CLEVELAND — It took the New York Yankees nearly five hours on the field, carried them from Wednesday to Thursday and September into October to complete the sweep.
They stumbled into the 2020 postseason. They’re standing tall now.
DJ LeMahieu‘s tiebreaking single in the ninth inning off closer Brad Hand sent the Yankees into the AL Division Series — and a matchup with rival Tampa Bay — after a wild 10-9 win over the Cleveland Indians early Thursday in the longest nine-inning game in major league history.
“I’m 47 years old. I’ve watched a lot of baseball. I’ve watched a lot of my dad’s playoff games, been in some really big games, and I don’t know how you top that one — the back and forth, the amount of big plays,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Tonight just had that feeling that these guys weren’t going to be denied.
“They weren’t going to lose.”
At 4 hours, 50 minutes — even without two rain delays totaling another 76 minutes — it was draining. It’s no wonder after Aroldis Chapman got the final out well after 1 a.m. that the Yankees barely celebrated on the field. They observed COVID protocols and shared some fist bumps as they left.
“You don’t have to pour champagne on each other to appreciate what an epic game that was and the fact that we’re moving on,” Boone said.
The Yankees will play the Rays in a best-of-five division series next week in San Diego. New York went 2-8 during a testy season series with top-seeded Tampa Bay, which won the AL East by seven games over the second-place Yankees.
“They’ve been the best team in our league all year, so we’re excited to play the best team and hopefully can have our way with them,” Boone said.
LeMahieu, the AL batting champion during the shortened, 60-game regular season, grounded his hit into center field to score Gio Urshela, who hit a go-ahead grand slam earlier and made a huge defensive play at third base.
“That was one of the best games I’ve played in my life,” Urshela said.
Down 9-8, the Yankees tied it in the ninth on Gary Sanchez‘s sacrifice fly off Hand, who went 16-of-16 on save tries during the season but was stung by a walk.
The Yankees were staggering last week. But their heavy-hitting lineup got rolling over two nights in chilly, mostly empty Progressive Field. New York pounded Cleveland ace Shane Bieber in the opener and now the Yankees, who hit seven homers in the series, have found their swing as the calendar flips to the month that defines them.
“We probably caught people’s attention,” Boone said. “We haven’t done anything yet. This was just a steppingstone.”
Chapman got the last six outs for the win, aided by a spectacular play from Urshela to begin an inning-ending double play in the eighth that kept it a one-run game. The Indians got the potential tying run to first in the ninth on a strikeout passed ball with two outs before Chapman struck out pinch-hitter Austin Hedges.
For the Indians, a season of adversity ends with more heartache. They twice rallied to tie the Yankees and took the lead in the eighth on Cesar Hernandez‘s bloop RBI single off Chapman only to have the reliable Hand give it away.
Cleveland, which hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, has lost eight straight postseason games and dropped 10 consecutive elimination games — a major league record — extending back to the 1997 Series.
“We had many different things and a lot of obstacles,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr., who filled in while Terry Francona dealt with health issues. “But this group stayed together — by any means. We had an eight-game losing streak, they came back.
“Today’s game reflected how much this team grinds and how much they fight.”
Sanchez, benched in Game 1, had a two-run homer and Giancarlo Stanton connected on a solo shot for New York, which was down 4-0 in the first.
The Yankees were two different teams this season as they played much better at home in the Bronx than on the road, going 11-18.
They entered this expanded postseason as a No. 5 seed and not scaring anyone, but now they’ve got momentum.
“When we’re right,” Boone said before Game 2, “it doesn’t matter where we are.”
Down 8-6 and their postseason in jeopardy of a quick ending, the Indians tied it in the seventh on pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow‘s two-out, two-run double off right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga following a gutty move by Alomar.
With two on, Alomar sent Luplow to the plate instead of Josh Naylor, who became the first player in major league history to get five hits in his first five postseason plate appearances.
Luplow smoked a ball to center that went over Aaron Hicks‘ head and brought in two, sending Cleveland’s bench into a frenzy.
A two-time All-Star, Sanchez was benched for the opener after hitting .147 over 60 games, and he batted ninth for the first time in his career in Game 2.
But he rewarded Boone’s faith by connecting in the sixth inning off Indians rookie Triston McKenzie with a wind-aided shot to right to tie it 6-6.
“He’s shown me a lot the last couple of days,” Boone said of his embattled catcher.
The Indians head into an offseason of uncertainty.
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor went 1-for-8 in the series and might have played his last game in Cleveland. The Indians have him under control for one more season, but he’s turned down several contract offers and the club may have no choice but to trade him before he becomes a free agent.
Indians pitchers walked 12, tied for the most in any postseason game. The 19 combined walks by both teams also matched a postseason mark. … The longest nine-inning game in the regular season lasted 4:45, the longest previous in the postseason took 4:37. … Urshela is the third Yankees player to hit a go-ahead grand slam in the postseason, joining Gil McDougald (1951) and Tino Martinez (1998).
Depending on what happens with Francona, Alomar could be Cleveland’s next manager. The former Indians All-Star catcher has been a managerial candidate elsewhere in the past, but never felt any of the opportunities were genuine.
“Some of the interviews were, to me, token interviews,” he said. “If somebody’s interested, they can call and we’ll talk. But it’s not like I’m pushing myself or promoting myself to be a manager.”
Indians: C Roberto Perez left with a bruised right hand after being hit by a pitch in the seventh.
Yankees: Some rest before the ALDS begins on Monday.
Indians: A potentially turbulent offseason of major decisions on Lindor, Francona’s health and perhaps a name change.
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