ALCS 2: NYY vs. HOU, NLDS 1: CHC vs. LAD — Home field advantage?

Another day where home field advantage meant both nothing and everything. Once again, the Yankees are playing like the postseason we all knew they were, only to be edged out at the very end by the Astros… again. And on the West Coast, the Cubs found out why the Dodgers have the best record in the league.

Game 1: ALCS — Yankees at Astros
Honestly, it was quite the pitching duel between the Yankees and Astros for a good portion of the game. Both starters gave up just 1 run each to tie up the game for most of it. Let me be perfectly frank, the Astros’ starter is a recent acquisition and former foe of the Yankees in previous postseasons. And I haven’t seen a postseason starter this strong since the Giants’ ace in the 2014 postseason. The Astros’ starter threw 124 pitches in the full 9 innings, striking out 13 Yankee batters, and only giving up 5 hits and a walk.

The Yankees got on the board in the 5th. With 2 outs, Aaron Hicks hit a solid double and then scored when Todd Frazier hit a ground-rule double. The best part about Frazier’s double was that the ball flew out of the stadium and then lodged itself in the chain-link fence by the Yankees bullpen in center field. Now, it was about 10 feet up from the ground and about 10 feet below that tell-tale yellow line that circles the stadium to signify how high a ball must travel to be counted as a home run. The center fielder tried throwing his glove up to dislodge it, and most long-term Astros’ associates and beat reporters have never seen a ball lodged there before.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were a little hurt when their starter was a little hurt. Luis Severino got the start and was very sharp again. He threw 62 pitches through his 4 innings, giving up just 2 hits and 2 walks, but not striking out any Houston batters. His lone allowed run came in the 4th when a long ball landed in a kid’s glove right at the top of the right field wall for a home run. Judge seeing the kid, slowed down and braced himself for impact against the wall. I believe that had that been an adult (like the kid’s dad) instead, Judge would have jumped and grabbed that ball back. An umpire review proved that the ball was definitely out, the kid’s glove was right at the top of the wall not over into the field. But Judge’s caution due to it being a kid was clearly evident.

But after 4 innings, Severino was having shoulder issues on his throwing arm. He said he felt fine, but the shoulder just wasn’t loosening up. And with Severino’s potential for some great outings in the future, the Yankees weren’t taking any chances and pulled him. Of course, Severino wanted to stay in and finish his job like a professional, but the bullpen was ready to do their job and do it well in such cases. And there didn’t seem to be anything obviously wrong upon some initial tests, but they will keep an eye on him over the next few days.

Tommy Kahnle breezed his way through the next 2 innings, and David Robertson got the next 2 innings. Both relievers kept the Astros from adding to their score and the game stayed tied, both waiting for the Yankees’ breakthrough that just never came. As once again, they just ran out of outs.

In the bottom of the 9th, the sold out crowd of hometown fans got what was clearly their wish, as Aroldis Chapman clearly did not. Their star player hit a solid 1-out single and then when the next guy doubled, the Astros’ star raced all the way from 1st to slide in home. Judge fielded the ball in right field and fired it to Gregorius at 2nd (who sort of stumbled over the runner sliding into 2nd for his double). Gregorius, unable to make the play at 2nd, fired the ball to Gary Sanchez at home, but either due to Gregorius’ stumble or Sanchez’s over-excitement. But Sanchez dropped the ball as he was trying to make the tag at home.

Final score: 2-1 Astros, Astros lead series 2-0

Game 2: NLCS — Cubs at Dodgers
Both starters in the first game of the NLCS were pretty evenly matched, going 5 innings each, throwing 87-89 pitches, giving up minimal hits (2-4) and walks (1-2), striking out 4 batters, and each giving up 2 runs. And that makes sense as the Cubs’ starters and power-hitters are pretty comparable to the Dodgers.

In the 4th, the Cubs got on the board first with a lead-off single and then scored as part of a 2-run home run. But the Dodgers tied it up in the bottom of the 5th. With 1 out, they worked 2 walks who then both scored on a double and sacrifice fly to tie up the game. So it would be down to the bullpen for the difference of the game. And that’s where the Dodgers clearly outshone the visiting Cubs, keeping the Cubs to those 2 runs.

