- A sterling bullpen performance and a well-rounded offensive performance propelled the Yankees to an AL Wild Card Game win over the Twins. New York now moves on to face the Indians in the AL Division Series.
When Brian Dozier homered on the fifth pitch of the game and cleanup hitter Eddie Rosario added a two-run home run three batters later, it appeared that the Twins could finally shed the Yankee curse that has haunted the franchise since 2002. They were up 3–0 with No. 1 starter Ervin Santana ready to take the hill. By the time Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer to give the Yankees a 7–4 lead in the bottom of the fourth, it was clear that 2017 wasn't the year to realize that dream. The Yankees defeated the Twins 8–4 in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, sending New York to play the Indians in the AL Division Series. The Twins finished the season as the first team to make the playoffs after losing 100 games the previous season.
Here are three thoughts on an entertaining affair on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
1. Luis Severino had nothing working … but neither did Ervin Santana
Whether it was October jitters or an inability to get warm, Yankees starter Luis Severino endured his worst outing of the season in the biggest start of his career. The 23-year-old hurler lasted just 1/3 of an inning and surrendered four hits and three earned runs over just 29 pitches. Dozier belted a home run—his 22nd since the All-Star Break—to lead off the game and electrify a Twins dugout and hush a raucous sellout crowd. After a walk to Jorge Polanco, Rosario tucked a line drive over the rightfield short porch to give the Twins a 3–0 lead, further quieting the crowd and putting the Yankees in a desperate early hole. Severino then allowed an Eduardo Escobar single and a Max Kepler double, prompting Joe Girard to lift the young starter in favor of Chad Green, who struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to hold the deficit at 3–0.
Those strikeouts were essential to the Yankees staying in the game. Despite the rollicking start to their first playoff game since 2010, the Twins received a comparably weak inning from Santana, who surrendered the three-run lead in four hitters. After walking Brett Gardner and allowing a single to Aaron Judge, Santana offered a tepid fastball to Didi Gregorius, who pulverized the offering into the rightfield bleachers. By the time the first inning concluded, the teams had combined for three homers and six hits over 45 minutes.
Unlike Severino, Santana returned for the second inning, which would be his last. After Jacoby Ellsbury popped up for the first out, Todd Frazier smashed a Santana offering to centerfield. What should have been an extra-base hit was instead tracked down by Byron Buxton for a spectacular catch, but one that forced Buxton to leave the game with upper back tightness. After surrendering a 400-foot out to Frazier, Santana offered another flat fastball to Brett Gardner, who hammered it into the second deck to give the Yankees a 4–3 lead. It was the fourth home run of the night, and a merciful conclusion to a terrible exhibition of starting pitching.
2. David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle delivered memorable, gutty outings
Despite entering the season with one of the most formidable eighth and ninth inning duos in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees sought middle relief help around the trading deadline. Ever the vigilant general manager, Brian Cashman acquired former Yankee closer David Robertson and reliever Tommy Kahnle in July, giving Joe Girardi a host of formidable options should that day's starter struggle. After Severino's miserable outing and an effective, if incomplete effort from reliever Chad Green, the Yankees turned to Robertson in the fourth inning.
Robertson entered the game having thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings and a 1.03 ERA since joining the Yankees on July 21st. On Tuesday, he delivered a performance that may have saved the Yankees' season. He set career highs with 3 1/3 innings and 52 pitches and scattered three hits while striking out five and walking one. While the Twins spent the first four innings working counts and spraying hits, Robertson forced them into a host of awkward swings, quieting a lineup that jolted the Yankee staff in the opening innings. Kahnle followed Robertson's performance with 2 1/3 perfect innings to silence the Twins. If you need any further proof that Cashman is probably the best working executive in baseball, this game is a good piece of evidence.
Between Green, Robertson, Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees bullpen finished the night with 8.2 IP, four hits, one earned run and 13 strikeouts.
Now that they've moved on to the ALDS against the Indians, the Yankees boast arguably the deepest bullpen of any playoff team. It's an asset that could propel them deep into October.
3. Aaron Judge is still amazing
Aaron Judge's spellbinding rookie season will earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors, a Silver Slugger Award and, if he's fortunate, the AL MVP. He's revered for his plate discipline and his unwavering demeanor. He broke a horrific late-season slump by homering 15 times in September and hitting .311. After just 183 games of big league service, Judge has become one of the game's indispensable players. But what he does best, and always will, is hit the ball harder and farther than anybody on the field.
On Tuesday night, Judge launched his first career playoff homer off of Twins reliever José Berríos at an exit velocity of 108.6 MPH and a launch angle of just 19 degrees. Unlike the towering shots that the fans have become accustomed to, Judge's home run was a laser beam that barely cleared the left field wall, his 16th homer since September 1st. Judge finished the night 2-for-4 with three runs scored, and while the home run may have sealed the win for the Yankees, his first-inning single helped destabilize the tension that built after the Twins took their three-run first inning lead.
In a year dominated by young superstars, Judge's presence has electrified the nation. His performance on Tuesday night further solidified why he'll loom so large over the game for years to come.