The Yankees led the league in walks and on-base percentage this year. But when you’re facing the best, there’s no use waiting around.
The Yankees have a well-earned reputation around the league for grinding out at-bats. Aaron Hicks, DJ LeMahieu, and Brett Gardner are exceptionally gifted in working the count and flicking off foul balls with two strikes on them.
Combine the walks (251 this year) with a team that hits home runs in bunches (four last night, including three with men on base), and you have a Yankees team ready for a match-up against the eventual Cy Young winner in the AL, Shane Bieber.
Yankees Turn The Table Over
Except the Yankees turned the tables on their patient at-bat skills last night by employing a different approach at the plate against a flustered Bieber – a newly patented get ’em early, get ’em quick strategy.
Typically, most teams, including the Yankees, will adopt a let’s get his pitch count up strategy when facing a pitcher of a caliber like Shane Bieber. It’s more of a defense than offense, but often it does work, especially when the opposing team has a weak bullpen.
Last night, though, it took DJ LeMahieu three pitches to line a single to right field and one pitch to Aaron Judge (a high and in fastball) for the Yankees to blast out of the gate with a 2-0 lead.
Judge set the tone of the game, and as followers of baseball get to know and sense – as soon as Gerrit Cole zipped through two or three innings – the game was all but over.
Predictably, when a game turns on edge early as it did last night, there’s usually a few seeing-eye ground balls that sneak through the infield, or maybe a close pitch that doesn’t go the way of Bieber that frustrate even more.
There were two consecutive infield singles from Kyle Higashioka and LeMahieu in the third inning. Gio Urshela golfed at a curve (video below) that Bieber buried well below the zone. Somehow Urshela found a way to push it through the infield for a base hit.
Still trying to recompose my brain into solid matter so I can understand how Gio Urshela golfed this curveball pic.twitter.com/0Ygxce0Uvj
— Bradford ("playoff b") William Davis (@_beewilly) September 30, 2020
All Hail Gerrit Cole
In contrast to Bieber’s night, Gerrit Cole pitched every bit like the ace the Yankees wooed over the winter to the tune of $324 million.
Almost effortlessly, Cole breezed through the Indian’s lineup, recording thirteen of twenty-one outs over seven innings by strikeout. Twenty-seven Cleveland batters faced Cole, and seventeen immediately went in a hole with strike one.
The Indians 3-4-5 hitters, including red-hot Jose Ramirez, managed only one hit in eleven tries at Cole. Oddly, it was a .230 batting Josh Naylor, who appeared in only 22 games, who nicked Cole for four of the either Indians hits against the Yankees ace.
The Yankees Have It Their Way
As we discussed yesterday, though, this is how it goes in the crapshoot known as baseball’s postseason.
Can anyone explain how Shane Bieber can have his shortest outing (also against the Yankees) since June of 2019 last night, a game in which he also surrendered more runs than any of his starts this season?
Or that Gleyber Torres, who has been stumbling and fumbling both offensively and in the field all season, can go 4 for 4 with a walk, scoring three and drive in three more runs.
It’s playoff baseball, and it’s the reason why Shane Bieber, who will not get another crack at the Yankees or anyone else this year unless the Indians win the next two, will have all winter to think to himself – “How the hell did he hit that pitch? It was perfect.”
Yankees Look To Do It Again
And so it will be for Masahiro Tanaka when he takes the hill for the Yankees tonight with a reputation as a nail-it-down postseason pitcher who has won five of eight starts while posting a 1.76 ERA.
What fate awaits Tanaka?
Will Aaron Boone dare allow Gary Sanchez to catch Tanaka’s signature pitch, a diving split-finger ball that needs to be blocked as it hits the dirt?
And what will Tanaka’s mindset be as he makes what could be his last start as a free-agent to be wearing the Yankee pinstripes?
And what about the Yankees bats that scorched thirteen runs last night – was that an anomaly – or a sign of even better things to come?
Aaron Boone and his staff deserve all the credit for devising an off-beat (for the Yankees) strategy against the Indians last night.
What more, his players bought into the strategy and executed it with precision.
The Yankees are one step away from escaping the crapshoot of a short series and moving on to a day-off before a more comfortable and familiar best of five series awaits them in the ALDS.
You have to like what we saw last night. Meatloaf tells us that two out of three ain’t bad – but two out of two sure sounds a lot better at this stage of the game.