CLEVELAND — The New York Yankees did exactly what you think of when you think of the New York Yankees. They went deep, three times, and they still lost because the Cleveland Guardians’ looping and looping offense just won’t stop.
The Yankees hit three home runs, including a 449-foot shot by collapsed hitter Aaron Judge on Saturday, but lost a three-run ninth-inning lead to the small-ball Guardians, who beat New York 6-5 in spectacular fashion. Saturday. , taking a 2-1 lead in the AL Division Series and pushing New York to the brink of elimination.
Cleveland did it the same way a bunch of midges might annoy a bull, getting 15 hits, including 13 singles. The game-winner was about what the Touch Guards have been doing all season: Oscar Gonzalez bounced a two-out single down the middle with the bases loaded, tackling two runs to cap the game-winning three-run rally. .
The winner of the game sent a sold-out Progressive Field into a frenzy, as the grandstand vibrated noticeably as the winning runs were scored.
“Not any kind of pressure,” the unflappable Gonzalez said through an interpreter. “I just try to put the ball in play and get it out. I’m just glad it’s happening.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees had just five hits on the night, four of which were for extra bases, including home runs by Judge, Oswaldo Cabrera and Harrison Bader. But the power display faded after an injury-ridden bullpen proved to be a short arm.
That arm belonged to Yankee closer Clay Holmes, who was not used Saturday to protect the head after throwing 16 pitches in Game 2 Friday. Holmes was on the injured list at the end of the season with a shoulder problem, which complicates how the Yankees can use him against Cleveland.
“Part of the fact that he was available for this series wasn’t really in a back-to-back situation yet,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone explained. “He just hadn’t thrown a live or anything. So even though he was pretty good today and I expect him to be available tomorrow, it felt like we We had to stay away.”
New York’s decision to stay away from Holmes to maintain a two-point lead turned a lot of heads, although Boone suggested the plan to only turn to Holmes in an emergency was in seat before the game. In the Yankees clubhouse after the game, Holmes told reporters he was surprised he wasn’t used.
The late loss proved historic for the Yankees, baseball’s most storied postseason franchise. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Yankees were 167-0 when leading by multiple points entering ninth, the best record and longest winning streak in playoff history.
For Boone, the reality was that it might not have mattered if Holmes had pitched with the Guardians by putting every ball in play and placing them just out of reach of the Yankee outfielders as if they were a group of golfers at zero sticking an approach shot on the green. The Guardians hit a few deep flies during the game, but nothing that left the court. It didn’t matter.
“I think on a warmer night those balls are coming out and we would have gladly accepted that,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Rather than hanging their heads and pouting, they keep playing and good things are happening.”
For Gonzalez, a 24-year-old rookie outfielder from the Dominican Republic, the playoffs continue to be a coming-out party. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Gonzalez joined compatriot David Ortiz as the only players in MLB history with three hits in the 9th inning or later in a single postseason.
Along with all the breakout hits, Gonzalez is also winning the hearts of the baseball nation with his background music: the cartoon theme “Spongebob Squarepants.”
“As I start to come down from the bridge, I just thank God for another opportunity to get to the plate,” Gonzalez said through an interpreter. “I’m going there singing the song because [while] I have a great body, deep inside I feel like a child.”
In an age when hitting home runs is almost a prerequisite for winning the playoffs, when stringing together hits is so difficult, the Guardians — baseball’s youngest team — are doing it a little differently. Only one team hit fewer home runs during the regular season, but no team hit less frequently.
All of this was on display on Saturday.
“We obviously have a different style of baseball,” rookie Steven Kwan said. Kwan scored the tying run on Gonzalez’ game winner, just ahead of Rosario. “To see that succeed and to see that prevail, I think, is really rewarding for the game.”
Along with the roster’s top-down ability to make contact, Cleveland has formed a collective willingness to take what the opponent offers and then pass the baton to the next. Because more and more this next guy seems to be doing the job.
“We love and care for each other, [and] we know as long as we have the next guy, someone will do the job,” Kwan said. “Selfless baseball, moving the chains, and luckily it worked.
The Yankees are almost the opposite of the Guardians, which in October is usually a good thing. New York scored an MLB high with 51% of its runs this season at home runs. In the first three games of the series, 10 of New York’s 11 points have come by way of longball.
And yet, the midges keep winning as the Yankees are poised to be the juggernaut going down thanks to a thousand little bites. Those little shots didn’t seem so small at the end of the match, when Gonzalez turned around after his winning shot to see teammate Amed Rosario score his winning run. Gonzalez tossed his batting helmet high into the air, then raced to home plate to join in the fun with his jubilant teammates.
Losses like this at this time of year are hard to bear, but if you expect the Yankees to carry the disappointment from Saturday to Sunday night, when Game 4 is set to pit New York ace Gerrit Cole against right-hander of Cleveland Cal Quantrill, Don’t Tell Boone.
“Hell no,” Boone said emphatically. “No, not allowed. We’ll be ready to go.”
So will Guardians, who might only be armed with slingshots, but that’s got them this far. Another well-placed salvo could well push Cleveland one step closer to a World Series.
“[The win] we’re not going to change our style of play for anyone,” Kwan said. “As long as we keep rolling, we can do it.”