After three tight games to start this series in Cleveland, the Yankees had a chance to walk away with an impressive series win. They took two of the first three from the Indians, and had a chance to take the final game before the All-Star Break with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound. Instead, they lost more ground in the brutal race for the AL East with a 5-2 defeat.
They had Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer on the ropes early, but wasted an opportunity in the first. Singles from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and a walk to Aaron Hicks loaded the bases, but Greg Bird grounded out to end the threat.
Singles by Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees runners on the corners in the third. They cashed in this time, as Hicks drove home Gardner with a single for the game’s first run.
While the Yankees were making Bauer sweat, Tanaka was working very economically. Tanaka needed just 31 pitches to navigate the first three innings, keeping the Indians off balance with his trademark reliance on sliders and splitters. Meanwhile, the Yankees doubled their lead in the fourth. Neil Walker, still struggling to produce consistently after stepping into the starting lineup with Gleyber Torres’ injury, skied a solo shot to make it 2-0.
Tanaka gave it right back, though, as he ran into trouble the second time through Cleveland’s order. He walked Michael Brantley to lead off the fourth, and Edwin Encarnacion tied the game with a two-run bomb into the left-field seats. The homer has been a major issue for Tanaka the past couple seasons, and after cruising through the game’s initial stages, it came back to bite him again.
With the score level at two after a pair of homers, it looked like runs could be about to start tumbling out of the game on a warm afternoon in Cleveland, but both starters settled into a groove. After yielding the bomb to Walker, Bauer set down 10 of the last 11 batters he faced. He finished with a strong line: seven innings, seven hits, two runs, one walk, and seven strikeouts.
Tanaka almost matched Bauer, but Aaron Boone acted aggressively, pulling Tanaka after 6.1 innings and just 77 pitches. Tanaka was much sharper in his second start since coming off the disabled list, limiting Cleveland to two runs on six hits, striking out five and walking one. He pitched backward, as he always does, generating whiffs with his splitter and catching batters looking with his slider. It was a strong step in the right direction for a pitcher who could be vital to the Yankees down the stretch.
Chad Green was Boone’s first choice out of the bullpen. Green allowed a single to Greg Allen to put two on with two out in the seventh, but induced a fly out from Lindor to end the inning.
The Yankees’ pitchers gave the lineup time to retake the lead in the middle innings, but they were continually stymied by the Cleveland staff. Unlike some of their more frustrating losses from this season, they didn’t put runners in scoring position repeatedly in the game’s latter stages, only to flush away the opportunity. Instead, they went quietly, 1-2-3 in most innings.
Their time ran out in the eighth. Green stayed on for another inning of work, and immediately surrendered a lead-off home run to Brantley to make it 3-2. He couldn’t stop the bleeding there either. The Indians loaded the bases with a Jose Ramirez single, an Encarnacion hit-by-pitch, and an intentional walk to Jason Kipnis. They expanded the lead to 5-2 with a sacrifice fly by Yan Gomes and a wild pitch from Green.
Boone will probably be second-guessed for his decision to pull Tanaka, who was pitching effectively. To be sure, it was an early hook for a pitcher who likely had more left in the tank at just 77 pitches. But, as with almost every managerial decision that is easily criticized, the players involved failed. Green had a miserable outing, and the Yankees’ hitters went down too easily.
The loss dropped the Yankees four games back in the division. It was a disheartening way to go into the break. The contrast between having taken three of four in Cleveland and merely splitting on the road is stark. Instead of riding high into the All-Star Break, they lost more ground, and in frustrating fashion. In any event, the Yankees will take the next few days off and regroup, and come back on Friday ready to continue chasing Boston.