In the 6th, the Dodgers led-off with a solo home run to break the tie. And then did it again in the 7th. With runners in the corners thanks to a double and single (and another new reliever), a single score another run. But initially, the run was declared out. The Dodgers challenged the call on a possible violation of the home plate collision rule, and it was overturned. Of course, that made the Cubs manager hopping mad, and he hopped right out of the game when he was ejected. Much to the delight of the home crowd in LA.

Final score: 5-2 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 1-0

The Dodgers-Cubs continue tomorrow (Sunday) for Game 2 in their series. And the Yankees head back to the Bronx to hopefully redeem the series (starting Monday). The Yankees are still 4 wins or 2 losses away from either going to the World Series or watching it from their couches.

Go Yankees!

ALCS 1: NYY vs. HOU — A game of ‘almosts’

In the scope of things, it looks like the Astros and Yankees are actually pretty well-matched. Which means that the ALCS is going to be an interesting series. Except that for most of the game, it really wasn’t. It was actually kind of boring, much like a regular season game.

Look, tonight’s starters were both amazing. The Astros’ ace starter was about as sharp as we’ve seen him before, throwing 109 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, giving up 4 hits and a walk, and striking out 10 Yankees’ batters. And that was the biggest reason why the Yankees’ offense was virtually silenced — those strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka was as “Tanaka Time” as he’s been all season, throwing just 89 pitches in his 6 strong innings. He gave up 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out just 3 Houston batters. Actually, Tanaka didn’t even give up a hit until the 4th inning — a 1-out single. That player (who is also up for MVP this year and could likely win over Judge, by the way) then stole 2nd, sliding under Castro’s leg just before the tag. He then scored on an RBI single. Another run scored on a 2-out single later in the inning. By the way, other than the 4th inning, Tanaka only allowed 1 hit and 1 walk during his tenure.

But that would be it for runs for the Astros. Chad Green held the Astros back, throwing 2 scoreless innings to keep them from adding to their score. I want to add that the biggest defender for the Yankees was tonight’s center fielder Aaron Hicks, who at one point was basically making all the defending outs.

The Yankees had a few opportunities, like in the 5th, for some offensive advancement, but they couldn’t seem to put anything much together as actual run-scoring including a called out at the plate. The reality is that if the Yankees could get into the bullpen earlier, they could score some runs. Which is why it isn’t surprising that they found their actual run-scoring when a reliever was on the mound. It was Greg Bird to hit a big 2-out solo home run to get the Yankees on the board in the 9th. But the Yankees ran out of outs.

Final score: 2-1 Astros, Astros lead ALCS 1-0

“Wow, this is a game of ‘almosts‘. Isn’t it?” Pretty much. The Yankees almost scored a run in the 5th on a long single, but then got tagged out in the last minute. The Yankees almost got out of the game scoreless, but then Bird hit that homer. The Yankees almost gave a Tanaka a no-hitter, but then the potential MVP broke his momentum. The Yankees almost kept the Astros off the board entirely, but then came the 4th inning. A lot of almost.

The Yankees will face off against the Astros for Game 2 tomorrow afternoon, followed by the Cubs and Dodgers in LA tomorrow night to kick off the NLCS. Hang on tight, people, we’ve really only just began…

Go Yankees!

ALDS 4: HOU vs. BOS & CLE vs. NYY, NLDS 3: WAS vs. CHC & LAD vs. ARI — Halfway to a Championship Series

Two Championship Series teams are ready to go, and two are still battling it out. And two teams are now officially in their off-season.

Game 1: Astros at Red Sox
It took over four hours, a managerial ejection, and 4 starters to determine this afternoon’s game. Both teams sent in 2 starters for long-term stints to try to push their respective causes — the Red Sox needing to win to stay alive for Game 5, and the Astros ready to win to close out this series and focus on the next. After the Astros got on the board in the first when a lead-off double scored on double play, the Red Sox answered back with a 1-out solo home run.

