There should have been a number of storylines to talk about after the Yankees’ Game Two win. For example, Edwin Encarnacion continued his stellar return from the IL, with two hits and an RBI. Masahiro Tanaka was also as good as he gets in the postseason, with one run in five innings, plus a 7:1 K:BB ratio. The real story tonight, however, was Didi Gregorius.
We’re going to jump right to the third inning. Baseball is a game of response. When a pitcher has a big top of the inning, his team has to come out with the sticks in the bottom half. The Yankees did that, responding to a fantastic Tanaka thir, featuring two filthy strikeouts, with seven runs in their half.
It started with New York loading the bases and chasing Randy Dobnak from the game. Giancarlo Stanton had a sac fly, Gleyber Torres had an RBI single, and after a hit-by-pitch against Gary Sanchez reloaded the bases, Didi freakin’ Gregorius did this:
omg it gets better every time you watch it pic.twitter.com/ofVBUrSBc0— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) October 5, 2019
It’s been a tough season for Didi. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery in a contract year, and struggled in his return with just an 84 wRC+ in the regular season. There were a lot of fans making realistic cases for him to play off the bench in this series, but Gregorius silenced them all with one swing of the bat. The grand slam, still early in the game, broke the score open and gave the Yankees an overwhelming advantage in the outcome.
After Didi’s home run, it was academic, with Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Tyler Lyons and Jonathan Loaisiga combining for four innings of one-run ball, with seven strikeouts and no walks. The success of the bullpen was expected, but shouldn’t take away from the dominance of Masahiro Tanaka, whose postseason legend only grew tonight.
Tanaka surrendered one earned run over five innings, and it actually increased his postseason ERA, showcasing just how good the right-hander is on the biggest stage of them all. The Twins came in as the best fastball-hitting team in baseball, and Tanaka responded by throwing 76% of his pitches for sliders and splitters, keeping a deep Twins lineup off balance all night.
To demonstrate Tanaka’s dominance, it’s perhaps best to look at his swinging-strike rate, probably the best example of just how off balance an offense is against a hitter. This year, Tanaka’s engineered a 10.7% swinging strike rate, and 12.5% over his career. Against the Twins, that mark was 19.2%. Tanaka was straight dealing when it mattered most. and he would have been the main story of this game if it weren’t for Didi’s grand salami.
The Yankees are well-positioned to advance to the ALCS, up 2-0 with a possible fifth game coming in Yankee Stadium, where they of course have outscored Minnesota 18-6. It’s crazy to think they’ll send their best true-talent pitcher to the mound for Game Three at Target Field on Monday, but Luis Severino will get the ball with a fully rested Chad Green in reserve.
The Yankees have seen a lot of their questionable pieces step up so far in the ALDS. Tanaka had a shaky season and was terrific tonight, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi and Encarnacion missed significant time and have been key pieces of the last two wins. The #NextManUp mentality is strong with this Yankees squad, and fans have to be feeling pretty good two games into this best-of-five series.