The Cleveland Indians held a 2-0 series lead and were tied in the seventh inning of Game 3 with a chance to sweep the New York Yankees Sunday night in Yankee Stadium.
But a solo home run by Greg Bird off dominant left-handed reliever Andrew Miller was all it took for the Yankees to avoid elimination with a 1-0 win.
And just like that, New York is not only back in the series, but it gets to throw staff ace Luis Severino against short-rested Trevor Bauer in Game 4 tonight with a chance to force a do-or-die Game 5 back in Cleveland Wednesday night.
On one hand, there is an argument to be made that the Yankees lost Game 2 as much as the Indians won the wild 9-8 victory in 13 innings on Friday. It very well could be the Yankees going for the series clincher tonight if not for an abnormal sequence of events.
But the Yankees had to play perfect to win Sunday night — and they did.
However, there is also the case to be made that if 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge isn’t playing right field, Francisco Lindor hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning and this series is already over.
The Indians have gotten poor production out of Lindor — save for one big swing — and Jose Ramirez in this series. Yet — they were literally one swing away from the sweep. Not to mention minus three innings against Corey Kluber (go figure) — Indians pitching has held the Yankees to just three runs in 28 innings in this series.
So where are we? Probably somewhere in between both arguments.
The pressure is on both teams equally, in my opinion. Cleveland certainly doesn’t want the series to linger, and the Yankees are going to play their third elimination game in six days.
Once again, pitching wasn’t the issue for the Indians. Jason Kipnis hits a triple in the third inning with one out — and two stalwarts, Ramirez and Jay Bruce, both go down swinging and didn’t even make the Yankees make a play in the field.
Ramirez and Lindor each have just one hit through the first three games — and with the absence of Edwin Encarnacion for one has to assume at least for tonight’s Game 4, that cannot continue.
Now, Masahiro Tanaka was incredible Sunday night for the Yankees in Game 3. He pitched from ahead all night, and his 1.29 ERA at home since the All-Star break is the best in the Majors.
The Indians had not been shut out since July 14 — the first game after the All-Star break concluded in Oakland. Severino is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in two starts against the Tribe this year, allowing four earned runs in 13-plus innings — but he also struck out 18 batters in those two starts.
This certainly will be a tall order tonight — if there is even a game. The early forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of rainfall near a quarter of an inch in the Bronx throughout today.
Who knows, does a rain delay and an extra day of rest for Bauer and the Indians help or hurt? Hard to say.
But as the stress of the postseason carries us all into our usual Monday doldrums, I’m going to rely on track record.
By now we know the stat: The Indians have lost three consecutive games just twice since the middle of the 2015 season — more than two years ago. When we all worried about the hangover of a record 22-game winning streak, all the Tribe did was win 13 of their next 16 games prior to Sunday.
Pitching has been the identity of this team for several years, and one has been given no reason for that not to continue in Game 4. But with or without Encarnacion, it’s time for the ‘big boys’ of the Tribe lineup to have a bounce back game — or risk a winner-take-all scenario on Wednesday.
Pressure is a privilege. No one knows that better than this core group of Indians players. If any group can steal the momentum back, it’s this one.
Now, it’s time for them to deliver and come up big one more time in a hostile environment.
But in the meantime, it’s a tight series. Here we go.