CLEVELAND — Two bullpen stalwarts who helped save the Yankees in Tuesday’s wild-card game experienced a shocking collapse Friday night.
As a result, the Yankees absorbed one of the most brutal postseason losses in club history, blowing a five-run lead and falling to the Indians, 9-8, in 13 innings in Game 2 of their American League Division Series at a rocking Progressive Field.
“We played our butts off. It’s tough to lose that one,” said Greg Bird, whose two-run homer in the fifth gave the Yankees an 8-3 lead. “They’re a great team. 8-3, we were comfortable with that and we’re confident in that, but anything can happen. It’s tough. It really is.”
The defending AL champion Indians, who got only 2 2⁄3 innings out of ace Corey Kluber and lost one of their best hitters, Edwin Encarnacion, to what looks like a serious ankle injury, took a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five series. Game 3 is Sunday night at the Stadium.
“We’ve won three in a row before,” said Todd Frazier, whose two errors in the first two innings led to a pair of unearned runs off CC Sabathia. “So we have to move on.”
Yan Gomes yanked a full-count curveball by Dellin Betances down the third-base line for a walk-off RBI single. Austin Jackson led off the 13th with a walk and stole second before scoring on Gomes’ hit, which came on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. “I didn’t think it was a bad pitch,” Betances said. “I have to give credit to him.”
But blaming Betances, who was working his third inning and was terrific in the first two, would be short-sighted.
Francisco Lindor’s two-out grand slam off the rightfield foul pole in the sixth off previously unhittable Chad Green brought Cleveland within 8-7 and came after a disputed hit by pitch. The Yankees probably should have challenged the call but didn’t because they didn’t get a conclusive replay until after the allotted 30 seconds had expired.
“That’s why he’s one of the best players in the game. He did what he’s supposed to with that pitch,” Green said of the 1-and-0 slider. “I take the blame. I have to do a better job of getting out of the inning there.”
David Robertson, who posted a 1.03 ERA with the Yankees after his trade back to the Bronx and was coming off a career-high 3 1⁄3 innings against the Twins, struck out three of the first four hitters he faced. But Jay Bruce, who homered and drove in three runs in Cleveland’s 4-0 victory in ALDS Game 1, led off the eighth with an opposite-field homer, on a 3-and-1 fastball, to tie it at 8.
“Had to throw a strike,” Robertson said. “Last thing I wanted to do was to walk him. I wanted to make him hit the ball. Just didn’t expect him to hit an opposite-field home run right there.”
The Yankees got a three-run homer from Aaron Hicks and two-run shots from Gary Sanchez and Bird — the first two homers came off Indians ace Corey Kluber, who allowed six runs in 2 2⁄3 innings — but they had only three hits in the final 8 2⁄3 innings against five Indians relievers.
Sabathia had retired 11 straight when he started the sixth with the 8-3 lead. That streak promptly ended when he walked Carlos Santana. After Bruce lined out to short, Girardi brought in Green, who had struck out four in two innings in the wild-card victory and posted a 1.83 ERA in 40 appearances this season.
Green got Austin Jackson to fly to left for the second out but allowed a double off the leftfield wall by Gomes that put runners at second and third. Pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall appeared to strike out on a foul tip that was held by Sanchez — the ball seemed to hit the nob of the bat — but plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled the pitch hit Chisenhall to load the bases.
Not for long. Lindor’s grand slam left the crowd in hysterics.
Green, who struck out 103 batters in 69 innings this season, said he was fresh. “I felt really good,” he said. “I just thought they put together really good at-bats.”
The starting pitchers were mere side stories by the end of the 5-hour, 8-minute marathon that resulted in a stunning defeat and has the Yankees facing what seems to be an insurmountable task.
“Win the next one,” said Aaron Judge, 0-for-7 with three walks and five strikeouts in two games. “That’s how you handle it. We weren’t able to get the job done today. We missed a lot of opportunities. We’ll rebound and get ready for the next game.”