NEW YORK -- The Yankees have now faced the prospect of their season ending three times in a week, gaining confidence with each victory. These "Baby Bombers" have found a way to play their best with everything on the line, and now they believe that the Indians could be exactly where they want them.
Luis Severino struck out nine over seven strong innings, Aaron Judge mashed a two-run double and Gary Sanchez homered as the Yankees rolled to a 7-3 win in Game 4 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
"We know what type of team we have here," Judge said. "We're a team that battles and keeps fighting. We never waver no matter what the situation or where we're at in the season. We're just going to keep battling."
The win evened the best-of-five series at 2-2, forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Ace Corey Kluber will start for the Tribe, while the Yanks are set to counter with lefty CC Sabathia.
"We know we're facing a great pitcher, but there's a ton of confidence in that room," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They pick each other up and grind out at-bats, and pitchers pick each other up and make big pitches. So it should be a lot of fun on Wednesday."
Indians starter Trevor Bauer had silenced the Yankees in the ALDS opener, firing 6 2/3 scoreless frames, but Game 4 was a different story as manager Terry Francona brought the right-hander back on short rest. Bauer lasted just 1 2/3 innings this time, with the Yanks patiently building up his pitch count before striking for four unearned runs.
"The whole night, we made it hard on ourselves to win," Francona said. "We kept trying, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can't not finish plays or, you know, not make plays. It just makes it really difficult."
The first of two key errors by third baseman Giovanny Urshela opened the door as Todd Frazier smashed an RBI double, Aaron Hicks stroked a run-scoring single and Judge ripped his first hit of the ALDS. Including a 1-0 loss in Sunday's Game 3, the Indians did not lead at any time during their visit to the Bronx, and they are 3-16 in their past 19 chances to close out a postseason series.
"I don't think any of us were going into this thinking we were going to win every single game," Indians center fielder Jason Kipnis said. "I don't think we went into this thinking there'd be no adversity, no part of the process that we had to overcome. We know this is the playoffs. Every team that's left is still good. Everyone comes to play.
"That being said, we were either tight or flat, whatever you want to label it these last two games. But you also tip the caps to the Yankees. They played well."
Severino had vowed to produce a different result than in the AL Wild Card Game, when he lasted just one-third of an inning against the Twins. Monday's performance was more in line with what the All-Star right-hander showed all year, as he permitted three runs on just four hits in a performance that prompted serenades from the crowd of 47,316.
"I was feeling great. The location on my pitches was great," said Severino, who became the youngest Yankees starter to notch a postseason victory since Dave Righetti in 1981. "Of course I heard the stadium calling my name. I just want to go over there, try to have fun and help the team win."
Carlos Santana put the Tribe on the board in the fourth with a two-run homer that landed in Monument Park. Roberto Perez trimmed the deficit further with a solo shot off Severino in the fifth, but Frazier scored on a Brett Gardner sacrifice fly and Sanchez cracked his second postseason homer off Bryan Shaw in the sixth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Out in front: The Yankees capitalized on a sloppy second inning for the Indians, producing four two-out hits that sent Bauer to the showers. Urshela was smoked in the left ankle by Starlin Castro's one-out liner, and with Frazier batting, Castro advanced to second base on Perez's passed ball. Frazier then jumped on a 3-1 curveball from Bauer, lacing it down the left-field line for the Yanks' first big hit of the evening. More >
"Any time a team like Cleveland makes a mistake, you've got to capitalize," Judge said. "With their lineup, their pitching staff, you've got to capitalize on mistakes."
Case dismissed: Indians pitchers had vowed not to let Judge beat them, feeding the rookie slugger a steady diet of breaking balls to hold him hitless with nine strikeouts in his first 11 ALDS at-bats. On the eighth pitch of his at-bat against Bauer, Judge got a 96.3-mph fastball he could drive, connecting for a two-run double down the left-field line to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead at the time. Judge also struck out four times, the second time in the series he has done so.
"He's been patient and he continues to be patient," Girardi said. "They're making a lot of good pitches on him, there's no doubt about it. But he's maintaining his strike zone, and when he gets a pitch to hit, a lot of times, he's able to hit it. That is a huge hit."
Test that arm: The Yanks have been waiting for an opportunity to exploit Kipnis' relative inexperience in center field, and they rolled the dice in the fifth inning for an important insurance run. With Frazier at third base and one out, Gardner lifted a fly ball to shallow center field. Frazier tagged up immediately, restoring New York's three-run lead as he slid past Perez and just ahead of Kipnis' throw.
"I talked to the other outfielders," Kipnis said. "It's one of those ones that's tough, just being the high one that you have to kind of wait under, that you can't really build the momentum to get behind the throw. But, no, you're not going to hear me make an excuse or anything like that. I'd like to make the play, and throw him out just for our defense, for our pitchers and for the game. But, he was safe.
"It's a new position. But, I think you guys have been Statcasting me enough. I'm not going to start second-guessing myself. I go out there and play and let my instincts take over. I'm not going to sit here and overthink stuff."
Tommy, can you hear me? Dellin Betances' control problems resurfaced with two walks to start the eighth inning, as he threw eight of 12 pitches out of the strike zone before yielding to Tommy Kahnle. Acquired in July to bolster the bullpen, Kahnle enjoyed his most important outing for the Yankees thus far, striking out Kipnis, getting Jose Ramirez to fly out and fanning Jay Bruce to hold the four-run lead. More >
"You always have to have it in the back of your mind that one day you might be on a team that is in this situation," Kahnle said. "My whole life, I've been waiting for this moment."
"I thought my stuff was better than Game 1 tonight. Velo was up, curveball had more depth to it. I located pretty well. Just a couple little things went their way instead of mine. Double lands right on the line. Check swing that I thought he probably went. Umpire didn't see it the same way. Just as a team, we didn't play the greatest defense tonight, too. Little things in baseball games that beat you." -- Bauer More >>
"It kind of got [in front of] the board. I missed it. It was a backed-up breaking ball, so I missed it on the scoreboard. Those things happen. There's no excuses. We've just got to get ready for Game 5." -- Perez, on the passed ball
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Michael Brantley's seventh-inning single off Severino was the first hit by a designated hitter for either team in this ALDS. Designated hitters had been 0-for-26 to that point. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that far exceeded the previous record, which had been 18 such hitless at-bats between the Yanks and Twins in the 2004 ALDS.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Francona set up his rotation so that Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA in 2017) could return on normal rest for a Game 5 scenario. Now, the Tribe hopes that decision pays off. Kluber will take the mound in a win-or-go-home contest against the Yankees at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Kluber allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings in an uncharacteristically rough outing in Game 2 on Friday.
Yankees: After throwing 77 pitches in Game 2, Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA in 2017) will return to the mound at Progressive Field on Wednesday for Game 5. Sabathia had been cruising when he was lifted with a five-run lead, having retired 12 of the last 13 hitters. Girardi selected the 37-year-old lefty over Sonny Gray, who started Game 1.