Game 2 of the Yankees-Indians ALDS ended Friday with Josh Tomlin on the mound and Jordan Montgomery warming up in the bullpen [rubs eyes] wait, that was still Game 2, right? And not Game 4?
This 13-inning, five-hour, eight-minute contest was the longest postseason game since the 14-inning Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, and it had a little bit of everything: injuries, challenges, non-challenges, media interference, and a Cy Young winner getting crushed. Let’s rank all the wild-ass shit that happened in Game 2, from least to most wild-ass.
8. Midge Game Symmetry
This was Cleveland’s first playoff walk-off win since the Cleveland–New York Midge Game 10 years and one day ago.
That’s so long ago that the night before the iconic contest CC Sabathia started Game 1 for Cleveland and beat Chien-Ming Wang.
7. Francisco Lindor’s Grand Slam in the Sixth and Jay Bruce’s Game-Tying Home Run in the Eighth
Let’s just get this out of the way — a home run like Bruce’s would make headlines in a normal game, but this game had too many twists and turns to dwell on something as trivial as a high-leverage game-tying home run.
They say that when you go down big early, you shouldn’t try to get it all back at once, but Lindor did, almost. His home run wasn’t the biggest single-play swing in win probability, but it brought Cleveland back into a game that had looked lost. Even so, the home run itself wasn’t nearly as bizarre as the circumstances that allowed him to hit it.
But more on that later.
6. Ronald Torreyes Getting Back Picked
Todd Frazier led off the 11th by reaching second base on an error, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi — figuring, probably correctly, that one run would win the game — decided to capitalize by pinch running with Torreyes. He lasted one pitch on second, as Indians catcher Yan Gomes threw behind Torreyes and made a perfect strike from his knees. Lindor slapped the tag on the small of Torreyes’s back — he looked safe by plenty in real time, but video review showed that Lindor’s tag hit Torreyes a fraction of a second before Torreyes’s hand hit the bag, snuffing out New York’s last threat of the game. Shades of David Ross and Javy Báez.
5. The Implosion of the Vaunted Yankees Bullpen
This was supposed to be a starting pitching mismatch, with Corey Kluber, the best pitcher in the AL in the second half, against the aging Sabathia. Sabathia pitched pretty well — he made it into the sixth and allowed just two earned runs, which by the standards of these playoffs pretty much makes him 1968 Mickey Lolich. If Sabathia could leave the game up five runs in the sixth, certainly the same bullpen that had bailed out Luis Severino in the wild-card game, when he left in the first inning down three runs, could finish the job. After all, it seems like every year the Yankees bullpen is so good that they could just do away with starting pitchers.
Not so. Not so even for mostly the same guys who had pitched so magnificently just three days before. Chad Green had a 1.83 ERA and a 13.4 K/9 ratio in 69 regular-season innings, and on Tuesday he put out Severino’s first-inning fire. On Friday he allowed the grand slam to Lindor, which cut an 8–3 Yankee lead to 8–7. On Tuesday David Robertson threw 3.1 scoreless innings and looked like he could’ve thrown 31 scoreless innings, but on Friday he left a fastball over the plate to Bruce, who hit it out and tied the game. FanGraphs rated the Yankees bullpen as the best in baseball this year; Baseball-Reference had them second best, and they saved the season on Tuesday. On Friday, however, they were charged with five runs, plus allowing an inherited runner to score, in 6.2 innings.
4. Kluber’s 20.25 ERA
The Yankees bullpen’s struggles explain how the team managed to lose even though Sabathia outpitched Kluber. Kluber just didn’t have it in Game 2. He allowed two runs in the first inning, which isn’t alarming on its own, but he threw 38 pitches, and innings that stressful tend to take a lot out of a pitcher. Kluber got through the second unscathed but in the third he allowed four more runs and recorded just two outs.
In last year’s playoffs, Kluber allowed seven earned runs in six starts and 34.1 innings — so far in 2017 he’s allowed six in 2.2 innings. Kluber earned a game score of 14 for his effort in Game 2 — only one of his 163 career regular-season starts was worse, a 4.2-inning, eight-run, 11-hit loss to Max Scherzer and the Tigers in 2013 that earned him a game score of 12.
