What started as a slow burn on Saturday at Yankee Stadium ended in a full-on boil.
The Yankees’ 5-4 win was initially humming along at a nice pace, devoid of many memorable highlights, until the writers seemingly packed all the action into the final few scenes. Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s game-tying double with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth set off a frenzy. Gleyber Torres’ ensuing walk-off single turned the Stadium into an absolute zoo.
“It’s amazing,” said Torres, who delivered the hit as a pinch hitter. “During the game, I went back to the cage, tried to be ready. I got the opportunity, and I feel so happy to do the job and help my team.”
After a scoreless first four innings, the Yankees and Guardians traded blows from the seventh inning on, ending in a win for the home team that looked improbable toward the end, and which also led to some despicable behavior from fans celebrating the win by raining garbage on the Cleveland outfield. Because of that, the Yankees scrambled from party mode to peacemaker mode.
“At the end of the day, we’re all athletes and all in a fraternity together,” Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We don’t want something bad happening to [the Guardians]. I know they don’t want anything bad happening to us. Our fans are passionate and they bring the noise every night, we appreciate that. When beers start flying you just want to get everyone under control as best as you can so things don’t escalate.”
Way before the ninth inning mayhem, it was evident from the jump that this would be an offensively challenged game. Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill’s cutter and four-seam fastball gave the Yankees fits all afternoon. Like his counterpart on Saturday, Quantrill did not light the radar gun up, but he showed great understanding of pitching. While he mixed the cutter, four seamer and sinker masterfully, Nestor Cortes baffled Cleveland’s lineup with his own unique blend.
Through the first four innings, Cortes faced the minimum number of hitters, using a tidy double play to get around a second-inning walk. The fourth inning was a perfect glimpse into how Cortes has endeared himself to the notoriously hard-to-please Yankee fan base. His chaotic, diving play to tag first base on a 3-1 putout showcased the hard-nosed, win-at-all-costs mentality that he shares with the Bleacher Creatures.
“I knew the only way to get him out was to dive,” Cortes said of the play, which led to the rare sight of a pitcher on the mound with a dirt-covered jersey. “I am an athlete. Under this body, there’s a guy who’s athletic.”
Then, with Jose Ramirez in the box, Cortes broke out one of his signature ballerina moves. The stop and start, twist and turn operation worked on the three-time All-Star, who swung right through a 91 mph Nestor ball at the top of the zone.
His no-hitter was still intact in the fifth, but after Amed Rosario’s second free pass of the day, the sixth hitter in Cleveland’s order put a stop to all no-hitter talk. Josh Naylor scooped a 1-1 slider into the seats in right-center field, deleting the no-no and shutout in one fell swoop while simultaneously putting Cleveland ahead.
The Yankees’ threw their counterpunch immediately afterward, though. In their half of the fifth inning, the men in pinstripes were visited by the small ball fairy. The Yankees tied the game without an extra-base hit. A walk, two singles and Kyle Higashioka’s sac fly matched the damage inflicted by Naylor’s home run. The second of those singles came off the bat of Kiner-Falefa.
After adding to his hit total with the clutch double in the ninth, the Hawaiian shortstop now has 13 hits in his last nine games. His old Texas teammate Emmanuel Clase was responsible for the double, and Kiner-Falefa said that his unique experience helped him prepare for that at-bat.
“I’ve caught him before,” said the versatile jack of all trades, who spent 586 innings behind the plate as a Ranger. “That always helps.”
Josh Donaldon’s go-ahead home run in the bottom of the seventh looked like it would stand up as the game winner, especially with the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen resembling a pack of wolverines. But Chad Green’s payoff pitch to light-hitting catcher Austin Hedges in the bottom of the eighth surprisingly went over the left-field wall, giving the Cleveland backstop a two-run homer, rather than the strikeout Green was searching for.
Thankfully for Green, the bottom of the Yankees’ order came through when the team needed them most. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees’ win probability sat at 13.3% when Kiner-Falefa came up as the team’s last out. After his double went over Steven Kwan’s head, that shot up to 60.1%, and eventually hit 100% once Torres ripped the game winner.
Now the squad can go for a sweep on Sunday. Hopefully, for everyone involved, things are a little less rowdy.