Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Road from the Bronx to Cleveland...

Credit:  Frank Franklin II-AP
American League Wild Card Game
Yankees 8, Twins 4...

Eventually, the Minnesota Twins will find the answer for their struggles in the Bronx but this will not be one of those years. Admittedly, I was not feeling too good after Luis Severino had given up three runs on two homers in the opening inning and the Twins were threatening for more with only one out. But exit Severino and enter the stellar Yankees bullpen, plus a few timely home runs, and the Yankees found themselves with a date with the Indians in Cleveland for the American League Division Series.  

For Luis Severino, it was a game to forget. Whether it was his youth and/or his lack of post-season experience, he was overwhelmed and unable to find any of his pitches. He needs to have another talk with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, this time about life in October. It was a learning experience for the youngster and I am sure that he'll be stronger for it as we move forward.  

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The Twins quickly took the lead when Brian Dozier led off the game with a home run that landed in the first row of the left field stands, bouncing off a fan's hands and back onto the field. Still, I thought that it was something that Sevy could overcome. He got the next batter, Joe Mauer, to pop up which Todd Frazier caught in foul territory for the first out. But then Sevy was unable to put away Jorge Polanco and walked him. Eddie Rosario hit a line drive to right that carried out, and it was 3-0 Twins. Manager Joe Girardi picked up the phone to get the bullpen ready. Eduardo Escobar singled to left center, and Max Kepler followed with a double to right, moving Escobar to third. Unfortunately, it was evident, by then, that Severino was not going to overcome the jitters. Girardi made the call to the bullpen and brought in Chad Green. Using Girardi's words, it's not what you want.  But the decision to go to Green paid off with two huge strikeouts of Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to hold the game to a three-run deficit. There's no question that the Twins could have easily escalated it to five runs or more. Holding the Twins to only three runs was tremendous, and the set the stage for the events to follow.

The game was billed as a battle of Dominican Republic pitchers. Ervin Santana, the Twins ace, was born about 70 miles away from Severino's hometown. Santana, carrying an 0-5 record in six starts at Yankee Stadium, had been asked how many wins he had at Yankee Stadium earlier this week and he responded that Tuesday would be one. Tuesday has passed and he's still looking for that first win.  

Handed a three-run lead, Santana walked Brett Gardner to start the bottom of the first inning. Aaron Judge  battled Santana before finally hitting a single to center to put runners at the corners. Gary Sanchez popped up to the catcher for the first out. It brought Didi Gregorius to the plate. Didi has been nothing short of spectacular this season and he came through in a big way. On a full count, he got a hold of a Santana pitch to deposit it into the right field seats. Suddenly, with a swing of the bat, the game was tied.  

After Chad Green easily retired the Twins in the top of the 2nd including two by strikeout, Brett Gardner hit a two-out solo homer into the second deck of the right field stands in the bottom of the inning to give the Yankees their first lead, 4-3.  

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

However, with Green still pitching, the Twins charged right back in the top of the 3rd. Perhaps overstaying his welcome, the Twins loaded the bases when Jorge Polanco led off with a single to right and Green walked two of the next three hitters to load the bases with only one out. Despite two starters in the bullpen, Girardi pulled Green and brought in David Robertson. Byron Buxton grounded into a force out at second but Polanco scored on the play when the Yankees were unable to turn the double play to re-tie the game. D-Rob struck out Jason Castro to end the inning and prevent any further damage. That was a huge spot for D-Rob and he came up big holding the Twins to only one run when they could have easily scored more.

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

In the bottom of the 3rd, Ervin Santana was gone, replaced by young Twins starter Jose Berrios. Gary Sanchez led off the inning with a double to the left field wall.  When Berrios struck out the next two batters, it looked like he might be able to get out of the inning without Sanchez coming home to score. Greg Bird had other ideas as he lined a single to right bringing Sanchez around for the go-ahead run. 5-4, Yankees. Aaron Hicks singled on a soft grounder to third to put runners at the corners, but the Yankees couldn't capitalize when Jacoby Ellsbury, starting at DH over Chase Headley and Matt Holliday, popped out to third to end the inning.

The Twins made a defensive substitution in the bottom of the 4th inning. Byron Buxton, who had hit the wall to catch a Todd Frazier fly in the 2nd inning, was removed due to lingering effects of back tightness and replaced by New York native Zack Granite. With the Twins' best player, Miguel Sano, off the playoff roster dealing with his prior shin injury, losing Buxton, their next best great player was tough for the Twins.  Nothing against Granite, but he's not the player Buxton is. I hope that Buxton is okay and you never want to see a player leave through injury.  But that one hurt the Twins (no pun intended). Todd Frazier struck out for the first out but Brett Gardner followed with a single to left on a fly dropped in front of the left fielder. Aaron Judge stepped up (literally and figuratively) and hit one of his shorter home runs to left. I was unsure for a moment if it was a home run but the ball had indeed hit above the fence line before bouncing back on the field. Judge, showing the most emotion I've seen from him as he rounded first base, circled the bases to give the Yankees a 7-4 lead.  

