After dominating series opener, NY jumps on righty's curve in Game 4
By David Adler
NEW YORK -- Their backs to the wall again Monday night, the Yankees needed to get to Trevor Bauer. They got him early, then rode the wave to a series-evening 7-3 winin the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.
Four days ago, the Indians right-hander had held the Yankees hitless for 5 1/3 innings and shut them out for 6 2/3 in the series opener in Cleveland; now, in Game 4, he took the mound in the Bronx with a chance to send them home. But with Bauer pitching on short rest, the Yanks scored four times to chase him in the second inning. And when the Bronx Bombers go up early in their home park -- especially in a playoff game, with a raucous crowd packed into a sold-out stadium -- they're a tough team to beat.
Bauer allowed four unearned runs in the second on four hits -- doubles from Todd Frazier and Aaron Judge, and singles by Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner, all with two outs. Judge dealt the final blow -- a full-count, two-run double into the left-field corner off a 96.3-mph fastball that Bauer left up and over the inside part of the plate.
"That was huge," Judge said. "Having Bauer on the ropes right there -- you've got to knock in those runs and get him out of the game."
Judge had struggled against Bauer in the series. He'd struck out in all four of his at-bats against him, and he was having all sorts of trouble handling Bauer's knuckle-curve, a pitch Bauer uses heavily and in big spots. But the Yankees weren't fooled by the curveball like they were in Game 1. Judge laid off as Bauer spiked three into the dirt. He fouled off the one curve Bauer kept in the zone with two strikes. When Bauer finally came with a payoff-pitch fastball, Judge was ready.
In knocking Bauer out of Game 4, the Yankees' approach against his curve -- which he threw 22 times in his 1 2/3 innings, more than any other pitch -- might have made the difference. Where the Yanks chased in Game 1, they laid off in Game 4. When Bauer threw it for strikes, they ripped it.
"I think a curveball is a tough pitch to locate, but he's one of the best at doing it," Gardner said. "For us, it's a pitch that we think it's his best pitch, and we know he's gonna throw it. It's just a matter of keeping him on the plate and staying aggressive within the zone."
"Sometimes he goes to that curveball a lot," said Frazier, who drove in the game's first run with an RBI double off the knuckle-curve, hooked just fair onto the chalk of the foul line in the left-field corner. "You don't want to guess at pitches, but you kind of slow yourself down and realize maybe you can foul the fastball off and hopefully he keeps throwing those curveballs for strikes."
The Yankees connected for seven hard-hit balls off Bauer -- contact with exit velocity exceeding 95 mph, according to Statcast™. In fact, every batted ball the Yanks had against Bauer reached the hard-hit threshold. Frazier's 96.4-mph double and Gardner's 99.4-mph single came off Bauer's curve, as did Starlin Castro's 102.6-mph liner that third baseman Giovanny Urshela misplayed it into an error.
"He threw a lot of pitches in the inning, and I thought he was starting to go to his breaking ball too much," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It looked to me like they started to hunt it, like they knew he was going to throw it. He left a couple up, and those are the ones that hurt him."
Bauer, for his part, said he thought his pitches were sharper than in his first start of the ALDS, and that he didn't get some breaks of the game -- Frazier's double finding the line, Gardner's single getting through the middle and into center field.
"I thought my stuff was better than Game 1 tonight," Bauer said. "[Velocity] was up. curveball had more depth to it. I located pretty well. Just a couple little things went their way instead of mine."
But the exit velocities show the Yankees were squaring up. And their hitters seemed to see a difference: Castro, for one, said he thought immediately that Bauer's curveball was off.
"Before I faced him, when I saw on TV when he faced Judge and [Gary Sanchez], I saw it right away," Castro said. "Especially when I hit -- right away, the first pitch was a curveball. I didn't see the hard spin it had before. I don't know what it was, but his curve was not the same thing."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.