The Astros’ lead-off triple in the 2nd scored on a 2-out single, putting them ahead by a slim margin. The Red Sox found their opportunity to strike back in the 5th. A 1-out walk ended the Astros’ starter’s outing and the reliever promptly gave up a 2-run home run to put the Red Sox in the lead for the first time today. But then the Astros bounced back with a lead-off solo shot in the 8th to tie up the game. And then they continued their push forward. A batter ended up singling on fan interference, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on an RBI single. They added another one in the 9th when a hit-by-pitch later scored on a 2-out double for the insurance run they would need.

In a last-ditch effort, the Red Sox had the final half-inning to make up the difference to say alive. It was suddenly electric at Fenway when the lead-off hitter hit an inside the park home run after the Astros’ outfielder had trouble fielding the long hit ball. But then the Astros’ closer ended the Fenway faithful’s hopes, as the rain dripped into the stadium and the stadium organist played what can only be described as funeral music.

Final score: 5-4 Astros, Astros win series 3-1, Astros advances to ALCS

Game 2: Nationals at Cubs
Another pitchers’ duel between these two teams keeps things interesting and tight in this series. And rather short, just over 3 hours. Both starters pitched well into the game with minimal offense allowed. It really is a rather well-matched series. It wasn’t until the 6th inning that the Nationals broke through the scoreless game. With 2 outs, a batter ended up all the way at 3rd by a single fielder making 2 errors in a single play. He then scored on a double when the first reliever came into the game.

But this kind of game keeps things far too close, and an unearned run wasn’t going to go unanswered for long. In the bottom of the 7th, a Cubs batter hit a 1-out double. And with the Nationals going to their bullpen, a similar thing happened — a single scored that runner to tie up the game. In the 8th, the Cubs came back again to break the tie. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt. After a strikeout and a new reliever, another Cubs’ batter singled to score that runner, but then ended up getting thrown out going for 2nd to end the inning.

Final score: 2-1 Cubs, Cubs lead series 2-1

Game 3: Indians at Yankees
The Yankees weren’t about to let the Indians take the series, at least not on their home turf. Which came at a slight advantage to them when the Indians couldn’t pitch or defend tonight for anything. Meanwhile, Luis Severino held the Indians off enough for the Yankees to do something amazing. Severino threw a solid 113 pitches in his 7 innings, gave up just 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and struck out 9 batters. Actually, all of his allowed runs were off home runs — a 2-out walk and 2-run homer in the 4th, and a 1-out solo shot in the 5th. Dellin Betances had trouble in the 8th, walking his 2 batters, so the Yankees opted for a surprising choice — Tommy Kahnle — for the final 6 outs of the game. Of those 6 outs, 5 of those were strikeouts. Kahnle was just as strong as we’ve seen him all year.

On the flip side, the Indians couldn’t pitch or defend their way out of a paper bag tonight. Their starter (on short rest from Game 1) only pitched into the 2nd inning, but the Indians went through 7 relievers. In the 2nd inning, the Yankees started their offensive dominance thanks to some defensive incompetence. With 1 out, Castro made it safely to 1st on a fielding error. He moved to 2nd on a passed ball and then scored on Todd Frazier’s double. Frazier then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single, who then moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single. After Gardner moved to 2nd on a stolen base, both he and Hicks scored on Aaron Judge’s double.

And that was just the start of it. In the 3rd, Bird walked and moved to 3rd on Castro’s double, and with 1 out, Frazier worked a walk to load the bases. A ground out finally snapped the Indians’ defense into high gear and got the out at home, but kept the bases loaded. Brett Gardner hit into what should be an easy grounder, but once again, a throwing error worked into the Yankees’ advantage, scoring Castro for an extra run.

