For the New York Yankees, postseason survival came down to a couple guys whose seasons were clouded with frustrations. There was Greg Bird, the oft-injured slugger, who hit a mammoth seven-inning homer that was the game’s only run. And there was Masahiro Tanaka, he of the 4.74 regular-season ERA, who pitched as good as any starter we’ve seen this postseason.
Postseason heroics trump regular-season frustrations, so nobody will be concerned with Bird’s ankle or his toughness come Monday. And they won’t be questioning Tanaka’s elbow either.
But they will be talking about how Tanaka’s seven shutout innings made sure Bird’s solo homer was enough for a 1-0 win in Game 3 of the Yankees’ American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.
It was Bird and Tanaka, peeling the Yankees’ backs off the wall. It was Bird and Tanaka undoing every bit of regular-season grief in 2017’s most important game. It was Bird and Tanaka doing when the Yankees could have been dying.
And now the Yankees must do again — on Monday, in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, still facing a 2-1 deficit in the series but now with a positive first step toward coming back from 0-2. Luis Severino will pitch for the Yankees. The Indians are going with Trevor Bauer, who dominated the Yankees in Game 1.
“Plain and simple I’m not ready to be done playing and I don’t think the team is either,” Bird said after the game.
Tanaka had his splitter working gloriously Sunday night, with swing-and-miss after swing-and-miss. Twenty of them total. He struck out seven and allowed three hits. It was enough to make Indians Carlos Carrasco — who was unhittable for a spell too — unquestionably the second-best pitcher on the field.
The two of them were engaged in quite the pitcher’s duel early. The Yankees didn’t muster a hit against Carrasco until the fourth. And the Indians only got two runners into scoring position the whole night. The Yankees’ combo of relievers — David Robertson and then five outs worth of Aroldis Chapman — were able to do the rest, save for a ninth-inning Indians threat. But Chapman came up big the Yankees, particularly when the Indians got runners at first and second in the ninth. All told, Chapman threw 34 pitches, and 30 of them topped 100 mph.
Things also got tense in the sixth inning, on both sides. Francisco Lindor hit what might have been a two-run homer to right field if not for Aaron Judge making a leaping catch to steal it away. Judge had misplayed a ball in right field in the fourth inning, giving Jason Kipnis a triple and the Indians their best chance to score. Judge more than made up for it with this homer-stealing catch, which only proved more important as the game continued.
In the Yankees half of the sixth, they were able to get Carlos Carrasco out of the game by loading the bases with two outs. It forced Cleveland skipper Terry Francona to bring out his ace reliever (and former Yankee) Andrew Miller, who was able to get Starlin Castro to pop out to shallow left field to keep the score knotted at zero.
But the Yankees were able to capitalize in the next inning, when Bird took a 1-1 fastball from Miller deep into the Yankee Stadium stands. Incredibly, it was just the third homer that Miller has given up to a left-handed hitter since coming to the Indians in July 2016.
Now the Yankees must capitalize once again if they want to reach a Game 5.
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