On Tuesday night, Brantley delivered again. And again. And again.
In a battle of American League All-Stars, Brantley bested Yankees phenom Masahiro Tanaka with three extra-base hits to help power the Indians to a 5-3 victory at Progressive Field. The center fielder showed off his skill in the field with a highlight-reel running catch in the first inning and put his potent bat on display by driving in three runs for the Tribe.
Bauer turned in a solid effort on the mound, while Brantley led an offensive attack that resulted in Tanaka's worst showing during his stellar rookie season. The New York right-hander allowed five runs on 10 hits -- both career highs -- and surrendered a pair of home runs, including a momentum-swinging two-run shot to Nick Swisher in the sixth inning.
Following the win, which improved Cleveland's record to 25-17 at home, Swisher sang superlatives for Brantley's season.
"Dr. Smooth is doing it, man," Swisher beamed. "He's just a pro hitter. That's all there is to it. ... He's coming into his own. It's the best sign we've had so far this year for the Indians."
Against Tanaka, Brantley finished 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles and a solo home run. The All-Star outfielder pulled a pitch down the right-field line for a double in the first inning, slapped another two-base hit down the left-field line in the fifth and launched an 0-1 offering out to right-center for a two-out shot in the seventh.
Brantley joined Boston's Dustin Pedroia (June 28) and the Cubs' Luis Valbuena (May 20) as the only players to have a three-hit game against Tanaka this season. Brantley is also only the second player this year to collect three extra-base hits against the Yankees starter, though Boston's Mike Napoli has done so across two separate games.
Brantley said his approach was simple enough in theory.
"Get him up in the zone. That was our biggest thing going into the game," Brantley explained. "He does such a great job of keeping the ball down that we knew we had to get him up in the zone and get mistake pitches to hit. If not, it was going to be a long night. I think we did a great job as a team."
Indians manager Terry Francona was impressed with the way his entire lineup executed that plan, especially early in the game.
Tanaka labored through 41 pitches (21 strikes) in the first two innings and went on to allow four runs between the fifth and seventh frames. In the sixth, Swisher got a hanging 1-2 slider and sent it into the bleacher seats to put Cleveland ahead for good, 4-3. Brantley's blast one inning later -- giving him a team-high 14 homers on the year -- gave closer Cody Allen ample cushion for his 10th save.
"Our lineup did a really good job of trying to stay away from balls that are out of the zone," Francona said, "and trying to get a fastball or something over the middle that we could hit. And not missing it. That's a lot easier said than done."
Tanaka (12-4, 2.51 ERA) picked up his third loss in his past four starts after opening the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA.
That offensive showing against one of the American League's top pitchers helped support a solid showing from Bauer (3-4), who logged 112 pitches in his seven innings of work. The Yankees grabbed a 3-1 lead off Bauer through two innings, but the young righty settled down, settled in and gave up just one hit to the final 21 batters he faced.
"I thought he did a great job weathering it," Francona said of Bauer, who was charged with two earned runs over seven innings. "That game had a chance early to [get away from us]. If they start tacking on there, we're in trouble, especially with Tanaka pitching. I thought [Bauer] did a really good job."
During his previous start against the Dodgers, Bauer gave Brantley a hug in the dugout in Los Angeles after the outfielder lined into a hard-luck out. On Tuesday, the pitcher could have done the same after Brantley tracked down a deep fly ball to straightaway center field, robbing Derek Jeter of an extra-base hit two batters into the game.
"I'm glad you brought that up," Francona said of Brantley's catch. "Because at the time, who knows what happens after that?"
Brantley saw to it that a win was what happened in the end.
The All-Star outfielder is now batting .328 with 37 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs, 59 runs and 10 stolen bases through 85 games. He and Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only two hitters in the Majors with at least a .300 average, 35 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 10 thefts on the basepaths this season.
It is a showing that has earned a trip to the All-Star Game for Brantley, who got to share that news with his father, former big leaguer Mickey Brantley, on Sunday.
"It's something I'll never forget," Brantley said of that conversation with his dad. "He just said that he's proud of me, that he loves me and that all the hard work we've put in is paying off. He told me to continue to have fun and doing what I can."