Behind an ace performance from Gerrit Cole and home runs from Harrison Bader and Anthony Rizzo, the Yankees took Game 1 of the ALDS, 4-1. There were nervous moments in the third, but Cole made the necessary mid-frame adjustment to ward off the big inning. And while the offense maybe wasn’t firing on all cylinders, they rode the long ball to victory on an exciting Tuesday night in the Bronx.
The Guardians made Cole work in the first, running up his pitch count to 24. He certainly wasn’t helped by Isiah Kiner-Falefa booting a routine grounder from Amed Rosario, but it was “no harm, no foul,” as Cole got out of the inning unscathed with a pair of strikeouts to boot. Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill matched the feat by punching out Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo during his opening salvo, as both pitchers appeared to have their sharpest stuff from jump street.
Cole navigated around a one-out Andrés Giménez double in the second, striking out another pair to give him four through two. The home run issues cropped up the following frame as he surrendered a solo shot to Steven Kwan, he of the six regular season home runs (but the ideal target in right field). Cole appeared to lose some focus after the blast, and he loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch, a José Ramírez double, and a fielder’s choice where Rizzo failed to nail Rosario in the rundown breaking home. However, the ace locked his focus in, stranding the bases loaded and limiting the damage to the lone run.
The Yankees answered right back in the bottom half, with Harrison Bader clubbing a solo shot to left to level the scores, 1-1. What a time to hit his first home run in pinstripes for the childhood Yankees fan!
By the way, you won’t want to miss John Sterling’s call of Bader’s bomb, either.
Aided by sparkling defensive plays from Oswaldo Cabrera and Josh Donaldson, Cole pulled out just the bounce-back inning he required, needing just eight pitches to retire the side in order to get his pitch count back under control — 70 through 4. He needed another 15 to work a scoreless fifth, and it was good to see him fall into a groove after that third inning.
The Yankees grabbed their first lead of the night in the bottom of the fifth, but in the most infuriating manner possible. Josh Donaldson led off with a bullet that bounced off the very top of the wall in right, but as has happened far too often this season, he got thrown out off first after prematurely going into his home run trot. IKF spared his blushes, lining a single to right that Óscar González mishandled, allowing the Yankees’ shortstop to advance to third. Jose Trevino drove him in on a sac fly to center, but it’s easy to wonder if the Yankees’ lead would have been larger than 2-1 if Donaldson hadn’t put himself before the team (again).
Judge and Rizzo made us quickly forget that mishap, doubling the Yankees’ lead in the sixth. Facing Quantrill for the third time, Judge walked before Rizzo demolished a two-run blast into the second deck in right to give the Bombers a 4-1 lead.
As expected, Cole came back out for the seventh to face the 8-9-1 hitters. After getting Austin Hedges to groundout, he gave up a single to Myles Straw that just made it over Kiner-Falefa’s outstretched glove to knock him from the game. Jonathan Loáisiga came in and coughed up a single, but made a clutch pitch to Rosario to induce the inning-ending double play.
It looked like Cole’s outing might spiral out of control in the third given his susceptibility to the big inning this year. However, he made his best pitches when he needed it most to escape having surrendered the minimum. Otherwise, Cole pitched like every bit the ace the Yankees entrusted with Game 1.
The slider and knuckle curve had devastating movement early and the Yankees’ ace commanded both pitches at will. Cole induced 19 whiffs and collected strikeouts on the fastball, slider, and curve. His final line: 6.1 innings, four hits, one run, one walk, and eight strikeouts on 101 pitches.
After Loáisiga gave up a single to lead off the eighth, manager Aaron Boone brought in Wandy Peralta for his first appearance since September 18th. The lefty was absolute nails, first executing a perfect slider to get Naylor to bounce into a double play before dismantling González with four straight changeups.
The Yankees offense went quietly in the final innings, leaving it to the bullpen to complete the job. They did exactly that, combining for 2.2 scoreless with Clay Holmes getting the final two outs. It sure is encouraging to see Holmes and Peralta, both recently back from injury, find their effectiveness in big spots.
In the end, this is perhaps just how you would script a Yankees playoff victory — your starter shoves, the offense does enough with help from the long ball, and the bullpen pitches lights-out to seal the win.