The Indians went off-script on Tuesday from what had worked all season long and the results were undebatable as the New York Yankees rocked Cleveland’s Shane Bieber for a season-worst seven runs in rolling the host Tribe in a 12-3 statement game.
Instead of what was hyped as the top pitching matchup of the eight postseason contests slated to start the 2020 Major League Baseball playoffs, fans watched a stunning exchange as the likely unanimous American League Cy Young winner lost his duel with New York’s Gerrit Cole, whose $324 million rebuttal on the mound included 13 strikeouts, six hits allowed, and two runs scattered over seven innings of dominance.
Tribe fans could not have scripted a worse scene. Back in the playoffs for the first time since a three-game sweep by the Houston Asterisks in 2018 and looking to end a six-game sour taste in their postseason mouths dating back to when the Indians lost a 2-0 edge to the Yankees in the first round of the 2017 playoffs in their American League pennant defense, everyone associated with the Indians not named Josh Naylor or Phil Maton had a night to forget as the Tribe now sits on the brink of elimination in the best-of-three series.
After pulling off several stunning late inning rallies and walk-off victories over the last week of the regular season to sneak into the fourth seed and snag home field advantage for the American League Wild Card Series this week, the Indians had no answers for Cole, one of the top arms in baseball. Instead of the tightly contested contest as a result of the top tier pitching matchup, the Yankees scored early and often and responded each time the Indians tried to chip away at the ever-increasing deficit.
Four pitches into the night, the game felt over. It was not an indictment at the time on Bieber, but far more a reflection on the Tribe’s inconsistent offense and its ability to strike through against a pitcher of Cole’s caliber. It all happened in the blink of an eye as DJ LeMahieu, nicknamed “The Machine” and the AL’s top hitter this season, led off the game with a single to right. The first pitch to Aaron Judge, the fourth of Bieber’s night, immediately left the field of play as he powered the Yankees to a 2-0 lead with a two-run shot to right-center.
Bieber set down the next three and stranded a man in the second, but the Indians struggled to get anything going the first time through against Cole, with exception for a two-out double by Naylor in a day that he would like to remember for better reasons.
New York added another in the third as Bieber was punished for command issues. After retiring LeMahieu and Judge, he walked Aaron Hicks on six pitches. He fell behind Luke Voit 3-1 before the AL’s Home Run King got on a cutter and drove it deep to center for an RBI-double to make it a 3-0 game.
The Indians scratched out a run in the third but missed out on a huge opportunity to make it a much different ball game. Delino DeShields singled to center with one out and alertly moved into scoring position on a wild pitch in the dirt by Cole. Francisco Lindor popped to second for the second out before Cesar Hernandez reached on a perfectly placed infield single to short to put runners on the corners. The little extra base machine that could, Jose Ramirez, slashed a 1-0 fastball down the right field line and off of the side wall for a two-base hit, scoring DeShields with Hernandez holding up at third in the now 3-1 game. With the tying runs in scoring position, Carlos Santana struck out on three pitches over the plate.
The Yankees responded in duplicate in the next half inning. Gleyber Torres drew a one-out walk after falling behind 0-2. Brett Gardner drove the next pitch off of the wall in left-center for an RBI-double, making it a 4-1 score. Kyle Higashioka singled to short, despite a diving stop by Lindor. LeMahieu grounded up the middle, where Lindor again made an impressive sliding stop, but he was unable to record an out as the Yankee lead moved to 5-1. Bieber struck out Judge and Hicks to leave a pair on.
The offense for Cleveland ran through Naylor and his big day continued his next time up. He jumped on an 0-1 slider from Cole with one down in the bottom of the fourth and hit his first Indians home run. The 424-foot shot to the vacant seats in right-center made it a 5-2 game.
Bieber got the first two in the fifth before Gio Urshela kept the inning alive with a single to center. Torres reached base for the third straight time with a back-breaking two-run home run to center, with the Yankees extending their lead to 7-2 with another two-run response. Bieber exited with his shortest and worst start of the year, as Maton entered and struck out Gardner to end the inning. He followed with a perfect sixth.
