The New York Yankees know what it’s like to play do-or-die postseason baseball. Beating the Minnesota Twins in the American League wild-card game is what got them to this point. The Cleveland Indians know too. They still remember Game 7 of the World Series last year against the Cubs.
Now the Yankees and the Indians are on a do-or-die collision course. After the Yankees’ bats exploded in Game 4 and their pitching carried them to a 7-3 win, the two teams will meet Wednesday night back in Cleveland in an all-or-nothing elimination game.
The Indians came to New York up 2-0 in the series and certainly weren’t hoping to go home again still locked in a series against the Yankees. But the Yankees managed to eke out a 1-0 win Sunday night in Game 3 and they pounced on the Indians early in Game 4. Now the Indians, the World Series favorite entering October, face the very real chance of their season ending early. The Yankees, meanwhile, are hoping to become just the 10th team of 77 in MLB history to overcome a 0-2 hole.
How did this happen? A role reversal, really. It’s the Yankees whose pitching has been nearly invincible and the Yankees’ whose lineup keeps finding new ways to put runs across the board.
Give credit to Yankees starter Luis Severino, who rebounded from a disastrous wild-card game to pitch seven strong innings. Yeah, he gave up three runs on four hits, but he also struck out nine and turned the game over the mighty Yankees bullpen in the eighth inning with a four-run lead. It sure beats not making it out of the first inning, like the last time we saw him in Yankee Stadium. The bullpen, now facing Game 5, will take the extra rest.
Give credit to the Yankees offense, which wasn’t going to let a 1-0 game happen again. This time, it jumped all over Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who dominated the Bombers in Game 1. This time, it was Bauer who got knocked out in the second inning, after giving up four runs and getting just five outs.
The Yankees’ attack was consistent and diverse — a Todd Frazier double that opened scoring in the second followed by an Aaron Hicks single that plated Frazier. Aaron Judge still struck out four times in the game, but made his first and only ALDS hit count. It was a two-run double off the left-field wall. There was Starlin Castro scoring on an error in the third, Brett Gardner hitting a sac fly in the fifth and Gary Sanchez punctuating things with a sixth-inning homer.
The Indians, meanwhile, weren’t themselves. They committed four errors. Their usually fantastic pitching staff was under pressure almost constantly. They only mustered four hits. With their biggest bopper, Edwin Encarnacion still out with an ankle injury, the Indians’ offense has only managed three runs in the past two games.
Everything in this series is history now, though. All that matters is Game 5, where the expected starting pitchers are Yankees vet CC Sabathia and Indians Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Sabathia impressed in Game 2 before the Indians’ late comeback and Kluber got unexpectedly lit up. But Game 5 will define their series now.
Both the Yankees and the Indians have shown us what happens in elimination games — there are quick hooks, persistent tension and, inevitably, an unlikely hero or two. That’s what makes elimination games the best things in sports.
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