NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka shut down the Indians with seven strikeouts over seven innings and Greg Bird hit a tiebreaking solo home run to give the Yankees a 1–0 win over the Indians in Game 3 of the ALDS on Sunday night. The win saved the Yankees season and sends New York into a Game 4 on Monday night, when Luis Severino and Trevor Bauer will try to provide an appropriate sequel to Sunday's spectacular outings. Below are three thoughts from a splendid pitcher’s duel on Sunday night in the Bronx.
1. Holy Cow, What a Pitching Duel
Masahiro Tanaka’s tenure with the Yankees might be a case study in inconsistency, but he produced the most memorable outing of his career with the season on the line. Flummoxing the Indians hitters with his wipeout split-fingered fastball, Tanaka silenced Cleveland over seven innings, allowing just three hits and walking one. Outside of a Jason Kipnis triple in the fourth inning, the Indians could hardly muster any solid contact against the 28-year-old righty. On the heels of a seven-inning, 15-strikeout performance against the Blue Jays to conclude his season, Tanaka looks like the Yankees' best starting pitcher right now. He induced an astonishing 21 swings and misses, including seven on his sinker, a pitch he threw just 8% of the time during the regular season.
As unhittable as Tanaka was most of the night, it was his command that was most impressive. When he needed strikeouts, he got them. After Kipnis tripled off of Aaron Judge's wrist with one out in the fourth, Tanaka struck out Jose Ramirez and Jay Bruce to end the inning. After he walked Carlos Santana to start the fifth inning, Tanaka induced an inning-ending double play from Michael Brantley two batters later. Kipnis was the only Indians player to get past first base during Tanaka's outing. “He was brilliant. He gave us everything he needed and you can’t ask for more than what he did. It was a night where one run won it and he didn’t give up any," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said afterward. Following a 13-inning game that taxed the Yankees bullpen on Friday evening, Tanaka offered a masterpiece that allowed the relief corps to work effectively in the late innings.
Indians starter Carlos Carrasco matched Tanaka’s standout performance in his first career postseason start, but was relegated to second billing after a clunky sixth inning. Armed with a devastating slider and pinpoint control in the early innings, Carrasco carved through the Yankees' lineup the first two times through the order. He didn’t surrender a hit until a Didi Gregorius single in the fourth inning, and Gary Sanchez was the only Yankee to square him up for solid contact. Carrasco finished the night allowing three hits and three walks while striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings. If the Indians advance to the ALCS, they can take comfort knowing that Carrasco isn't fazed by the postseason. After Trevor Bauer's stupendous Game 1 outing and Carrasco's spectacular performance on Sunday, manager Terry Francona knows he has reinforcements available should prospective AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber struggle in his next start.
2. The Bird is the Word
Greg Bird broke the stalemate with a towering homer off of Andrew Miller—just the fourth homer given up by Miller this season and the second to a lefthanded hitter (the other was Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger). It was Bird’s second homer of the postseason, and a welcome moment for another promising Yankee youngster, but one who struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for most of 2017.
While fellow young stars Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez basked in the Gotham spotlight through the summer, Bird battled an ankle injury he suffered at the end of spring training in the season’s first month. After electing surgery to have a bone removed from the balky ankle, he’d miss 103 games and have to fend off questions about his season being over.
The Yankees cycled through first basemen in his absence (Chris Carter, Garrett Cooper, Tyler Austin, Rob Refsnyder, Ji-man Choi, Austin Romine and Chase Headley among others) before he finally returned on August 26th. He acclimated nicely, hitting a pedestrian .253, but adding eight homers to secure his spot on the postseason roster. His home run on Sunday night may be a mere footnote in the annals of Yankee postseason lore, but he kept the season alive and delivered Tanaka a deserved win.
3. Aaron Judge made a huge play despite a quiet night at the plate
Aaron Judge typically alters games with his bat, but it was glove and towering height that saved the Yankees from a potentially debilitating sixth-inning deficit. Having shown no life against Carrasco, the Yankees couldn't afford to trail with their season on the line. With the game knotted at zero, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor sent a Tanaka splitter soaring to rightfield.
While the average-sized human would leapt to try and save Lindor’s fly ball from becoming a home run, the 6’ 7" Judge merely bounced from his toes to steal a home run from Lindor (as well as notoriously irritating ballhawk Zack Hample). It was the closest that the Indians would get to a run the entire night, and Judge proved that he’s capable of affecting a ballgame in the field.