It’s the first Friday of the MLB post-season and that means we get four games played over roughly 12 hours (please let that be a maximum) to carry us Canadians into our Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll be watching it all and letting you know what you can take away.
Only Lonnie Chisenhall really knows whether that pitch hit him or not. It’s his hands, his bat, his nerve endings that either stung with the impact of a Chad Green fastball or didn’t.
It was the sixth inning and the borderline hit by pitch loaded the bases, which makes it even more curious that the Yankees — a team that won 75 per cent of its challenges during the regular season — didn’t challenge the call and help protect their 8-3 lead. Really, what did Joe Girardi have to lose?
A whole lot, it turns out. Moments later, Green left a slider on the plate, and Francisco Lindor hit it 408 feet, off the right-field foul pole for a grand slam that brought Cleveland within a run.
That set the stage for Jay Bruce to tie it in the eighth, clobbering a David Robertson cutter over the left-centre-field wall and complete a five-run comeback. Not a lot happened for a few hours after that. But Cleveland finally pulled it off in the 13th, Yan Gomes driving in the winning run off Dellin Betances (who Girardi rode until the wheels fell off) at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat.
Really, the Yankees should have won this game. They were up by five and in need of only 10 more outs. And you can trace their entire collapse back to that Chisenhall hit by pitch, which may not have been a hit by pitch at all. Now, New York goes home, demoralized, needing to win three straight to stay alive.
And, as you might imagine in a 13-inning, five-hour-and-nine-minute game, some other stuff happened too. Let’s talk about it.
Earlier in the afternoon, when this marathon began, the likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber took the mound with Cleveland feeling pretty good about itself. Yankees hitters had been neutered the day before by Trevor Bauer — and of the many things Kluber is, a better pitcher than Trevor Bauer is one of them.
But one swing of Gary Sanchez’s mighty bat cut right through all that confidence. The Yankees catcher jumped all over a 3-1 Kluber cutter in the very first inning Friday, depositing the pitch 406-feet away over the centre-field wall. And that was only the beginning of what became a 38-pitch first for Kluber, the first time he’s thrown more than 30 in a single frame since early July.
And it went downhill from there. Kluber made it through the second, but didn’t see the end of the third, as the Yankees strung together a series of singles before Kluber hung a breaking ball to Aaron Hicks, who pulled the ball over the wall in right for a three-run shot. Kluber ended up giving up as many runs Friday — six — as he did in all of September.
For whatever reason, Kluber simply didn’t have his best command on this day, missing too far off the plate for balls and too far on the plate for strikes that were driven in the opposite direction. The pitch to Hicks was a 2-2 breaking ball, the type of pitch Kluber usually buries for swing-and-miss, but this time left all over the plate.
The good news for Cleveland is it won in the end. The bad news for Cleveland is its ace didn’t look very good at all. But one thing Kluber didn’t do even once this season was pitch back-to-back bad outings. Expect the AL’s best pitcher to come back looking like his usual nasty self the next time he takes the mound.
Despite taking a commanding lead in the series, Cleveland does not come out of this one without dilemma. That’s because one of their most dangerous hitters, Edwin Encarnacion, left the game with what appeared to be a significant ankle injury suffered while darting back to second base on a lineout double play.
The team is calling it a sprained ankle for now with further testing on the way. But Encarnacion was in significant discomfort as he was helped off the field and ESPN’s Buster Olney spotted him on crutches and in a walking boot as he left the stadium, which is certainly a foreboding image.
Michael Brantley, who came into Friday having made only three plate appearances since Aug. 8 when he went down to an ankle injury of his own, suddenly becomes a very important factor for this team. Assuming Encarnacion misses time, Brantley will likely draw a start in Game 3 in his place. The 30-year-old’s a skilled hitter, but there are very legitimate questions to be asked about the level of rust he’s carrying after such a long layoff.
But Cleveland won without Encarnacion Friday. And, considering the astonishing things it’s done in the postseason so far, it’s a good bet it can win without him again.
So, it was the bottom of the sixth inning Friday and the Astros had runners on the corners with one out. Alex Bregman stepped in and lifted a lazy fly ball about 200-feet up the right-field line, where it fell into the glove of Mookie Betts. The ball wasn’t nearly deep enough for a sacrifice fly, but it very quickly turned into one as Betts took the ball out of his glove, cocked his throwing arm back, and dropped the ball behind him. That allowed Marwin Gonzalez, who had already retreated toward third, to scamper home.
The very next pitch? A double scorched to left field by Carlos Correa, scoring two. The pitch after that? An Evan Gattis single crushed to the wall in left, scoring another.
That’s exactly how this series has transpired for the Boston Red Sox, who have completely failed to launch and find themselves on the brink of elimination. And it’s exactly how the series has gone for the Astros, who have been all over Boston’s pitching through two games, and have thoroughly capitalized on every mistake the Red Sox have made.
Boston has looked discombobulated through it all, and Houston hasn’t allowed them an inch to breathe. Like on Friday, when, for the second day in a row, the Astros got out to a two-run first-inning lead and never looked back.
This time it was Correa with the big early swing, putting a hurting on a Drew Pomeranz fastball at the end of an eight-pitch at-bat for a two-run homer. And Houston’s blitzkrieg continued in the third as George Springer went deep, Bregman doubled, and the ridiculously locked-in Jose Altuve came up with his fifth hit in his first six at-bats of the series, driving Pomeranz from the game.
David Price, pitching 2.2 innings out of the bullpen, held the Astros in check temporarily, but only until the sixth when Betts dropped the ball and Houston went for the kill.
Boston’s chances of winning this series now sit somewhere between nonexistent and remote, as they head home to Fenway Park down two-nil with Doug Fister — he of the 4.58 ERA since the beginning of 2015 — trying to become the first Red Sox starter to contain this shock-and-awe Astros offence. Good luck with that.