What a wild, indelible, palpitation-inducing, gee-isn’t-playoff-baseball-somethin’ 13-inning, 9-8, five-hour come-from-behind Cleveland win, which gave the Indians a 2-0 ALDS lead over the Yankees. This was a strange one Friday: 16 runs in the first eight innings, just one in the next five… a few thoughts below:
WE WUZ KNOBBED!: Though the winning run was scored in the 13th, the game’s most consequential sequence came in the bottom of the sixth. The Yankees seemed in command, with an 8-3 lead and strong-armed strikeout machine Chad Green, who shined in the Wild Card Game Tuesday night, on the hill in relief of CC Sabathia. Green had entered the game with one out and a runner on first. He induced a fly-out before allowing a double to Yan Gomes. Still, though, Green had the edge, with a five-run lead, needing only one out to ship the win down the Yankees’ assembly line of flame-throwing relievers. With men on second and third, pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall stepped to the plate, immediately looking overwhelmed. He was late on six straight fastballs up and away, fouling them all off, mired at 0-2. But with his seventh pitch, Green came inside and hit Chisenhall on the hand.
Well, did he? The umpire said he did, and the Yankees didn’t review it. But Chisenhall didn’t react as though he’d been hit, and neither did catcher Gary Sanchez. And the television replay made it look an awful lot as though the ball had nicked the knob of Chisenhall’s bat before hitting Sanchez’s glove, which would have been an inning-ending strikeout. He took his base, though, and two pitches later, Francisco Lindor hammered a hanging slider off the foul pole at second-deck height. Cleveland was within 1, primed to be tied once Jay Bruce smacked a homer off David Robertson in the eighth.
While the Chisenhall play wasn’t reviewed, another pivotal one, in the eleventh inning, was. Leading off the inning, third baseman Erik Gonzalez airmailed a routine throw to first, which put Todd Frazier at second with no one out. (His throw was so errant it nearly drilled SI senior writer Tom Verducci, who was providing color commentary from the photographers’ box.) But with Brett Gardner at the plate, endeavoring to furnish a productive out, pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes strayed too far off second, prompting a snap throw from catcher Yan Gomes. Torreyes looked safe initially, and he was called safe. But a replay review showed that the tag had beaten the runner by just a few frames. Torreyes was extinguished along with the Yankees’ threat.
And Gomes’ night got better from there. With a grounder down the third-base line, on the 10th pitch of his at-bat against Dellin Betances, he drove in the game-winning run in the 13th.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH COREY KLUBER? Corey Kluber allowed five earned runs in 29 first innings all of 2017, a season in which, relatedly, he was the best pitcher in baseball. On Friday night, he allowed two runs before recording an out. All year, Kluber walked just five hitters in the first inning. On Friday night, he walked Aaron Judge—who would come around to score on Gary Sanchez’s homer—on five pitches. In 2017, Kluber was the game’s most efficient starter, averaging 14.5 pitches per inning. On Friday night, thanks to a Starlin Castro double, a Jose Ramirez error, and an absence of put-away stuff, Kluber needed 38 pitches just to get through the first, at which point his Indians trailed 2-0.
But Kluber’s second inning was placid, and perhaps the Indians figured his struggles were through. Indeed, with two out in the third, Cleveland held a 3-2 lead, rendering his early woes moot. And then:
• Starlin Castro singles on a sharp ground ball to left fielder Austin Jackson. Gary Sanchez scores.
• Greg Bird singles on a sharp line drive to right fielder Jay Bruce. Starlin Castro to 2nd.
Coaching visit to mound.
• Aaron Hicks homers (1) on a fly ball to right center field. Starlin Castro scores. Greg Bird scores.
Just like that, it was 6-3 Yankees; just like that, the best pitcher in baseball had his shortest start since May 2016, and his worst performance, runs-wise, since April. Last year, Kluber took all the way until the fourth inning of Game 7 of the World Series to allow his sixth run of the playoffs.
The bad news for Cleveland is that Kluber didn’t look anything like himself. His breakers and sinkers hung and spun; he had little in the way of control. The good news for Cleveland is that it was but one bad start. And it won.
UNSTEADY EDDIE: Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion rolled his ankle badly while stumbling back into second base on a caught line drive in the first inning. (It seems, postgame, like a lifetime ago…) Trainers had to help him off the field. Michael Brantley, on the mend from his own ankle injury, replaced him. Encarnacion’s official diagnosis was a sprained ankle; there was no word immediately following the game how much time he’d miss.
As for Friday night, the swap did Cleveland no favors: Encarnacion has a .273 career average against Sabathia in 55 at-bats, while Brantley entered with a 1-for-13 career mark against the lefty. (All told, he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts, leaving three men on base.) The bigger concern, though, is the series-level significance of Encarnacion’s injury, should he find himself unable to play the rest of the way. Manager Terry Francona had said before Game 2 that Brantley would probably start in left field on Sunday, which means Lonnie Chisenhall will likely be Encarnacion’s replacement at DH. Both are fine hitters; neither scares pitchers like Encarnacion does. Then again, the Yankees’ 2-0 deficit might be scary enough.