After sitting out Game 1 so Kyle Higashioka could catch Gerrit Cole, Gary Sanchez was restored to the lineup for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the AL wild-card series in Cleveland.
For the first time in his career, Sanchez was the No. 9 batter in the Yankees’ order. That’s what happens when you hit .147 with 64 strikeouts in 178 plate appearances.
Sanchez, a .176 career postseason hitter going in, had two of the biggest – and most clutch – plate appearances and drove in three key runs in the Yankees’ series-ending, 10-9 victory at Progressive Field.
Sanchez snapped a 6-6 tie with a two-run home run to rightfield in the sixth inning. The high drive appeared to be wind-aided. But nobody needed a lift more than Sanchez.
"I hit that pitch there and I thought it was a fly ball to right," Sanchez said through a translator. "As I’m running, I notice the outfielder running back and I realize, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe I have a chance here.’ And it kept on going and it ended up being a homer. That’s how it goes sometimes. During the regular season, I hit a few balls very hard, very well, and they ended up being outs. Goes to show you how baseball can be because when I hit that ball I didn’t think I hit that ball very well, but it ended up being a homer anyways."
After the Yankees blew the lead and went to the ninth inning trailing by a run, Sanchez came up against Cleveland closer Brad Hand with the bases loaded and one out.
Hand had just struck out Brett Gardner for the first out. Sanchez’s penchant for striking out had to be on Hand’s mind – and also the mind of every Yankees fan watching.
Sanchez stroked a 1-and-1 pitch to center for a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 9.
The Yankees took the lead on DJ LeMahieu’s ground ball single to center and went on to advance to the ALDS in San Diego, where they will face the Tampa Bay Rays beginning Monday.
But not before some drama in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and nobody on, Aroldis Chapman struck out pinch hitter Oscar Mercado. But the nasty, down-and-in 89-mile per hour slider hit off Sanchez’s glove – Sanchez didn’t turn it the correct way -- and went to the backstop. Mercado reached on the passed ball.
Chapman, who had entered the game in the eighth, struck out pinch hitter Austin Hedges to end it and send the Yankees to San Diego.
"What a game," Sanchez said of the longest nine-inning game in baseball history (4:50). "Even better because we were able to get the victory tonight and it was battle. They had the lead, and then we took the lead, they had the lead again and it went back and forth. But overall, great game, and happy we got the victory."
Cole will start Game 1 at Petco Park and Higashioka will likely catch him again. But at least Sanchez ended any talk of Higashioka supplanting him as the catcher for the games Cole doesn’t start.
"He’s shown me a lot the last couple days," Boone said. "First, when I let him know that Higgy was catching the first game, he took it well. He was ready, he was prepared, he was ready for any situation if his number was called, and that was apparent to me. I thought he did a great job tonight behind the plate and obviously a huge hit. I think Gary just wants to win and be part of a winner."