David Robertson was still pitching in the 6th inning, making one of his longest appearances. Zack Granite led off with a single to right on a ball that got under Starlin Castro's glove. D-Rob struck out Jason Castro and Robbie Grossman for two outs, but that final out would prove elusive. With Brian Dozier at the plate, a wild pitch allowed Granite to easily move to second. Dozier subsequently walked to bring the tying run to the plate. Girardi signaled for the bullpen and brought in Tommy Kahnle to replace D-Rob. Joe Mauer hit a long fly to left and for a moment I couldn't tell if it was in or out when the TV crew switched cameras as the ball was falling. Fortunately, Brett Gardner made the catch on the warning track for the final out. Another huge spot with success for the Yankees.

Kahnle easily retired the Twins in the 7th inning. In the bottom of the inning with Twins reliever Trevor Hildenberger on the mound, Aaron Judge got things started by taking a walk. I thought it was an excellent at-bat for Judge as he avoided chasing any pitches. Gary Sanchez hit a ball through the hole on the left side into the outfield.  Judge advanced to third. The throw from the outfield sailed over the third baseman's head (they probably could have nailed Judge at third had the throw been accurate) so Sanchez was able to move to second. With no outs and two runners in scoring position, the Twins elected to intentionally walk Didi Gregorius. Great strategy to open up the potential for the double play or a force out at home, but it left no margin for error. Starlin Castro had the first crack at the potential scoring opportunity but he flied out to right. With Greg Bird up next, the Twins brought in reliever Taylor Rogers, a lefty, for an all-Denver, Colorado battle (Bird is from Aurora, CO while Rogers hails from Littleton, CO). Rogers won the battle when he struck out Bird for the second out. The Twins made another call to the bullpen and brought in Alan Busenitz to face former Twin Aaron Hicks. Busenitz couldn't throw strikes and walked A-A-Ron on four pitches to bring Judge home. The Yankees had increased their lead to 8-4. Jacoby Ellsbury flied out to leave the bases full, but the Yankees added an important insurance run.

Tommy Kahnle came back out for the 8th inning and retired the Twins in order. The Twins nearly had a base runner with one out but Zack Granite ran over first base without touching the bag on a grounder to first. Bird tossed the ball to Kahnle who dropped the ball but Starlin Castro alertly picked up the ball to tag Granite out before he could get back. I didn't expect to see Dellin Betances given his struggles in September so I was very glad to see Kahnle continuing to pitch very strongly to get the game into the 9th inning and into the hands of Aroldis Chapman. Chapman gave up a two-out single to Joe Mauer but the inning was never in doubt as Chapman easily shut down the Twins, striking out Jorge Polanco to end the game. The Yankees win!  

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

I am still not a fan of the single-game elimination but the Yankees persevered and head for Cleveland to face the Indians for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday. Now I can say that I am very joyous about the Yankees being in the post-season. It is so hard to be excited about a potential 'one and done' situation and I was very uneasy coming into the game. It didn't help when Luis Severino had nothing and gave the Twins the strong early lead.  You'd think that the Law of Averages would eventually tilt in Minnesota's favor given the Yankees long-standing history of dominance over the Twins. I was very pleased that Tuesday was not their night. They'll eventually get a key victory in the Bronx but it won't be this year.  

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Congratulations to the New York Yankees for moving to the next round! I have very proud of this team and their accomplishments this year. They may not win the next round but the Yankees have shown the world their future is bright. This team has the potential to surprise but if not, there's no doubt this will be a stronger team when they take the field next season.  

Game Notes...

Chasen Shreve threw out the first pitch. The Las Vegas native symbolized representation for his home city after this week's senseless tragedy that claimed 58 lives and injured more than 500 people. There was a moment of silence observed for the victims.   

Credit:  Paul J Bereswill-NY Post

Earlier this season, Chase Headley took one near the family jewels. The same fate was bestowed upon Gary Sanchez when a foul ball hit the catcher where the sun doesn't shine causing Sanchez to roll on the ground in pain while David Robertson was still on the mound. Ouch! Fortunately, he was able to continue. That was a painful experience to watch. It would not have been fun to be the recipient.  

Have a great Wednesday! We have a day to enjoy and then the work begins on Thursday. Go Yankees!

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