Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes waits for the Guardians' Gabriel...

Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes waits for the Guardians' Gabriel Arias to run the bases after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning of a game Sunday in Cleveland. Credit: AP/David Dermer

CLEVELAND — Call it the first “gut punch” of 2024.

It has long been manager Aaron Boone’s go-to phrase when it comes to tough losses, and Sunday’s couldn’t be categorized any other way.

After Anthony Rizzo's two-run single gave the Yankees a two-run lead in the top of the 10th inning, Caleb Ferguson, let down by his defense, failed to hold down the Guardians in the bottom half. Andres Gimenez’s sacrifice fly capped a three-run rally and sent Cleveland to an 8-7 victory at Progressive Field,  denying the Yankees a three-game sweep.

“Any one you lose is a tough one, but guys were fighting until the end,” said Aaron Judge, whose  450-foot three-run homer  in the third gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead. “They came up with some big at-bats, we came up with some big at-bats, and I feel like all series, guys were just competing up there and doing their thing. We just weren’t able to pull this one out in the end.”

“Tough one,” Boone said. “Again, though, the compete is just so good with this group. We just didn’t make a few plays we needed to make. Certainly when you grind through and get a lead there, it’s always tough. But onward and we have a big series starting tomorrow.”

The Yankees (12-4), who swept Saturday’s doubleheader from the Guardians (10-5), will continue this six-game trip Monday night in Toronto.

After former Yankee Estevan Florial hit a pinch-hit home run off Luke Weaver in the bottom of the eighth to give the Guardians a 5-4 lead, Anthony Volpe's two-out RBI double to right-center on a 100-mph cutter from two-time All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase tied it in the ninth.

Ferguson, called on to close in the 10th after Clay Holmes kept the score tied with a scoreless ninth, allowed a single by Jose Ramirez that moved ghost runner Bo Naylor to third. When Josh Naylor hit a sharp grounder to the right side, Gleyber Torres made a sliding stop and fired to Volpe, but he bobbled the ball on the transfer, eliminating the chance of a double play. 

With the Yankees now leading 7-6, David Fry hit one off the wall in left-center to put runners at second and third. With the infield in, Will Brennan scorched a ball to second that Torres couldn’t handle cleanly as he looked to come home, and Josh Naylor scored standing up to tie it. Gimenez then lined one deep enough to right to win it.

“I [mishandled] it, and when I threw the ball, it was too late,” Torres said.

The Yankees' infield defense generally has been good this season, but not Sunday. Aside from the bobbles by Volpe and Torres in the 10th, four-time Gold Glove first baseman Anthony Rizzo committed two errors earlier in the game.

“A ton,” Volpe said of how much pride the infield collectively takes in its defense. “We’re out there working all the time to make those type of plays, so it’s definitely taking it on the chin when you’re not able to.”

In the top of the 10th, with ghost runner Juan Soto at second, the Guardians had righthander Tyler Beede intentionally walk Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton followed with a trickler down the third-base line for an infield single that loaded the bases with none out. Rizzo jumped on a first-pitch slider for a single to right that made it 7-5.

The Yankees could have had more in the 10th, too. Torres' sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out, but when Alex Verdugo grounded hard to first, Fry threw home to Bo Naylor, who tagged out pinch runner Kevin Smith and somehow was able to fire to first for the double play.

 Nestor Cortes, who allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings against the Marlins in his previous outing, wasn’t close to that sharp on Sunday. The lefthander, who threw 94 pitches, allowed four runs and five hits in four innings-plus, leaving with two on and none out in the fifth.

“For the most part, I was 0-2, 1-2 to a lot of guys and then was trying to be too fine with the corners,” Cortes said. “I wasn’t getting early contact in play, and I think that’s why my pitch count was a little up there early.”

Notes & quotes: Jose Trevino homered in the fourth to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead . . . Volpe had three hits and a walk and is hitting .382 with a 1.041 OPS. Soto had two hits and is hitting .344 with a 1.009 OPS . . . Boone said it’s “very possible” that DJ LeMahieu (fractured right foot) will start a rehab assignment toward the end of the week.

More Yankees headlines


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months