CLEVELAND – There will be a decisive Game 5 in the Bronx on Monday night.
Faced with possible elimination in the best-of-five AL Division Series, the Yankees rode ace Gerrit Cole’s sharp seven-inning performance against the Cleveland Guardians to score a 4-2 win in Sunday’s Game 4 at Progressive Field.
“To return home so (the Guardians) can feel our energy and our fans, I’m looking forward to it,” said Harrison Bader, who delivered his third home run of the ALDS, a two-run shot in the second inning.
For Game 5, Aaron Civale is scheduled to start for Cleveland, with Jameson Taillon getting the ball for the Yanks.
Monday night’s winner will meet the Houston Astros in a best-of-seven AL Championship Series, beginning Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
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After Cole’s effort, a taxed Yankees bullpen recorded the final six outs without much fuss after Saturday night’s brutal ending, when Clay Holmes remained in the ‘pen and Cleveland scored three in the ninth for a stunning, 6-5 win.
This time, Holmes got the call in the eighth, striking out Amed Rosario and Jose Ramirez following a one-out walk to Steven Kwan.
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In the ninth, lefty Wandy Peralta notched three straight outs for the save.
This was Peralta’s third straight appearance, having tossed 15 pitches Friday and 27 more on Saturday, before Clarke Schmidt was summoned instead of Holmes.
When did he know he’d be available to pitch Sunday? “The moment I woke up,” Peralta said through an interpreter.
“If they need me, I’m going to be ready for it,” said Peralta about being available in Game 5.
Gerrit Cole comes through
In the Yankees’ postseason rotation design, starting Gerrit Cole in Game 1 would allow him to come back on normal rest in a Game 4.
Either he’d be pitching to clinch the series or to allow them to survive to Game 5.
Of course, Yankees Universe would only accept one outcome for Cole on Sunday: Pitch strong, pitch long and either take it all the way or hand it to the bullpen with a lead.
Cole met the challenge, spending 110 pitches – the last being a 98-mph 0-2 fastball that pinch-hitter Will Brennan swung through with a runner at second base.
Stalking off the mound, Cole pumped his right fist and shouted toward an exuberant Yankees dugout, having completed seven innings with a 4-2 lead intact.
“I had the lead and was just focused on executing pitches and not giving it up,” said Cole, who yielded a two-out, RBI bloop single to Jose Ramirez.
But Ramirez committed a baserunning error, getting thrown out retreating to first base to end the inning – taking a runners-at-the-corners situation away from Josh Naylor.
Facing the Guardians for the second time in five days, following his 4-1 victory in Game 1, Cole used a sharp mix of fastballs, curveballs, change-ups and sliders.
For the second time in these playoffs, against a hard-to-fan lineup, Cole struck out eight Guardians and issued just one walk.
Naylor lashed a leadoff homer in the fourth, cutting the Yanks’ lead to 3-2. But Cole stiffened from there, retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
As for Naylor’s “rock-the-baby” home run trot, Cole called it “cute” and “kind of funny.”
“I just was made aware of it. I didn’t see it in the moment,” said Cole. “And it wouldn’t have bothered me in the moment.”
In an unpopular trade at the time, the Yankees acquired Bader for his superb center field defense and his base-stealing ability.
Bader also shows occasional power, but no one expected this much pop in the ALDS.
For the third time in four games, Bader launched one over the fence – a two-run shot in the second inning off Guardians starter Cal Quantrill.
It’s the second time that Bader took Quantrill deep this postseason.
Bader’s shot gave the Yanks a 3-0 lead, providing Cole an important, early cushion and zapping some of the energy out of a hyped-up crowd of 36,728 fans.
To that point in Bader’s career against Quantrill, he was 5-for-6 with a double and three homers – including postseason.
Maybe you’ve still got a soft spot for Jordan Montgomery, feeling he got a raw deal from the Yanks, traded to St. Louis and told he wasn’t part of a pinstriped postseason rotation.
Understandable. It was an odd-looking deal at the time, and for a player with a speed element in Bader dealing with a lingering case of plantar fasciitis.
But Bader has paid dividends in the postseason, just as the Yanks counted on. But not as the guy leading the club in homers in this ALDS.
“That was always the goal. Just getting myself to a place where I was physically and mentally ready to go and compete,” said Bader, who grew up a Yankees fan in Westchester County and attended Horace Mann, about six miles from the Stadium.
“All those days when the team was doing their thing on the road and we were just in Yankee Stadium (working with the training staff), those early mornings were all for a reason,” Bader said.
For his Game 4 effort, Bader received the club’s Player of the Game championship wrestling belt.
“He’s electric really…an impact player (with) moxie (and) baseball awareness,” said Cole. “A lot of good things to say about that guy.”