Burn on, big river, burn on.
In what will likely be his final inning in an Indians uniform, Brad Hand blew his first save of the season and handed the Yankees a pair of runs in the top of the ninth as New York rallied in a messy, ugly, crazy game to defeat Cleveland, 10-9.
The city of Cleveland got 75 minutes of October baseball and was dealt a devastating first round exit for the third time in four years as the Indians could not hold off the pesky New York baseball team, which got healthy just in time to spoil any hopes for the Indians to end a 72-year championship drought in the realm of Major League Baseball.
It wasn’t pretty. It started ugly (in a positive way at least) as the Indians staked a 4-0 lead. A former friend of the feather (and the first player that I ever interviewed with Did The Tribe Win Last Night) dealt a devastating blow with a fourth inning grand slam to put the Indians behind a run. Cleveland rallied back with two in the fifth to tie the game, only to cough it right back up, but used a two-run seventh and a clutch knock from Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth to reclaim its first lead since Gio Urshela’s salami in the fourth, but Hand loaded the bases needing just three outs before a sacrifice fly and a seeing-eye single crushed Cleveland’s hopes for a decisive winner-takes-all game three on Thursday night.
The forecast for Cleveland was for high winds and a high probability of rains on Wednesday, but for reasons unknown, the game started 40 minutes after the scheduled first pitch with no drops falling, that is until Tribe starter Carlos Carrasco took the rubber. To the Indians’ benefit, he retired DJ LeMahieu on a grounder to short before striking out Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks amidst the precipitation.
Masahiro Tanaka, who diced up the Indians in the playoffs in 2017, got the start for the Yankees, but his mix of slow stuff didn’t play in the rain against the Cleveland bats wiht the weather rapidly worsening. After a grounder to the right of second by Francisco Lindor, Hernandez doubled down the left field line and Jose Ramirez doubled to right to put the Indians up, 1-0. With shades of another postseason game at Progressive Field, momentum was sucked from the cardboard cutouts around the stadium as the umpires pulled both clubs off of the field for another rain delay, this one in the 30-minute range and certainly merited.
When play resumed, the Indians got back on the attack. Carlos Santana flied to right for the second out of the inning but Franmil Reyes walked on five pitches. For the fifth time in the series, Josh Naylor delivered as he doubled to center to score both Ramirez and Reyes to give the Indians a 3-0 with his fifth straight hit to begin his postseason career, a Major League record. He scored on a single to left-center by Roberto Perez as Cleveland claimed what felt to be a strong 4-0 advantage.
Carrasco registered his third straight strikeout of the night after his long delay between pitches as he punched out Luke Voit to open the second, but Giancarlo Stanton homered to right on a fastball over the plate to make it a 4-1 game. Carrasco struck out Urshela before walking Gleyber Torres, but he struck out Brett Gardner with his fifth strikeout through two innings to leave the runner at first.
Tanaka retired the Tribe in order in the bottom of the second, striking out a pair, while Carrasco added a sixth strikeout to close out a 1-2-3 third inning. Tanaka worked around a leadoff walk of Ramirez in the third to keep the score at 4-1.
Things fell apart in a hurry for Carrasco in the fourth and only got worse from there. Hicks worked the count full before tripling to center. Voit walked in a seven-pitch at bat and Stanton walked on five to bring interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. out of the dugout for star flamethrower James Karinchak. The count went full in his battle with Urshela, but the longtime Tribe farmhand caught a fastball low and in and parked it into the bleachers for a grand slam, putting the Yankees on top for the first time with a 5-4 lead. Karinchak walked the next two before Phil Maton came on in relief, getting the next three in order while leaving it a one-run game.
Tanaka retired the bottom third of the order in order in the fourth before the Yankees added another. Maton walked Hicks and Voit moved him to third with a double to center. Stanton put the Yankees up a pair with a sacrifice fly to right to give New York a 6-4 lead. Urshela grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Voit tagged out in a run down between third and home for the second out. Torres grounded softly to Santana at third to end the inning.
