CLEVELAND — Nothing had been easy, nothing had been a given in the first half of the season for the Yankees. One might think a 10-run lead after 4½ innings would flip that script, but no, not Sunday afternoon.
And so the Yankees managed to insert some drama into even that circumstance, although they did produce, from their perspective, the most important outcome.
That would be a victory, as they survived an 11-7 slugfest with the AL Central-leading Indians that dragged on for 3 hours, 35 minutes at Progressive Field. It allowed the Yankees to take three of four here and pull into the All-Star break at .500.
There was no popping of champagne corks in the clubhouse, but there was some satisfaction. “It’s a whole lot better than being two, three, four games under,” Brett Gardner said. “I know we’re just at .500, but it does feel good going into the break with the way we played here in Cleveland.”
What that achievement means cannot yet be determined.
The Yankees (44-44) will open the second half with a 10-game homestand against two teams in front of them in the AL East (Boston and Baltimore), followed by NL West-leading San Francisco.
They finished this 10-game, three-city trip 5-5, another .500 mark that looks good after they dropped the first two series to the Padres and White Sox.
“Big series for us, going into the All-Star break with momentum,” said Jacoby Ellsbury, whose three-run homer with two outs in the second — one pitch after umpire Ramon De Jesus called a 3-and-1 pitch that was egregiously outside a strike, prompting a brief confrontation between the two — gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead. “Hopefully, we can carry that momentum the rest of the way.”
The game featured poor starting pitching and poor fielding across the board. It came to a head in the fifth inning, a 46-minute slog in which each team scored six runs.
Masahiro Tanaka, on regular rest, could not make it through the inning, and he allowed seven runs (three earned) and 10 hits in 4 2⁄3 innings. Nathan Eovaldi, recently pulled from the rotation, settled the game down. He took over for Tanaka and threw 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and three walks.
Had he gotten into trouble in the ninth, Joe Girardi, without an overworked Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, said he would have called on Dellin Betances to close. Betances pitched 1 1⁄3 innings the day before and already had worked two of the first three games in the series.
But Eovaldi (7-6) came through. “I told him in the weight room after the game, I was proud of the way he came in and stepped up,” Gardner said.
The Indians (52-36) came in as one of baseball’s hottest teams, led by the league’s top rotation, but did not perform that way in any capacity.
Carlos Carrasco, the first of seven Indians pitchers, entered 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA but struggled to command his pitches. He also was victimized by two errors, and four of the five runs he allowed in 3 2⁄3 innings were unearned. Cleveland committed three errors overall, which produced eight unearned runs, and should been charged with four.
The Yankees had 11 hits through five innings, including six in the six-run fifth, during which Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor fielded a bases-loaded grounder, looked at third, looked at home and threw wildly to second to allow two runs to score. Austin Romine and Gardner hit consecutive sacrifice flies and Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira added RBI singles.
The Yankees outhit Cleveland 13-11 and had 27 hits in the final two games of the series.
“I think it was important,” Girardi said of reaching .500. “I think it’s tough when you go into the break and you’re below .500. We have to make up ground, and it has to start on Friday.”
All-Star make or break
The Yankees ended the first half on a high note, getting back to the .500 mark at 44-44. If they want to make a playoff run, they’ll have to fare well out of the gates once the All-Star break is over. Their first 13 games — 10 at home — are against three of the American League’s top teams and the Giants, who have the majors’ best record.
Date Opponent Record
July 15-17 vs. Boston 49-38
July 18-21 vs. Baltimore 51-36
July 22-24 vs. San Francisco 56-33*
July 25-27 at Houston 48-41
*entering last night’s late game