Yankees beat writer Pete Caldera on the Game 2 win and clinch of the AL Wild Card series at Cleveland.
CLEVELAND – Each time the Yankees saw a path to San Diego and advancement into the next round of playoffs, the Cleveland Indians answered back.
But the Yankees kept charging as Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning.
Down by a run in the ninth, Gary Sanchez’s game-tying sacrifice fly and DJ LeMahieu’s go-ahead RBI single pushed the Yankees to a 10-9 victory, clinching the AL Wild Card best-of-three series at Progressive Field.
Sep 30, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) celebrates his RBI single in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. (Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
WATCH: Gary Sanchez leaves mark on AL Wild Card series, homers to give Yankees Game 2 lead
In a wild Game 2 that had nearly everything but a swarm of Lake Erie midges, the Yankees advanced to play their heated 2020 rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays in a best-of-five AL Division Series that begins Monday.
“They’ve been the best team in our league all year,’’ said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “We’re excited to play the best team and hopefully have our way with them this time.’’
To earn their two-game sweep, the Yankees got to Indians’ closer Brad Hand, who was 16-for-16 in save chances this season.
October had officially arrived when Giancarlo Stanton’s leadoff walk and singles by Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres (infield hit) set things up in the ninth.
New York Yankees’ Gio Urshela celebrates while running the bases after hitting a grand slam off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher James Karinchak in the fourth inning of Game 2 of an American League wild-card baseball series Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Cleveland. (Photo: David Dermer, AP)
“One of the best games I’ve ever played in my life,” said Urshela, who belted a grand slam and started a sensational double play before his key, two-strike hit off Hand.
Aroldis Chapman registered the final out at 1:14 a.m., ending the longest nine-inning game in MLB history – postseason or regular season – at four hours and 50 minutes.
And that didn’t include one hour and 16 minutes’ worth of weather delays.
Back and forth
On Wednesday, starters Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Carrasco made early exits, with the Yanks completely erasing a four-run lead on Urshela’s go-ahead grand slam.
After Jose Ramirez’s game-tying, two-run double off Chad Green in the fifth, Sanchez’s two-run homer put the Yanks ahead in the sixth.
The Yankees’ trusted bullpen formula had to be triggered early, with Zack Britton used to induce a huge inning-ending double play on Francisco Lindor in the sixth.
But the Indians tied it against Jonathan Loaisiga in the seventh, showing how little trust the Yankees have in Adam Ottavino these days.
And those were Loaisiga’s inherited runners aboard in the eighth, when Cesar Hernandez’s soft RBI single off Chapman put Cleveland ahead 9-8.
One defensive moment aided the Yankees’ cause, as Urshela made a magical play at third base, sprawling to his left and throwing from a seated position to start an inning-ending double play against Carlos Santana.
Sep 30, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela (29) throws to second base on a double play in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. (Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Young and restless
Young pitchers with zero postseason experience had a miserable time this series, starting with Cleveland’s Cy Young Award cinch Justin Bieber in Game 1.
James Karinchak yielded Urshela’s go-ahead grand slam in the fourth, while Triston McKenzie gave up Sanchez’s tie-breaking two-run shot in the sixth.
And Loaisiga’s first assignment was replacing Britton after a pair of two-out walks in the seventh.
Acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. (a medical condition has kept Terry Francona sidelined) made the first eyebrow-raising move, using Jordan Luplow (.192) to bat for lefty-hitting Josh Naylor (5-for-7 with four extra-base hits this series).
Cleveland Indians relief pitcher James Karinchak waits before being removed during the fourth inning of Game 2 of the team’s American League wild-card baseball series against the New York Yankees, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Cleveland. (Photo: David Dermer, AP)
Yankees skipper Aaron Boone countered, bringing in the right-handed Loaisiga, who hung a breaking pitch that Luplow smashed 400 feet to center for a two-run double, making it 8-8.
The road back
During the Yankees’ 12-3 Game 1 victory Tuesday, Giancarlo Stanton was the only Yankee who hadn’t reached base – until he launched a massive ninth-inning solo homer.
Stanton homered again on his first at-bat Wednesday, giving the Yanks their first run.
And it was Stanton’s fourth inning walk that ended Carrasco’s night prematurely, setting up Urshela’s grand slam.
Aaron Hicks opened the inning with a line drive triple just over the head of center fielder Delino DeShields, who might have lost it in the lights.
Walks to Luke Voit and Stanton prompted the move to Karinchak, the hard-throwing right-hander from Orange County, N.Y., who had struck out 57 batters in 27 innings this season.
Sep 30, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand (33), center, watches from the dugout after blowing a save in the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field. (Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Karinchak had surrendered just one home run in 32 big-league appearances before Urshela drove his 3-and-2 delivery over the center field wall for a 5-4 Yankees lead.
“I feel like a different player, different mentality,’’ Urshela said before the game, recalling his unremarkable 10 years spent in Cleveland’s organization.
In the best-of-five 2017 AL Division Series, Urshela played in all five games for the heavily favored Indians, who blew a 2-0 lead in games and lost to the up-and-coming Yankees.
Traded to the Blue Jays and sold to the Yankees since then, Urshela has remade himself in 175 games as a Yankee, batting .310 with 27 homers and 104 RBI in the regular season.
“He’s been big for us all year, just a really good player,’’ said LeMahieu. “I really respect his game.’’
Pete Caldera is the Yankees beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Yankees analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and download our app.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @pcaldera