The Indians rallied with a big inning in the fifth to knock out Tanaka. Lindor led off the inning with a double to right as he finally remembered what to do at the plate. Hernandez walked to bring manager Aaron Boone out to the mound for Chad Green. His second pitch to Ramirez was ripped into the right field corner for a two-run double by the little extra base machine that could, tying the game at 6-6 with Ramirez going to third on the throw to the plate (a play that withstood a challenge from Boone). With three shots to get the runner in from third and with the heart of the order at the plate, Green punched out Santana and Reyes swinging before getting Naylor out with a fly to right.
With the bullpen already taxed after the abysmal showing on Tuesday night, Alomar Jr. turned to starter Triston McKenzie to give the team some length. He walked Gardner to start the sixth and his first pitch to the dangerous but slumping Gary Sanchez was poked the opposite way just over Tyler Naquin’s glove in right for a two-run home run, putting New York back on top, 8-6. McKenzie retired the next three.
Green allowed a leadoff single through the right side by Perez to start the home half of the inning, but he struck out Naquin for the first out. Delino DeShields singled to right to put the tying runs on base, bringing Boone back to the mound for Zack Britton. He got Lindor to ground sharply to his good buddy Urshela, who started a 5-4-3 double play to kill the Tribe’s potential rally.
McKenzie walked Voit to start the seventh before striking out the next two. Torres reached on an error at third by Ramirez to put two on, bringing Alomar Jr. out to the mound searching for relief in the person of Nick Wittgren. He got out of the mess and left it a two-run game by freezing Gardner on a fastball to strand a pair.
Britton returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh and the left-hander put the Indians in a good spot after striking out Hernandez and getting Ramirez to ground to short. The next ten pitches put Santana and Reyes on via walk and the Indians went to the bench, bringing on lefty-masher Jordan Luplow. Boone countered with right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga, but Luplow delivered the biggest hit of the game to that point with a blast to center over the head of Hicks and all the way to the wall, clearing both Santana and Reyes with a two-out, two-run double to tie the game at eight. Perez was hit on the right hand with a fastball (later exiting the game), to put a pair on for Naquin, but he grounded the first pitch that he saw to second for an inning-ending force out.
Wittgren worked himself into and out of a jam in the top of the eighth to keep the game tied. After catching Sanchez looking for out number one, he walked both LeMahieu and Judge to put the go-ahead runs on base. Hicks grounded into a force to put runners on the corners with two outs, but pinch-hitter Clint Frazier struck out swinging on three straight heaters to send the Tribe to their penultimate at bats.
Loaisiga made a mess of things in the home half. DeShields fell behind in the count 1-2 before drawing a walk. Four straight all over the place to Lindor put a second runner on for Hernandez. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was summoned to the scene of the crime and Hernandez did his best to repeat some history, blooping in a single to shallow left-center to score an alert and hustling DeShields from second to move the Indians back in front for the first time since the fourth inning at 9-8. With two on and no men out, Ramirez was punched out on a checked swing for the first out, and Santana grounded the next pitch to third, where Urshela made a stellar play from the seat of his pants to start a 5-4-3 inning-ending, rally-killing double play.
Hand, a perfect 16-for-16 in save opportunities in the regular season, came to center stage needing three outs to force a Game Three in the series. He walked Stanton, who was lifted for pinch-runner Mike Tauchman. On an 0-2 pitch, Urshela hit a save-me single back into center to move the tying run to second base. Torres chopped one back to Hand, who may have been thinking too much about trying to convert a double play and misplayed the hit, dropping the ball and allowing all three runners to reach safely to load the bases. Hand struck out Gardner after several foul balls for the first out, but Sanchez came through with a fly to center to DeShields, deep enough to score Tauchman with the tying run to knot the game at nine. Hand was one strike away from getting out of the mess with the score tied, but LeMahieu singled to center to score Urshela, while DeShields slipped and allowed the runners to advance and move into scoring position. Alomar Jr. retrieved Hand and turned to Cal Quantrill, who walked Judge on six pitches with first base open before striking out Hicks on three straight to leave the Tribe down a run.