And into the 5th inning, Frazier hit a small grounder that was fielded by the pitcher and poorly thrown to the waiting 1st baseman, ending with Frazier at 2nd due to that throwing error. Frazier moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly. And Gary Sanchez hit a big 1-out solo home run to cap off the Yankees’ offense tonight.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees, series tied 2-2

Game 4: Dodgers at Diamondbacks
The NL is traditionally known for its pitchers, and both NLDS games featured some pretty good pitching. Both pitchers in this late game threw into the 6th inning, though the better outing was easily on the Dodgers’ side. That included the offense too. The Dodgers led-off the game with a double that later scored on a ground out. Later, they doubled that scored with a 2-out solo home run.

The Diamondbacks did their best to come back, but the Dodgers’ pitching staff was really good today, showing why the Dodgers were the best team in the league. The D-backs got a single shot with a 2-out solo home run in the 5th inning to get them on the scoreboard. The Dodgers, however, answered back in the 6th with a lead-off solo home run.

Final score: 3-1 Dodgers, Dodgers sweep series 3-0, advance to NLCS

So, there we have it: the Astros and Dodgers each await the results of the other 2 Division Series to see who they’ll face off in the next series. Yankees pushed a Game 5, and the Cubs-Nationals are going to duke it out to the end.

Go Yankees!

ALDS 2: BOS vs. HOU & NYY vs. CLE, NLDS 1: CHC vs. WAS & ARI vs. LAD — Home field advantage… and the Cubs

Big day in the world of baseball with four consecutive games. Well, there was quite a bit of overlap for a couple of games thanks to a bad call and far too many extra innings. And because there’s some games out West, one game lasted well into the next morning, making today far longer than this East Coast girl is used to.

Game 1: ALDS 2 — Red Sox at Astros
It took exactly 4 hours for the Astros to dominate the Red Sox and send the series to Fenway in their favor. The Astros called on their ace starter to pitch into the 6th inning, and he really stepped up to the plate (so to speak), fending off the Red Sox batters for most of the game, only giving up 3 hits, 3 walks, and a run and striking out 7 batters. His allowed run was in the 2nd when a lead-off double stole 3rd and later scored on a 1-out single. The Astros’ bullpen kept that momentum going until the 9th inning, when a 1-out single moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a 2-out single.

The Red Sox’s pitching was pretty much on line with their offense. For example, their starter only went 2 full innings (and 3 batters in the 3rd) and their bullpen followed that example. In the 1st, with 2 outs and a man on base with a single, a 2-run homer got the Astros on base early. A lead-off homer in the 3rd added to the score. A double followed that only to score on the next player’s single. Despite loading the bases, the Red Sox finally got some outs in the inning to get out of the jam.

To finalize the game, the Astros roughed up the Red Sox again in the 6th. With runners on the corners and 1 out, a fly ball and throwing error allowed the runners to advance and thus score an extra run. After intentionally walking the next batter, the Red Sox gave up a double to score 2 more and a single to score the last one. The reality is that the Red Sox are rather out-matched by the Astros, and this series shows it very well. However, anything can happen in Fenway… just ask the Yankees.

Final score: 8-2 Astros, Astros lead ALDS 2-0

Game 2: ALDS 2 — Yankees at Indians
The problem with tonight’s game is that it was actually a really good game for the Yankees, but then things happened that shouldn’t have happened, decisions will be permanently and suitably questioned, and the game spiraled out of control. As evidenced by the 5 hour and 8 minute game time and 13 innings played. CC Sabathia threw a great game, just 77 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 3 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs (only 2 earned), and struck out 5 Cleveland batters.

In the 1st, Sabathia loaded up the bases with a fielding error, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch. A single scored 2 runners before the next batter lined into a double play as the runner at 2nd double off base. That runner also badly sprained his ankle. And a lead-off batter in the 2nd moved to 2nd on a questionable throwing error, ended up at 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on an RBI single.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were actually hitting off the Indians’ ace starter, knocking him out after 76 pitches in the 3rd inning after racking up 7 hits, a walk, and 6 runs. In the 1st, Judge worked a 1-out walk and then scored as part of Gary Sanchez’s 2-run home run straight up the middle. In the 3rd, Sanchez hit a 1-out single, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single. Bird then singled, so that would make Aaron Hicks’ big hit a 3-run home run. That ended the Indians’ starter’s night and really set the Yankees with a big lead. Gregorius later worked a lead-off walk in the 5th and then scored as part of Greg Bird’s big 2-run home run.

