Pitching matchups don't get much better than this and Saturday night's showdown between two of the best starting pitchers on the planet didn't disappoint.
Dueling under the lights at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber both twirled seven innings, striking out 20 hitters combined. The aces went back and forth, flexing nasty stuff while trading scoreless frames and painting the corners with ease.
It was a two-homer inning for New York in the fifth off Bieber, including a go-ahead solo blast from Rougned Odor, that proved to be the difference as the Yankees eked out a 2-1 victory, their third win in a row.
The first three innings flew by as both starters found their grooves. Bieber allowed two base runners to reach in the top of the first, but turned around and retired the next 11 batters he faced.
In the fourth, Cleveland jumped out to an early lead. After a triple off the bat of Jose Ramirez, in and out of the glove of Aaron Judge at the right-field wall, Eddie Rosario delivered a one-out RBI single.
Leading off the top of the fifth, however, the Yankees stormed back on offense. Center fielder Aaron Hicks got a hold of a two-strike fastball up in the zone, swatting a 395-foot home run.
"It was pretty much a pitchers' duel till then. To tie the game up right there was huge," Hicks said. "It started to change the momentum into our favor and Odor came up and hit a home run as well. It definitely was nice to tie the game up and then take the lead."
Three batters later, Odor mashed a no-doubter 426 feet to right-center field, flipping his bat and firing up the Yankees dugout with another big hit.
It was déjà vu for Cleveland as Hicks and Odor went deep in the same inning on Friday night as well, bringing New York back from a three-run deficit in a 5-3 comeback win.
From there, Cole took care of business. The right-hander finished with 11 punch outs, retiring the final 11 batters he faced. He threw a season-high 111 pitches, allowing just three hits without issuing a single walk.
"He was terrific in a game where we needed him to be really, really good because we're up against a really good one as well," manager Aaron Boone said. "He answered the bell again."
As soon as Cole arrived in the Yankees Zoom room after the game, the ace was already thinking of ways he could improve, breaking down the few pieces of hard contact the Indians had rather than focusing on his overall dominance.
"I think we just made some good pitches when we had to," the ace explained. "A little bit of that was my own doing. Again, some three-ball counts that I would like to clean up sooner rather than later, but we were convicted to some pitches in some situations where they were going to be aggressive and we executed."
New York's bullpen took over in the eight as lefty Justin Wilson and right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga got the final six outs. With closer Aroldis Chapman off after pitching in each of the last two wins in Cleveland, Loaisiga secured a four-out save, the first save of his career.
Cole is now 3-1 on the season, taking his ERA down to 1.71 through 31.2 frames.
The Yankees can sweep the Indians with a win on Sunday, closing out the four-game set with right-hander Jameson Taillon on the mound.
Regardless of the result on Sunday, this is a completely different team. New York had lost nine of their last 12 games entering this eight-game road trip. Now, swinging hot bats with strong pitching performances every time out, they've put together a three-game winning streak and are hungry for more.
"We're definitely starting to play better and play well," Boone said, praising the complete team effort. "I think they're building on their confidence and starting to expect to walk in here and expect things to happen. So it's been definitely encouraging here and to win a really well-pitched low-scoring game tonight is another good one to put in the win column."
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