Chapman came back on in search of the win and the series sweep in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out Reyes on three straight to start the inning. Luplow grounded a 1-2 pitch to short for an easy second out. Oscar Mercado pinch-hit for Sandy Leon and struck out swinging, but the ball skipped away from Sanchez and allowed the possible tying run to reach on the K while keeping the Cleveland hopes alive. Austin Hedges, pinch-hitting for Naquin, worked the count to 2-2, but struck out on a called check swing for the final out, ending the Indians’ postseason dreams just 75 minutes into October.
Carrasco started strong but ran out of gas in an ugly fourth. He left with the bases loaded and just one run allowed, but the grand slam by Urshela off of Karinchak changed his statline in a blink of an eye. Carrasco worked three-plus frames, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out six, but he was charged with four runs on the night.
“We had a 45-minute rain delay and Cookie had to go down and throw a few innings in the cages,” said Alomar Jr. “In that [fourth] inning, they started to catch up to him and he lost him command completely. I asked him and he said he was worn out. At that time we decided to go to Karinchak, which we mapped out in case Cookie could not go through three innings. You count on the guy throwing strikes but unfortunately he didn’t. It was a tough game. I feel like if we don’t’ go into that rain delay, Cookie would have bene fine.”
Karinchak did not retire a batter, giving up two walks after the big blast. Maton allowed a run on a hit with a walk in two innings, while McKenzie was tagged for two runs in an inning and two-third on just one hit with two walks and two strikeouts. Wittgren pitched a scoreless four outs despite walking a pair. Hand suffered his first blown save of the season with a horrific ninth, walking one and giving up three hits and the tying and go-ahead runs. Quantrill walked one and struck out one in a nine-pitch effort as the last line of Tribe defense.
“He couldn’t throw strikes,” said Alomar Jr. of Karinchak. “When he threw strikes, he left that ball right there for Urshela. Our bullpen is young. We don’t have guys that don’t light up that radar gun. We walked a lot of people. You put traffic [out there] and anybody can hit a home run on that team.”
The Indians jumped hard on Tanaka, who was charged with six runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts in four-plus innings of work. He had allowed just four runs over his previous three postseason outings coming into the game on Wednesday. Four relievers combined for three runs behind him, with two coming off of Britton despite not allowing a hit in an inning and one-third. Chapman gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth (charged to Loaisiga) while striking out four in two innings of work.
The Indians outhit the Yankees, 10-8, but despite going 6-for-15 with runners in scoring position, they stranded eight. Hernandez, Ramirez, and Perez each had a pair of hits. Ramirez drove in three. Naylor set a Major League record with hits in each of his first five career postseason at bats, but he was retired in his final two ABs of the day before he was lifted for Luplow. Both hitters in the six-spot (Naylor and Luplow) drove in two runs each with their doubles. Reyes struck out three times, but did draw a pair of walks and came around to score in both circumstances.
The Yankees’ hits were scattered all throughout the lineup as the batting order benefitted from 12 walks by Indians pitchers. Urshela was the only Yankees hitter to record a multi-hit game, using a grand slam and a single to drive in four and score twice. Stanton homered for the second straight night and drew two walks, scoring twice. Judge, Voit, Torres, and Gardner each walked twice. Hicks scored twice. Sanchez drove in three from the nine-spot in the lineup with a homer and a sacrifice fly.
The Yankees will head to San Diego and enter into the bubble ahead of their pending series against the Tampa Bay Rays. The number-one seeded Rays completed their two-game sweep of the “Buffalo” Blue Jays earlier in the day. The Indians will begin their offseason in what could be a busy fall and winter for the Cleveland organization as several players have options that will likely be declined with other players (Lindor) at the end of contracts that will likely see them dealt shortly after the Winter Meetings.
If you have read this far, thank you for taking the time to rehash the Indians’ 62nd and painfully final game of the 2020 season with us. The pandemic has certainly caused chaos around every corner and the relief provided by Major League Baseball was appreciated, even with disappointing results. Writing has always been a big escape for me but also leads to a heightened investment in everything baseball and everything Tribe, so this one stings.
There will be more in the coming days and weeks from Did The Tribe Win Last Night, but anticipate some delays in the coming days as we purge the memories of what was and what could have been and formulate our thoughts on the past while focusing on the new present and the future to come.
Thank you, and goodnight.
Photo: Joe Sargent/Getty Images