Okay, so the 6th inning… known forever now as the inning that changed everything. Sabathia was still pitching and gave up a lead-off walk and got an out. That was it for Sabathia, so the Yankees called in Chad Green. This is decision to question #1. Why remove Sabathia when he’s having a great outing and has such a low pitch count? Okay, so Green gets out #2, but then gives up a double to put runners in scoring position.

Then things get weirder. The next batter is “hit-by-a-pitch”, or rather his bat was. He was awarded 1st base (to load up the bases), which was a surprise even to the batter. Gary Sanchez stood up to alert Girardi that it wasn’t a HBP and should be challenged on a replay. By he was practically ignored (questionable decision #2), so the bases were loaded. The next batter promptly hit a home run, a grand slam to put the Indians within a run of the Yankees’ lead. Well, the entire sold-out crowd at Progressive Field certainly loved it. Most of Yankee Universe took to social media (including myself) to express their displeasure.

It was on to David Robertson for the next 5 outs, closing out the 6th and through the 7th and into the 8th. In the 8th, he gave up a lead-off solo home run to tie up the game right there. After another out, the Yankees flipped the game to Tommy Kahnle for the final 2 outs of the inning before turning to Aroldis Chapman in the 9th.

It is worth noting that the Cleveland fans treated every out after that run tying home run as if it was the last one of the game. Chapman actually pitched through the 9th and then the 10th as the game went into extra innings. The Yankees’ batters were able to get runners on base, but they weren’t able to finish the job and score a run. Dellin Betances came on in the 11th and pitched 2 scoreless innings, and for some reason (questionable decision #3), came out for the 13th inning. A lead-off walk stole 2nd and then promptly scored on a single to score the walk-off run for the home team.

Final score: 9-8 Indians, Indians lead ALDS 2-0

Game 3: NLDS 1 — Cubs at Nationals
About the time the Yankees began their spiral into the “questionable decisions” territory, the Cubs-Nationals game began in the nation’s capital. It was a quick 3 hour and 2 minute game that began with a ceremonial first pitch by Representative Steve Scalise, who was seriously injured earlier this year when a gun man opened fire on a Congressional baseball practice. Scalise threw a great first pitch and set the tone for the game to come.

Both teams sent in some stellar pitchers, who were pretty much locked in a pitching duel for a the first half of the game. Honestly, I didn’t realize how evenly matched the Cubs and Nationals were until this game. Both starters went a full 7 innings, gave up minimal hits, and kept the score low. Their 2 respective relievers followed suit in their single innings.

But it would the Cubs to buck today’s trend of home field advantage and come out on top thanks to their gift of small ball tonight. In the 6th, the lead-off batter reached on a fielding error, moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on an RBI single and throwing error that moved that batter to 2nd. Then he scored on another RBI single to give the Cubs a solid lead. With new pitching in the 8th, the lead-off batter for the Cubs doubled, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a 2-out double for that insurance run they’d never need tonight.

They finished their game just a few minutes after the previous one did in extra innings. It wasn’t as talked about post-game, but the pitcher’s duel was something in the postseason, a season so far dominated by home runs and sloppy pitching. It was nice to see starting pitchers duke it out old-school.

Final score: 3-0 Cubs, Cubs lead NLDS 1-0

Game 4: NLDS 1 — Diamondbacks at Dodgers
This game started about 10:30 pm Eastern Time, roughly 11 minutes after Cleveland scored its walk-off run three time zones away. And in regular postseason fashion, it would last 3 hours and 37 minutes because the Dodgers came to play ball, thanks mostly to their ace starter who threw into the 7th inning (100 pitches) and struck out 7 Arizona batters along the way. Over on the other hand, the Diamondbacks’ starter only threw 1 inning, but racked up a whopping 48 pitches.