3. The Camera Well Guy
With two out in the bottom of the 10th, Austin Jackson hit an infield single to the left of the pitcher’s mound. Aroldis Chapman, trying to make the play at first, overthrew first baseman Greg Bird, and the ball wound up headed toward the camera well behind the first-base dugout.
It would have gone into the camera well, but a cameraman threw up his hands in self-defense and knocked the ball back into the field of play. Girardi argued that the cameraman had reached out of the well, but Jackson was awarded second base nonetheless. Chapman intentionally walked Yan Gomes, then got Erik González to fly out on the first pitch and end the inning.
And frankly, that’s best for everyone involved. If Jackson getting the extra base had led to the game-winning run, that poor photographer, who was just doing his job, just trying not to get smoked in the kisser by Aroldis Chapman heat, would’ve turned into (at best) a meme or (at worst) New York’s Steve Bartman. Win or lose, you want to get through the game without any noncombatants getting famous.
2. Edwin Encarnación’s Ankle Injury
Long before his eventual game-tying home run, Bruce came up with the bases loaded and one out in the first. The Indians had already erased Kluber’s first-inning hiccup and were on the verge of chasing Sabathia, until Bruce lined the ball softly over second base. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius caught it, then dove alertly to second base to double off Encarnación, who stepped on the bag awkwardly, rolled his ankle, and left the game — and eventually, while wearing a walking boot and with the help of crutches, the stadium.
Encarnación was originally called out until Girardi challenged, and sure enough, in some split second between annihilating the connective tissue in his ankle and collapsing to the ground in pain, Encarnación lost touch with the base while Gregorius’s glove was touching him, and he was called out.
The optics of challenging the call aren’t great, and not only because Encarnación being called out by a review that took place while he was being helped off the field literally added insult to injury. This was the worst kind of instant-replay review — the kind designed to penalize gigantic men, traveling at high rates of speed, for not being able to stop on a dime. In other words, for obeying the laws of physics. It’s like tattling on your opponent for violating a technicality of the rules.
But Girardi had to challenge — this double-play ended what could have been the rally that put Cleveland out in front for good. The rules might be stupid, but those who don’t take advantage of stupid rules are destined to lose.
1. Lonnie Chisenhall’s Unreviewed HBP
Five innings later, Girardi didn’t challenge a play that actually did lead to a game-changing rally. With two men on and two out and the score at 8–3, Green tried to sneak an 0–2 fastball under Chisenhall’s hands. Well, not quite. Home plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled that the ball hit Chisenhall on the hand and awarded him first base to load the bases for Lindor.
That pitch came after Chisenhall, pinch-hitting for Giovanny Urshela, had fouled off the first six pitches of his at-bat, and the ball that put him on base should’ve made seven — it nicked the knob of Chisenhall’s bat and, since it deflected straight into catcher Gary Sánchez’s glove, should’ve ended the inning.
Two pitches later, Lindor homered to cut the lead from five to one.
The replay wasn’t the most conclusive in MLB history, but it probably would’ve led to an inning-ending and game-altering strikeout. But despite Sánchez’s immediate and emphatic protestations that the ball had hit Chisenhall’s bat, Girardi sat on his hands, incredibly, because he didn’t want to break up Green’s rhythm.
You know what else might’ve taken Green out of his rhythm? An inning-ending foul tip that would take the Yankees into the seventh inning up five runs. In playoff games, managers get two challenges in the first seven innings; it’s amazing enough that Girardi had found one play that important to challenge, and I can’t fathom what he was expecting to come up with in the seventh that would’ve been a better use for his second challenge.
It’s amazing that Girardi, given several hours to come up with a good reason why he hadn’t challenged that play, should’ve ever been put in that position. It’s a hallmark of a post-truth society that the facts aren’t freely available to everyone at all times and are instead applied as a strategic tool by managers who have enough to think about already without having to double as fact-checkers.
Maybe Girardi should’ve said something like that. It would’ve been less ridiculous.