Aaron Judge on Tuesday smashed a tone-setting, two-run homer, while Gerrit Cole struck out 13 hitters in his New York playoff debut as the Yankees opened their American League (AL) wild-card series with a resounding 12-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees teed off against Shane Bieber, who was baseball’s best pitcher during the condensed regular season, but ineffective in his playoff debut.
Judge and the rest of New York’s hitters had not faced Bieber during the regular season, but they were well prepared and took some meaty cuts against the 25-year-old ace, who gave up season highs in runs (seven) and hits (nine) over 4-2/3 innings — his shortest stint since June 9 last season against the Yankees.
“The first inning didn’t go as planned,” Bieber said. “I wish I would have been with my off-speed stuff in the zone and challenged those guys a little more. I forced myself into some bad situations and some bad counts on top of not having my best stuff and making mistakes. No excuses. It was not good.”
When Bieber’s final pitch clanged loudly off the empty left-field bleachers on a two-run homer by Gleyber Torres in the fifth inning, the Yankees were up 7-2 and had delivered a boisterous post-season message to the rest of baseball: “Don’t forget us.”
“We scored quite a few runs,” said Brett Gardner, who hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and drove in three. “I don’t think you ever expect that against a pitcher the caliber of Shane Bieber. Hopefully that’s a sign of more good things to come.”
After giving up Torres’ homer, Bieber handed the ball to acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr and walked slowly toward Cleveland’s dugout, seemingly carrying all of the city’s hopes for a long run with him. The Indians have lost seven straight playoff games.
Staked to an early lead on Judge’s homer, Cole showed why the Yankees shelled out US$324 million for him in the off-season. The right-hander gave up two runs — including Josh Naylor’s homer — and six hits without a walk in seven innings.
Naylor went four for four and became the first player with three extra-base hits in his post-season debut.
Cole’s strikeouts were the second-most by a New York pitcher in post-season history.
“We needed to set the tone for the series,” Cole said. “I’m obviously very thankful and humbled to be able to take the ball and be in this position. To be able to deliver feels really good.”
Giancarlo Stanton added a solo shot in the ninth inning for the Yankees, who did not even need to warm up their top relievers — keeping Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino fresh for Game 2.
Judge’s first homer since coming off the injured list on Sept. 16 — and the first allowed by Bieber at home this season — gave the Yankees a stunning 2-0 lead.
“We had a big, long hitter’s meeting about all sticking to the same plan and just trying to work counts, get pitches to drive and I think, as a whole, we did that,” Judge said. “That’s when this team is dangerous, when we go out there and we can just grind out at-bats. Any mistakes that are thrown up there, we hammer them.”
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