Adam Cimber, recently recalled from the Tribe’s alternate training site, came on to save the bullpen in the seventh and to keep the score manageable, but he did neither of those things. He walked Hicks and gave up a single to right to Voit. Both advanced on a groundout by Giancarlo Stanton. Urshela hit a sacrifice fly to right (8-2) and Torres got his third hit of the game with an RBI-single to center to make it 9-2. Cam Hill took over for interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr., but he promptly surrendered a two-run homer to center to Gardner to make it an 11-2 contest before retiring Higashioka to end the frame.
Cole was awakened by the Naylor blast in the fourth, retiring eight in a row with five strikeouts before Naylor stepped to the dish against him in the bottom of the seventh. He led off that inning with a single, but Cole struck out the next two and got DeShields to ground to third to strand a man.
Hill pitched a better eighth, retiring the side in order, while Luis Cessa worked around a two-out walk by Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth.
Hill got the first man in the ninth before giving up a moonshot to Stanton that made it a 12-2 game. Urshela struck out looking for out number two before Torres reached for the fifth time (and the fourth via hit) with a single to first, forcing Alomar Jr. to go back to the bullpen again for Oliver Perez. He gave up a single to Gardner before getting Higashioka, the nine-hitter, to pop to first in his fifth at bat of the game.
Cessa returned in the ninth and prevented an improbable ten-run rally. Franmil Reyes popped to short for the first out. Naylor, perfect on the day and a triple short of the cycle, doubled deep to right to give him his fourth hit in four trips. Sandy Leon, who had taken over behind the plate for Roberto Perez at the start of the eighth, lined to left for the second out. The slumping Tyler Naquin joined the hit column with a single to center, scoring Naylor from second to make it 12-3. DeShields ended any remaining suspense with a groundout to short.
Cole’s postseason dominance of late continued with seven solid innings of two-run baseball. He allowed six hits and did not walk a batter while striking out 13 in a memorable Yankees postseason debut. Cessa gave up a run on two hits with a walk and a strikeout in two innings of garbage time.
Bieber’s worst start of the season could not have been any more ill-timed. After allowing just 14 earned runs all season (seven in August, seven in September, and no more than three in any one start), Bieber gave up seven runs on nine hits on Tuesday to the juggernaut Yankees. He walked two and struck out seven in just four and two-thirds innings, his shortest start of the season. While Maton was good in relief behind him, Cimber and Hill combined to allow five more runs to erase any doubt.
“No excuses,” said Bieber of his performance. “It was not good.”
Torres and Gardner each drove in three runs and homered. Torres went 4-for-4 at the plate and reached a fifth time via walk while scoring three times. Gardner scored a pair of runs. LeMahieu had two hits, scoring once and driving in one. Judge had one hit, but that home run plated a pair.
The Indians struck out 14 times and drew just one walk as whatever game plan that they had for Cole backfired miserably for all players not named Naylor. He had half of the team’s eight hits on the night, posting a 4-for-4 effort with two runs scored and one run batted in out of the six-spot in the lineup. Three of those came off of Cole and three of them were for extra bases in posting nine total bases on the night. Hernandez and DeShields each had singles, while Ramirez and Naquin each used their one hit on the night to drive in a run.
Cleveland will look to fend off elimination in game two of the best-of-3 series from Progressive Field on Wednesday night in a 7:08 PM ET first pitch. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco will make his third career postseason start for the Tribe and his second against the Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka, who earned a win against the Indians during the two clubs’ postseason series back in 2017, will look to build on a 5-3 career playoff record.
If the Yankees win Wednesday, they will travel to San Diego for American League Division Series bubble play at Petco Park against the winner of the Tampa Bay/Toronto series. If the Indians are victorious, they will force a decisive Game 3 pitting second-year right-hander Zach Plesac against a pitcher to be determined.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images