Guardians join Yankees in Game 2 and even ALDS

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees entered October on a tightrope, one they hoped to stay on for the World Series if they could somehow avoid slipping. If all goes well — if Aaron Judge hits, if their starters dominate, if their bullpen, well, survives — the Yankees could fight their way through this playoff. But if none of those things happen, let alone more than one, that team doesn’t seem to have the depth to avoid a downfall.

As the Cleveland Guardians rallied to beat them, 4-2, in extra innings, it became clear how thin that tightrope really is for the Yankees. Judge went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts against the Guardians’ dominant pitching staff, the Yankees offense couldn’t score again after Giancarlo Stanton’s first-inning home run, and when the four proven relievers left in the Yankees bullpen had come and gone, starter Jameson Taillon began his first career relief appearance by giving up two hits and the go-ahead.

“We didn’t expect this time of year to be easy,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “and nothing has been easy for us this year, especially in the second half of the season. “

A funny thing tends to happen in October in the Bronx, a phenomenon where if the Yankees lose it’s because they didn’t do enough, not because the other team did more. And in the case of the Guardians, to suggest the Yankees squandered Friday’s game would be to erase exactly what made Cleveland so good.

Guardians are built around a formation that makes contact and a pitching staff that avoids it. Three of the hits that led to runs on Friday — Andres Gimenez’s fourth-inning RBI single, Jose Ramirez’s 10th-inning double and Oscar Gonzalez’s single — had exit speeds below 80 mph . Against Nestor Cortes and the four relievers who followed the crafty southpaw, the Guardians only struck eight times. All players in the Guardians’ starting lineup reached base by hitting or walking.

“We’re just trying to find a way based on all the ways we have. If it’s a bloop hit, it’s a bloop hit; if it’s a single, a hard-hit double, whatever the case, we’re just trying to hustle,” said first baseman Josh Naylor, whose 10th-inning double was one of the few hard-hit balls smashes the Guardians made on Friday, although the speed of exit didn’t measure their effectiveness.

“We seem to have played in a lot of games where that’s the outcome,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s not an easy way to win, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. And thankfully, our guys are still going strong.

Four runs stood up because the Guardians are also built around a flamethrower bullpen, marked by depth and the swing-and-miss stuff — the kind the Yankees thought they needed to start the season before injuries and the Aroldis Chapman’s disappearance won’t let them cross their fingers.

Once Cortes and Cleveland starter Shane Bieber were both out of a draw in the sixth, that qualified as a distinct advantage for the Guardians given the state of the bullpen at the Yankees. And because of the odd day off after Game 1, followed by rain on Thursday, they faced the prospect of playing four games in four days if the series were to last five – a nightmare for even the healthiest of bodies. relief from the playoffs.

Cleveland’s bullpen pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings, seven of which came from hard-pitch closer Emmanuel Clase. Francona could afford to come close to winning this match, partly because he couldn’t afford to lose this match and partly because he has plenty of firepower available in the form of Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak and others if Clase needs a day. except Saturday. Again, Stephan and Karinchak must have thrown over 20 pitches each Friday. Both relievers will be tired.

Meanwhile, although the four most tried and tested remaining members of the Yankees bullpen – Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes – have combined to pitch four scoreless, no-hitter innings, all will be needed almost every night if the Yankees want to win the playoffs.

When Boone used them all for comfort on Friday, he turned to career starter Taillon in the 10th. And the Yankees bullpen blinked. To be fair to Taillon, he had pitched 143 times in the major leagues, none of which as a reliever. And to be fair to Taillon, the double bloop Ramirez greeted him with shouldn’t have led to a run if Josh Donaldson’s hasty attempt to catch him at second hadn’t flew over base, allowing Ramirez to dive. reach the third.

From third, Ramirez had no trouble scoring on Gonzalez’s bloop to right field. Then Naylor doubled Harrison Bader’s header into dead center field, one of the hardest hit balls the Guardians had all day. Taillon left the game after that, and the Yankees’ first attempt to push their battered bullpen beyond their comfort zone turned into a loss that sent the series to Cleveland on Saturday at one game apiece.

“Faced with two of their most dangerous hitters, we had weak contact,” Taillon said. “And the kind of baseball game happened there.”

The baseball game also hits Judge when the Yankees can least afford it. After going hitless in Game 1, he’s 0 of 8 in the series. The only thing the Yankees knew they needed in October, other than their bullpen to hold or their starters to keep games out of the hands of their bullpen or something in between, was Judge to be Judge. If it is not, their attack becomes very average.

“My timing is a little off, and I have to fix it,” Judge said. “That’s pretty much what it’s all about.”

But when the judge’s timing is a little off, the Yankees offense is way off. And when plays come to the bullpen, the Yankees can quickly run out of options. They are hardly doomed, just as the Guardians have done little to upset them. But the Yankees’ tightrope is growing increasingly fragile, and it’s unclear how long they can withstand the gravity that pulled them to earth for much of the second half of the season.

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