The Yankees’ first postseason appearance since 2015 lived up to every Bronx baseball fan’s expectations, and then some, after the Bombers won a back-and-forth, pitching merry-go-round American League wild-card game, 8-4, over the Twins to advance to the American League Division Series against the powerhouse Indians.
Yankee lefty Aroldis Chapman was one of several pitching heroes and worked a scoreless ninth to seal the victory, striking out the side, including Jorge Polanco to end the game, much to the delight of the sold-out 49,280 fans at Yankee Stadium.
“That’s what it’s all about, big-time players, they make big-time plays,” said Aaron Judge, who clubbed a two-run home run in his playoff debut to key the Bombers’ offense. “This team never panics, just go out there and keep playing our ballgame.”
Game 1 of the ALDS between the Yanks and the defending AL pennant champions is Thursday at Progressive Field in Cleveland at 7:30 pm.
By the time Aaron Judge drilled his first career postseason home run – a two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth inning off Twins reliever Jose Berrios that caused Yankee Stadium to shake from the raucous cheers – the starting pitchers for both clubs were long gone. Stud Yankee ace Luis Severino, who was 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA this season, wilted on the big stage in his postseason debut, lasting only a third of an inning. He gave up three runs on two homers by Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario. Minnesota veteran starter Ervin Santana was equally awful, pitching two innings and surrendering four runs.
But there were plenty of pitching stars to make up for the early dud performances. Right-handed reliever Chad Green replaced Severino, who walked off to a thunder of boos, and Green promptly struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro with two men on to end the first inning and escape further damage.
Green lasted two innings before David Robertson – yes, the one-time Yankees closer circa 2014 – entered in relief in the third inning with one out and the bases loaded. The Twins tied the game, 4-4, when Byron Buxton hit an RBI groundout, with the run charged to Green. Robertson struck out Castro to end the third and the wiry right-hander pitched 3.1 scoreless innings on the night.
Before Judge’s laser to left gave the Yankees some cushion, Didi Gregorius had socked a three-run home run in the bottom of the first to tie the game, 3-3. Brett Gardner put the Bombers ahead briefly with a two-out, solo home run to right in the second inning, his first postseason dinger as well. Earlier in the at-bat, Santana had buzzed Gardner with some high heat, but after he clubbed the homer, Gardner smiled the other way as he rounded first and he finished his home run trot by leaping to elbow bump Judge.
Judge, who heard “M-V-P!” chants every time he came to bat Tuesday, screamed as he rounded first following his first career playoff homer. . Judge was 2-for-4 with a walk, two RBI and three runs scored. Yankee rookie first baseman Greg Bird had an RBI single.
Before first pitch Tuesday, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gushed that Severino was the best starter to give the club a chance to advance past the American League Wild-Card against Minnesota.
“(Severino) has been our best. That’s the bottom line. When you’re in a situation like this, you give the ball to the guy who’s been your best all year,” said Cashman.
But it was a short-lived outing. Severino only recorded one out, and it was courtesy of Todd Frazier, who made a difficult tumbling catch against the rolled-up tarp along the left-field foul wall on a Joe Mauer pop fly.
PLAY OF THE GAME
In the bottom of the second, Byron Buxton made a leaping catch of a Todd Frazier liner to dead center. Buxton snared the ball in mid-air with his back to the wall and then crashed into the center field padding. Buxton stayed in the game after the spectacular grab, but was replaced by Zack Granite two innings later. Buxton left the game with upper back tightness.
Aaron Judge’s two-run homer in the fourth. The blast brought the Stadium to its feet and the momentum was fully tilted in the Bombers’ favor.
STAR OF THE GAME
Take your pick of offensive or pitching stars, but Aaron Judge gets the nod. The rookie outfielder and MVP candidate hit his first career playoff home run, scored three times and went 2-for-4 with a walk and two RBI.
STAT OF THE DAY
0.1 innings. That was the length of Severino’s start Tuesday, which matched the shortest start by a Yankees pitcher in postseason history for the third time. Art Ditmar also pitched 0.1 innings and gave up three runs in Game 1 of the 1960 World Series at Pittsburgh; Bob Turley pitched 0.1 innings and gave up four runs in Game 2 of the 1958 World Series at Milwaukee (NL).
Luis Severino. His playoff debut was a performance to forget: one-third of an inning, four hits (including two homers), three runs, one walk, zero strikeouts. Severino threw just 29 pitches.
Gary Sanchez. The Yankee catcher took a foul tip to the groin during Brian Dozier’s sixth-inning at-bat, but remained in the game. He also went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
THURSDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
RHP Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19)