Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the seventh inning and the Yankees bullpen fired two and two-thirds innings of hitless relief as New York held off the visiting Cleveland Indians by a 3-2 final.
The Yankees used a big first inning to back Tanaka’s strong quality start and take an early lead. Back-to-back singles by Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela put a pair on before a fielder’s choice force at second by Didi Gregorius put runners on the corners against Indians rookie starter Aaron Civale. Gary Sanchez jumped on the first pitch that he saw and singled to right, scoring Judge to make it a 1-0 game. Gleyber Torres battled the count full before singling Civale’s seventh offering into right for another RBI, making it a 2-0 game.
Jose Ramirez continued his hot stretch at the plate in the second inning in his first at bat of the game against Tanaka. With one out, he caught a 1-1 pitch and parked it over the wall in right to cut the Tribe’s deficit down to one at 2-1.
Civale pitched well in his middle innings, working around a pair of doubles along the way. He got a double play liner in the bottom of the second as Cameron Maybin’s leadoff double was for naught as he was thrown out at the plate by Yasiel Puig. A two-out double by Brett Gardner was wasted as Maybin struck out looking to end the fourth.
The Indians could do little against Tanaka as they mustered just four hits on the night. Tanaka retired eight in a row after the Ramirez homer, but it was the Cleveland third baseman making waves again in the fifth as he led off the inning with a single to left. He moved to second on a groundout by Jason Kipnis, but moved no further as Franmil Reyes struck out swinging and Tyler Naquin flied to left.
The Yankees added what proved to be the deciding run in the bottom of the fifth against Civale. Mike Ford struck out swinging and DJ LeMahieu grounded to short before Judge’s second hit of the game, a double to right, put a runner in scoring position. Urshela delivered against his former team, sending a single to right that scored Judge on an error by Puig.
Civale worked out of his own mess in the bottom of the sixth as Tanaka retired the Tribe in order. Sanchez walked to open the inning before pop outs by Torres and Gardner. Maybin walked to put two on with two outs and a wild pitch moved both runners closer to home plate, but Ford flied to left to leave the pair.
Tanaka got Carlos Santana to ground out to second to start the seventh, but Puig gave the Indians a big blast as he went the opposite way over the wall in right with his second homer with Cleveland to make it a 3-2 game. Ramirez doubled for his third hit of the game and Yankees manager Aaron Boone turned to his bullpen for Tommy Kahnle, who shut down the Tribe with back-to-back strikeouts of Kipnis and Reyes swinging to leave the tying run at second.
Manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen for the rookie Civale in the seventh. Adam Cimber loaded the bases as LeMahieu doubled, Judge walked, and Urshela singled to right. Oliver Perez retired Gregorius on a fly to right that could not score LeMahieu. Tyler Clippard came on in his return to New York and got Sanchez to fly to right before Torres popped to second.
The Indians missed an opportunity in the eighth on a big defensive play by the home club. Tyler Naquin reached on an error by Ford against Zack Britton. Roberto Perez sacrificed the runner over to second and Francisco Lindor hit a deep drive to the gap in right-center. Gardner chased down the fly and made the catch for the second out before crashing into the wall and holding on. Greg Allen grounded to short to leave the tying run again at second base.
Clippard retired the side in order to leave it a one-run game as the offense prepped to face the difficult All-Star Aroldis Chapman, but he shut the Tribe down in the ninth. Santana walked to put the tying run on base, but Puig popped out to first for the first out. Ramirez was finally retired as he struck out swinging for the second out and Kipnis was cut down in a tough left-on-left battle on a 102 MPH four-seamer to give the Yankees the win.
Cleveland fell to 73-50 with the loss, while New York remained the top club in the American League at 82-42. The Indians are a game and a half in back of the first place Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
Tanaka struck with the splitter and gave the Yankees six and one-third innings of quality work on the mound. The All-Star allowed just two runs, both on solo home runs, and four hits in total while retiring 19 batters. He did not walk a man and struck out two to improve to 9-6 on the year. Chapman’s save was his 34th of the year.
Civale went six for the Tribe in his fourth straight quality start to open up his career. He allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits with two walks and four strikeouts while throwing 91 pitches. Another tough loss to begin Civale’s career moved him to 1-2 with a minute 1.50 ERA.
Seven of nine Yankees hitters recorded a hit. Urshela went 3-for-4 out of the three-hole and is now hitting a mind-boggling .342 on the season. Judge finally got going at the plate, recording a pair of hits.
Ramirez went 3-for-4 to finish a triple shy of the cycle. He now has 20 homers and 74 RBI on the season. Puig had the only other Indians hit, while Santana’s walk in the ninth accounted for the only other base runners on the night for Cleveland.
“Nobody expected this series is going to be easy for us,” Puig shared about the loss after the game. “This is a good team that we faced.”
First pitch from the Bronx is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET on Saturday.
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