Here’s how: the Dodgers hit a lead-off single and worked a walk which both scored as part of a big 3-run home run to kick things off in Los Angeles. The next batter singled and then scored on a double before the pitcher finally got an out. He would get all 3 outs as strikeouts, but the damage was done awfully early. The Diamondbacks answered back in the 3rd with a 2-out solo shot, a mere blip on the scoreboard at that point. And their pitchers weren’t doing the greatest job of fending off the power-hitting Dodgers. In the 4th, with 1 out and 2 runners on base, consecutive singles scored 2 more runs for the home team.

The Diamondbacks chipped away at the Dodgers’ lead the only way they could — with home runs. With 2 outs in the 6th, they launched one into the left field seats to double their score. And in the 7th, with 1 out, they hit back-to-back left field solo home runs. That was it for the Dodgers’ ace, but not for the rest of the game. As the Dodgers got those 2 runs back in the 8th. A lead-off single later scored on a 1-out triple, and then that runner scored on an easy single.

Finally, playing a little small ball, the D-backs made the 9th inning a little interesting. A 1-out single moved to 2nd on defensive indifference and later scored on a fielder’s choice and throwing error of sorts.

Final score: 9-5 Dodgers, Dodgers lead NLDS 1-0

The ALDS teams head to the East Coast to continue their series on Sunday, with the Astros and Indians hoping for an easy 3rd game. The NLDS plays their second game tomorrow. But clearly, there’s nothing easy about the postseason. What’s that old phrase? Or it might be called “football”? Yeah, something like that…

Go Yankees!

AL Wild Card: MIN vs. NYY — Rough start, solid finish thanks to big bats

The last time the Yankees won a postseason game was the 2012 ALDS, game 5, against the Orioles, Raul Ibanez was dubbed “King of New York” for his postseason heroics, and Derek Jeter would break his ankle diving for a ball in the 12th inning in the next game, game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers. In other words, things were very different five years ago.

Tonight, the Yankees moved onto the ALDS after defeating the Twins in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game. It took nearly four hours in front of a sold-out crowd in the Bronx, and it took all of the energy and emotions to electrify the fans during the game.

We are all human and thus have off-nights. But for Luis Severino, tonight was one of the worst possible times to experience an off-night. And Girardi continued his recent short-leash for the pitching staff. Severino threw just 29 pitches in the 1st inning, giving up 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs. He didn’t make it out of that 1st inning.

Severino gave up a lead-off home run, a 1-out walk, a 2-run home run, a single, and a double before Girardi had enough. With runners firmly in scoring position and just 1 out, Severino’s outing was over. So Chad Green was called in early to do Chad Green things. He quickly got out of the 1st inning with 2 solid strikeouts to strand the Twins runners. He breezed his way through the 2nd inning, but found some trouble in the 3rd inning loading up the bases with a single and 2 walks (and just 1 out).

While Green was responsible for all the runners as he passed the torch to David Robertson. The first batter hit into a fielder’s choice (a late double play) that scored the lead runner, but then Robertson got the first of his 5 strikeouts (of his 10 total outs) in his outing tonight. And Robertson’s outing was easily the best thing from the mound today, throwing 52 pitches over 3.1 pitches. It was stellar and ended up being the perfect recipient for the eventual win.

Tommy Kahnle was called on to close out the 6th for Robertson and then breeze his way through the 7th and 8th innings in just 29 pitches. Aroldis Chapman’s 9th inning was pretty good too, hitting 103 mph pitches as if they were nothing, and getting all 3 outs as strikeouts. The final out came as a beautiful swing, the whole stadium on its feet, the place alive with energy and hope.

Now, beyond the great job of the bullpen, which had to start so very early tonight, the Yankees’ offense actually worked tonight too. The Twins’ starter had his own rough night, only lasting 2 innings and throwing a whopping 64 pitches over that short time span. In the 1st, Gardner led-off with a walk, and Judge singled to put runners in the corners. With 1 out, it would fall to Didi Gregorius to his a big 3-run home run to tie up the game at that point, so very early on in the night.

Brett Gardner added a run in the 2nd with a 2-out solo home run that bounced off the front row barrier of the 2nd deck of the right field seats. With the starter out, the Yankees faced the Twins bullpen, which clearly isn’t nearly as good as the Yankees’, so the Yankees kept adding to their score.

