Bronx, N.Y., October 8, 2017; Yankees 1, Cleveland 0 — It was a hopeful, nervous, but mostly disgruntled fanbase that showed up at Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the ALDS Sunday night. With their team down 2-0 in games and on the cusp of elimination,, virtually to a person the crowd believed that the Yankee players had earned a split their manager had deprived them of in Cleveland, and there were mixed emotions all around.
But imagine a game — or any form of entertainment — that slowly takes control of your thoughts and emotions, your head and your heart, to an extent that there is simply no chance to dwell on what took place an hour, much less two days, ago. Or to hope on what you really want to happen tomorrow.
This was such a game. Righthanders Carlos Carrasco and Masahiro Tanaka were in total control, with each suffering one misstep. In Tanaka’s case, it was surrendering a one-out triple to right field to center fielder Jason Kipnis in the fourth inning. Aaron Judge used every inch of his massive body to reach and capture the ball, but to no avail. But 10 pitches later Masahiro had struck out the third and fourth place hitters in Cleveland’s vaunted lineup.
Carrasco was no slouch. He held the Yankees hitless into the fourth inning until Didi Gregorius stroked a two-out single. And he walked only one along with that hit while striking out seven through five. Tanaka would match him in the strike out category, and he kept the AL Central Champs off the board through seven.
New York would not score on Carrasco either, but he ran out of luck in the sixth, as two singles and two walks around a double play sent him to the showers. One-time Yankee uber-reliever Andrew Miller, whom the Indians paid a king’s ransom in players to acquire for the stretch run a year ago, was summoned, and he quickly put out the fire, coaxing a harmless popup out from Yankee second sacker Starlin Castro.
Imagine now that Miller, one of the league’s premier lefthanders, was brought back out to face Yankee first baseman Greg Bird, a lefty hitter who had missed most of the last two years due to injury. But following a ball and a fouled strike, Bird did the unthinkable, blasting a home run high and deep — but think really, really high — inside the right field foul pole. I forgot that, with one exception, I did not know any of the people around me, and they forgot it too; the celebration was that good.
There was no Yankee followup. One out later Tyler Olson, yet another southpaw with a Yankee connection — he pitched all of one game for the club in 2016 — who pitched in 30 games for the Tribe with an 0.00 era this year, came out and struck out two. Joe Smith, a veteran righty with a knack for missing bats, struck out New York’s two best best power threats in the eighth.
Imagine now that Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, a man so disliked by the fanbase after Thursday’s 9-8 loss in a game the team was leading 8-3 that he was booed more lustlily than the opposing players in pregame ceremonies, made the call to replace Tanaka with two frames to go. Imagine that it didn’t go perfect, but it did go well, and that at 10:56 when Brett Gardner squeezed Carlos Santana’s fly ball to left, we all walked out of the place winners.
Aroldis Chapman deserves big props for recording the last five outs, four of them with swinging K’s, and also third baseman Todd Frazier, who corralled one of the two hits Chapman gave up in the ninth with a dive into the shortstop hole, keeping the tying run on second. He couldn’t make a throw to complete the play, but it was a game saver nonetheless.
So weather permitting (which seems doubtful), the Yanks face visiting Cleveland Monday night with their backs to the wall, but one game from tying the best of five. They will pitch young ace Luis Severino, who struggled badly opening the postseason for the team last Tuesday. He definitely has the (pitching) stuff to compete, but does he have what it takes?
It was on this day in 1971 that John Lennon released his second solo album, Imagine, featuring that iconic song, in the UK. All you have to do is believe that a young Yankee righthander who had a superb year will bring his “A” game to the mound when this series resumes. Imagine that he does. And then imagine that the Yanks pull off the unexpected, and take another game in Cleveland to take three straight and the best of five series. Imagine that nobody remembers that we all thought we should have won Game 2 once the series is won, and Joe Girardi’s reputation as a great manager is restored. Can you imagine that? I can.