CLEVELAND — After a day of speculation, the Yankees settled on Sonny Gray to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night against the Indians.
It was not a surprising choice.
“One of the reasons we went out and got him was to pitch in a big game like this,” Brett Gardner said Wednesday. “We’re excited about our chances.”
Gray, the Yankees’ headline acquisition at the trade deadline, said “from the moment that I stepped foot in the (Yankees’) clubhouse,” pitching in the postseason was on his mind.
“This is kind of why you play the game,” said Gray, who will be opposed in Game 1 not by Indians ace Corey Kluber but by righthander Trevor Bauer, who posted a 2.42 ERA in his last 12 starts, including 1.38 in two against the Yankees. “I’m definitely ready for it.”
Joe Girardi said lefthander CC Sabathia will go in Game 2, followed by Masahiro Tanaka in Game 3 when the series moves to the Bronx. Should Game 4 be necessary, Girardi said his plan is to start Luis Severino, knocked out after one-third of an inning in Tuesday’s wild-card game against the Twins.
Speaking of Gray’s record against the Indians, Girardi said: “If you look at some of the outings he’s had against them, the raw numbers he’s had against them, he’s fared as well as any pitcher that we have.”
Gray is 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA in eight career starts against the Indians, but 1-2 with a 4.86 ERA in three starts this season. His Yankees debut was here at Progressive Field Aug. 3, when three first-inning errors helped sink him in a 5-1 loss. Gray allowed four runs (two earned) in six innings.
“I feel like right now we are playing as good as we’ve played, at least since I’ve been here,” Gray said. “We feel really good about ourselves, and I think that showed last night that we’re very resilient, that we’re ready for any type of challenge that anyone can bring us.”
Gray went 4-7 but with a more than respectable 3.72 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees. He was 10-12, 3.55 in 27 starts with the A’s and Yankees, allowing two earned runs or fewer 18 times.
The challenge he and the Yankees face in this series is significant. The top-seeded Indians finished the year with a 33-4 burst, which included a 22-game winning streak (the Yankees were victims early on, swept Aug. 28-30 at the Stadium).
“They’ve got everything,” said Sabathia, who was drafted by the Indians in 1998 and pitched for them from 2001 until he was dealt to the Brewers in 2008. “They’ve got speed, power, they wear on you, making you throw a lot of pitches. It’s a tough lineup up and down.”
Bauer sees similar challenges in the Yankees’ lineup, which is clicking with Aaron Judge now more than back to his first-half self.
“You’ve got some youth in there with big power, you’ve got some veteran guys in there that balance everything out,” Bauer said. “It’s not like they have one type of hitter.”
Kluber, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, tortured Yankees hitters twice this season. Regardless of Bauer’s dominant second half, Terry Francona’s decision to start him instead of Kluber has created some uneasiness in this city.
“He’s a great pitcher, I think it’s good for us that we don’t have him the first game,” Starlin Castro said. “I think the first game is really important. I think it’s good for us to have (Bauer).’’
Gardner wouldn’t quite go that far.
“We still have to face (Kluber) in Game 2,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re facing. We have to go out and play our game. If we play well, we’ll win.”
The Yankees and Indians were near the top of the American League in most statistical categories this season.
91-71, 2nd AL East W-L 102-60, 1st AL Central
45-41First half 47-4046-30Second half 55-20
September, 20-8 Best month September, 25-4
858 (2nd in AL) Runs scored 818 (3rd)
241 (1st) Home runs 212 (8th)
.785 (3rd)Team OPS .788 (2nd)
3.72 (3rd)ERA 3.30 (1st)
1.21 (2nd) WHIP 1.16 (1st)
1,560 (4th)Strikeouts1,614 (1st)
192 (2nd)HRs allowed 163 (1st)