In the 3rd, Sanchez led-off with a double and then scored on Greg Bird’s 2-out single. And Gardner hit a 1-out single in the 4th and then scored on Aaron Judge’s first postseason homer, a 2-run home run bouncing off the top of the left-field wall for a couple more insurance runs.

The Twins bullpen was able to focus in and keep the Yankees from adding more to their score. Until the 7th inning, that is. Judge led-off with a walk and then ended up at 3rd on Sanchez’s single and a throwing error. Gregorius was intentionally walked to load up the bases, and the Twins got their first out of the inning. A new reliever got a strikeout, and another new reliever promptly walked Aaron Hicks to walk in Judge to add just one more run to the score.

Look, both teams started off really messy and shaky, but both teams pulled it together to show how matched they really were. And it ended Yankees-side up.

Final score: 8-4 Yankees

So, now the Yankees advance to the ALDS against Indians in Cleveland on Thursday, for the best-of-5 game series. Just a reminder, the format goes 2 games in Cleveland, 2 games in the Bronx, and 1 game back in Cleveland, if necessary. The first team to win 3 games advances to the ALCS. But first, tomorrow night, we shift to the National League to watch their Wild Card game between the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

Before tonight’s game, the Yankees held a moment of silence for the victims of the Las Vegas tragedy. They asked reliever and Las Vegas native Chasen Shreve to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in their honor.

Go Yankees!

Game 159: TB vs. NYY — Division hopes get pear-shaped

You know how you have one of those days where everything is working out in your favor, and then suddenly, everything goes pear-shaped and you just can’t do anything about it. Yeah, that was the Yankees’ Thursday night in the Bronx tonight. Much to the chagrin of basically everyone in Yankees’ universe.

Sonny Gray actually had a pretty good night for a good portion of his outing. Through his first 4 innings tonight, Gray threw just 58 pitches, gave up 2 hits, a walk, and a run. In the 1st, he gave up a 1-out solo home run to get the Rays on the board early. But he really reined it in and pushed the Yankees through a solid next few innings.

But then, Gray just kind of collapsed in the 5th inning. With 1 out, he gave up 2 singles to put runners on the corners. A wild pitch scored one run and a throwing error moved the other runner to 3rd. After a nice strikeout allowed the Yankees to hope the inning was almost over, it was not to be. Gray promptly walked the next batter and then gave up a big 2-run home run. After yet another allowed single, that would be it for Gray tonight.

Jonathan Holder came on in relief of Gray, but just couldn’t find that final out either. He hit his first batter with a pitch, gave up a single that scored one runner, and a big triple that scored the remaining 2 runners. That would be it for him too.

It would Chasen Shreve to get the final out of the 5th inning, a sigh of relief in the form of a strikeout. Shreve was breezing through the 6th until he gave up a pinch-hit solo home run, followed by a walk. Girardi wasn’t about to see a repeat of the previous inning, so he went back to the bullpen for Heller. Heller was very strong through the 7th and 8th innings as well, before handing the game to Gallegos who breezed through the 9th in just 12 pitches.

Remember, when I said things were great for the Yankees at first? They really were. Brett Gardner liked the 2nd pitch of the 1st inning and sent it into the 2nd deck of the right field seats for a lead-off home run. Aaron Judge followed that up with his own solo home run (that landed really close to where Gardner’s landed) to get the Yankees on the board early.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Ellsbury singled, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Todd Frazier’s single. Greg Bird added to the score with a lead-off solo home run in the 4th inning after the Rays pulled their starter.

With another pitcher in the 5th (after the disastrous top of the inning), the Yankees were looking for a big comeback. Gardner led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd when Sanchez was hit by a pitch, ended up a 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single.

The Rays were able to piece together a better bullpen again, which didn’t help the Yankees in their efforts to reduce the deficit of runs. In the 9th inning, with yet another reliever on for the Rays, pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks jumped in and smacked a 1-out solo home run that bounced off the bench in the Yankees’ bullpen to get the Yankees back in the game. But 2 outs later, the game was done.

