standing in the opposing dugout, but the Indians called on more strong starting pitching from rookie right-hander Zach Plesac and more of the long ball as the Indians rolled to a big victory against a longtime rival in a lightning quick two hour and 23 minute contest.
Both teams struck out a pair in a scoreless first before Plesac ran into some early trouble in the top of the second. Gary Sanchez started the inning with a single to center. Didi Gregorius, in his first at bat of the season after being activated Friday from the 60-day injured list, jumped on the first pitch and drove a single towards Tyler Naquin. The Tribe right fielder came up throwing and gunned down the Yankee shortstop trying to stretch a single to two bases. With Sanchez at third and one out, Kendrys Morales drew a walk after fouling off two pitches to put runners on the corners. Former Indians top draft pick Clint Frazier drove in the game’s first run with a double to center, scoring Sanchez and moving Morales to third. Gio Urshela grounded back to the mound, with Morales getting caught in a run down, one-unassisted, for the second out. Brett Gardner grounded to second to strand a pair.
The Yankees added another run in the third in much simpler fashion. With one down, Aaron Hicks pulled a 1-0 pitch down the right field line for a solo shot, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Domingo German was on the mound for the Yankees, a winner of six straight and owner of a 9-1 record on the season. He faced the minimum through the first three innings, erasing a leadoff single by Jason Kipnis in the second on a caught stealing, but he ran into problems in the fourth as the Indians put together a little rally. Francisco Lindor grounded out to first to open the frame, but Oscar Mercado singled to center. Carlos Santana drew a walk and Kipnis delivered his second hit in three innings with a single to right-center, scoring Mercado to make it a 2-1 game. German worked out of the inning with no more damage, getting a pair of fly ball outs from Jose Ramirez and Jake Bauers.
Plesac needed 14 pitches to get out of the fifth, but he did so with three ground balls to keep it a one-run game. That changed in the home half, as the Indians knotted the game up. German struck out Leonys Martin and got Kevin Plawecki to fly to center for the first two outs, but his first offering to Naquin was hammered deep to right for a 424-foot game-tying blast.
The Indians scored for the third straight inning in the sixth and did so on the first three pitches of the inning from German. Mercado drove a first-pitch single to right-center for his second hit of the game. Santana took a ball before clouting a deep drive over the Progressive sign on the right-center field wall for his 12th home run of the year to put the Indians on top for the first time, 4-2.
Plesac faced the minimum over the next 13 batters after the Hicks home run. Gregorius got his second hit in as many at bats to open his season to start the fourth, but he was taken out on a Morales double play grounder. His three grounders in the fifth were followed by an eleven-pitch sixth with a pop out by Hicks, a third strikeout of Luke Voit, and a liner by Sanchez. He returned for the seventh and got three fly ball outs around a two-out single by Frazier to cap off another impressive outing to kick off his big league career.
Yankees right-hander David Hale pitched a quick and effective seventh inning with a strikeout and two groundouts, but he could not keep the Indians off of the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth in his second inning of work after a perfect frame by Cleveland’s Nick Wittgren. Lindor reached for the first time on the night with a deep drive off of the wall in center for a leadoff triple. Mercado was unable to get the run home on a grounder to second. Santana was intentionally walked to bring on a matchup with Kipnis, who drove in his second run of the night with a deep sacrifice fly to center to give the Indians an extra insurance run and a 5-2 lead.
Brad Hand came on in the top of the ninth, looking for a tie atop the saves leaderboard in the American League. He did just that and did so in almost terrifying fashion. He cut down Voit for a fourth time on the night on three straight pitches. Sanchez fouled off a pair, but he went down looking on a fourth straight strike, looking at a slider. Gregorius took the first and only ball that Hand would throw in his outing to start his AB, but a strike looking, two foul balls, and another devastating slider sat down the Yankees for the night.
The Indians moved to 32-31 with another needed victory. Cleveland is now 3-1 against Minnesota and New York to start its eight-game homestand. The Yankees dropped to 39-23 and saw their lead in the AL East shrink to just a half-game over the victorious Tampa Bay Rays, which has now won three straight.
Plesac earned a well-deserved first Major League win with seven dominant quality innings on the mound. He allowed the two early runs on six hits in total with a walk and five strikeouts, including three of Voit. He threw a career-high 111 pitches, 70 for strikes, and lowered his season ERA to 1.86.
“He’s good. He competes like crazy. I wish I could sit up here and take credit. The player development people, I hope their chests are out a little bit. They’re responsible for where this kid is at in his career, and now we’re watching him get better right before our eyes,” said manager Terry Francona. “He threw some breaking balls tonight that were probably the best ones he’s thrown. He didn’t always follow the glove, but he’s aggressive enough with his fastball, but standing up a little bit, whether by design or not, his fastball plays a little bit more than what you see on the scoreboard … We don’t need to send him to Cooperstown yet, but we love what we see. He’s been phenomenal.”
Hand’s effort in the ninth, which included strikes on 11 of the 12 pitches that he threw, earned him his AL lead-tying 19th save of the year. He remains perfect in save opportunities as he makes his march towards another All-Star Game appearance.
German was victim to the long ball, as the Santana blast in the sixth proved to be his undoing. He dropped to 9-2 on the year, allowing four runs on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts. He could join Hand back in Cleveland next month as a possible member of the AL All-Star squad.
The top of the Tribe lineup did the heavy lifting, as the one through four hitters combined for a 6-for-13 day at the plate with two walks, four RBI, and four runs scored (by comparison, the five through nine spots went 1-for-16 with four strikeouts and one RBI). Mercado and Kipnis each had multi-hit games, while Santana and Kipnis both drove in a pair of runs. Mercado is now hitting .288 on the year with a .356 on-base percentage.
Gregorius was activated from the 60-day injured list prior to the game by the Yankees after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery eight months ago. To make room for him on the roster, fellow shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL, while infielder Thairo Estrada was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Gregorius was joined by Frazier with two-hit games for the Yankees on Friday.
The Indians will look to claim a second straight series quickly in the middle game of three against the Yankees. Cleveland will need to make a roster move on Saturday to recall right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko (1-1, 6.35 ERA) from Triple-A Columbus, with one of the ten bullpen arms currently on the roster likely on his way back down I-71. The Yankees will counter with left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 3.61), who will make his final regular season appearance at the park where his 19-year career began in 2001. He is in search of career win number 250.
First pitch from Progressive Field is scheduled for 4:10 PM ET.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire (via Getty Images)