Guardians rally ahead of Yankees on another Oscar Gonzalez hit

CLEVELAND — If they can avoid it, Major League Baseball teams hoping to win the World Series shouldn’t start October with glaring weaknesses. Some batters can be cold. No problem, they heat up. A starter or two may not be fully synchronized. It’s potentially survivable. But for an entire crucial unit, finding themselves in shambles at the start of the playoffs is a debilitating reality.

The New York Yankees are even more painfully aware of that fact now after watching the remnants of a once-promising bullpen squander a late lead in a 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Guardians in Game 3 of the Division Series. of the American League on Saturday. night. When the Guardians began to fight back in the ninth as a two-run was unfolding, the Yankees had no proven late-inning reliever to save them.

They had no one they could trust to calm down pesky Guardian bats, which found their way to four straight singles to move the tying run to third base and the go-ahead to second. And rookie right-hander Clarke Schmidt, in his first playoff run, couldn’t find a way around emerging playoff star Oscar Gonzalez, whose base-laden two-run single sent Progressive Field into kind of a mess. frenzy that only a stunning comeback from an underdog can spur.

“I think it comes from trusting your teammates,” outfielder Steven Kwan said. “I think if we’re playing selfish baseball, somebody has to feel like they have to win the game on their own, hit that three-run homer to win the game. I think just because we love each other and we take care of each other, we know that as long as we have the next guy, someone will do the job.

Gonzalez’s single, the 15th Guardians hit in a classic projection of Cleveland’s contact style, delivered a joy the Yankees will never know – the sheer, unapologetic rejoicing of a city watching a young team full of promise. become something more. The Guardians came here expecting nothing but a chance. Now they are one win away from the American League Championship Series.

“He’s like Big Grandpa right-handed right now,” catcher Austin Hedges said of Gonzalez.

The home crowd roared when Josh Naylor hit a low-line drive just under Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s glove to put the Guardians ahead of four batters in the game. He stood at first base, fist raised, as a whole stadium followed suit.

The exuberance was the same an inning later when Gabriel Arias doubled up, Hedges hit a single and Kwan hit another to bring home a run – and suddenly, young Goaltenders were everywhere at the Yankees. They pushed Yankees starter Luis Severino — who hadn’t pitched since Oct. 3 but went seven hitless innings that day — to the brink.

They watched Triston McKenzie – their 25-year-old lanky up-and-coming ace – once pass through the Yankees lineup with relative ease, reaching high above his head to send 92 mph fastballs towards the strike zone from such an angle that they seemed to be traveling a little faster. He eventually gave up four runs on two home runs and left after five innings. But the deficit did not last.

The Yankees don’t live in a world where they can exceed expectations like that. Winning comes as no surprise to anyone in the Bronx, and it never has. When the Yankees win, they generate relief. When they don’t, they search for answers.

For example, days after Aaron Judge hit his 62nd homer to set the American League regular season record, he went hitless in the first two games of the Division Series with seven outs in the stick — and heard boos at Yankee Stadium.

His manager, Aaron Boone, said he woke up on Saturday morning with a plan to solve the problem – although he, like anyone at a major league club, scoffs at the idea of ​​two bad days as a problem after the highs and lows of 162. He moved Judge from No. 1, where he spent most of the final weeks of the season, to No. 2, where he hit more often this season. Boone said the decision was less about the judge struggling for a two-game span and more about some of the formerly injured hitters around him, such as Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton, starting to look more like what they do at their best. .

But whatever Boone says publicly, the reality is the Yankees are learning what the historic Los Angeles Dodgers offense learned against the San Diego Padres this week, what defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves learned then. that their season ended in the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday: Two games is a small sample in the regular season, the kind of thing that big teams and big players can put aside, not the kind of thing that defines the big ones. In October, two games are the only sample. Boone had to try something.

It’s unclear if the judge’s new position in the batting order has anything to do with what happened next, but on his second at bat of the night, the home run king of 2022 is came back with a royal shot from two dead center – 449 feet, none of them doubt. The score was tied at 2. The joy was appeased. The Yankees were doing what they were supposed to do.

Oswaldo Cabrera probably had the closest thing to a no-expectations experience with the Yankees when they called him up this summer. He wasn’t the best prospect in the system, so no one expected him to be the savior of an injury-hungry team. He was an infielder, so when he played solid defense in the outfield, he endeared himself to those who wondered how he could help at all. In October, he was leaving. But the 23-year-old went hitless in the first two games of the series. Had the time come for Boone to replace him?

Boone laughed at the idea before the game. And in the fifth, Cabrera provided his first playoff hit in the form of an unmistakably two-run homer to right field. He was holding his bat looking at her. Then he dropped it aside as if it had been here, in this exact spot, too many times to sting it or make it go away. The Yankees were in the lead.

But the tracks don’t feel particularly safe for these Yankees, who have four healthy relievers they trust and used them all Friday — meaning none of them were fresh Saturday. Lou Trivino picked Severino up and handed an RBI single to pinch hitter Will Brennan. Shortly after a solo homer from Harrison Bader in the seventh cut the lead to two runs, Wandy Peralta was unable to finish the ninth. And Schmidt had no answer for a Cleveland roster that has relied on that kind of rallying all season.

If someone close to him had been healthy or rested, maybe the Yankees could have warded him off. But they’re just trying to survive their bullpen now. They may not be able to do this.

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