Pear-shaped hit rock-bottom.

Final score: 9-6 Rays, Yankees win series 2-1

Postseason Prep: What makes tonight’s loss even harder to swallow is that the Red Sox were so dominated tonight by the Astros (12-2), keeping the Red Sox at 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. The Yankees host the Blue Jays starting tomorrow for the final series of the season. Basically, in order to win the AL East at this point, the Astros need to sweep the Red Sox (go Astros!) and the Yankees need to sweep the Blue Jays.

On this day in Yankees History: on Sept. 28, 1968, Yankees icon and legend Mickey Mantle played his final career game actually at Fenway. He started the game and hit 3rd in the order. In the 1st inning, he popped out and was promptly replaced (at his request). He just wanted one final game, one final at-bat. He was almost 37, at the height of his alcoholism, and still dealing with a lingering terrible hip injury. He was done with baseball that day nearly 50 years ago, but he spent the next 27 years of his life becoming a better man personally and cherishing the memories he made on the field. So a tip of the cap in memory of old #7.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: TB vs. NYY — #SevySharp, offense upswing continues, community matters

For much of tonight’s game, the Rays and Yankees were pretty much locked into a pitching duel, with both starters giving up minimal base runners for the first 4 innings. In fact, both teams didn’t score until the 5th inning. From there, it was back to being a Yankees-dominated game once again.

Luis Severino got the start for this middle game of the Rays’ series. He threw 91 pitches through his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, a walk, and a run, and struck out 9 Rays batters (because he’s Severino). That lone run was a lead-off solo shot in the 5th inning. It would be the lone allowed run by the Yankee pitching staff all night.

Shreve came on for the 7th, but with just 2 outs and 2 baserunners, the Yankees turned to one of their best middle relievers in recent history (let alone this season) — Chad Green, who only needed 3 pitches to get the final out of the 7th inning. Betances and Chapman closed out the game, with an inning and a strikeout a piece. Basically, being the Betances-Chapman duo we’ve come to expect for the backend of the bullpen.

Now, going into the 5th inning, the Yankees only had minimal offense in the game, just 2 hits and a walk for the first 4 innings. So, the Yankees found their opportunity in the 5th to advance. Ellsbury led-off with a walk and moved to 3rd on Hicks’ single. With 1 out, Aaron Judge’s double scored both runners to get the Yankees on the board and in the lead with one swing.

Then in the 6th, Starlin Castro led-off with a solo home run. That would be the end of the Rays’ starter’s night, despite a pretty good outing overall. Of course, their bullpen hasn’t exactly been in the best shape, so the Yankees continued pouncing. Greg Bird followed up that with his own solo home run into the right field seats. Headley then singled, and after 1 out, Aaron Hicks got in on the fun and hit a 2-run home run to solidify the Yankees’ win.

With another new reliever, the Yankees gave up a double and walk before getting shut down with the 2 outs needed to close out the inning. The final 2 relievers were infinitely better against the Yankees tonight (including a former Yankee, by the way), and shut down any further attempts by the home team to advance their lead.

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

Postseason Prep: More of an FYI… the Red Sox won tonight, so they remain 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. And there’s only 4 games left of the series. They begin their 4-game closing series against the practically unbeatable Astros tomorrow, and the Yankees wrap up their series against the Rays tomorrow afternoon before welcoming the Blue Jays to close out the season. (Go Astros!)

Okay, I know you’re probably already doing your part to help those affected by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. The most recent one, Hurricane Maria certainly devastated many of the Caribbean Islands, including the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which really took the brunt of the storm. In response, many fundraisers are currently underway to help the devastated people, especially those basically trapped in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican MLB players, alumni, and associates have provided several options for you to get involved, including former Yankees Carlos Beltran and Jorge Posada and EPSN broadcaster Marly Rivera.

Our prayers continue to be with those still recovering from this summer’s storms. However, the outpouring from people all over has been amazing to see such kindness, generosity, and love in action. Keep it up, as community still matters even when we’ve recovered from the storms!

Go Yankees!