One unexpected, the other arriving out of a painful memory.
The Indians beat the Yankees on Sunday, 8-4, in New York. Thanks in part to those two homers and some strong pitching, the Tribe earne3d a split in this four-game series in the Bronx. Regarding the season series, that went the Tribe’s way as well, 4-3.
The Indians (74-51) remained 2.5 games behind Minnesota in the American League Central division standings. Cleveland also continues to hold the home position for the AL Wild Card Game, one game ahead of Tampa Bay (73-52) and 1.5 games ahead of Oakland (71-63).
Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t start third baseman Jose Ramirez on Sunday. Ramirez is hitting .370 (51-for-138) with nine homers and 26 RBIs in his career against the Yankees. He owns the highest batting average of any active player in the American League with a minimum of 100 plate appearances.
But Francona wanted to couple Ramirez’s day off Sunday with Monday’s off day for the team.
“Jose has known for four or five days that he’d have today off,” Francona said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. But I think it will really do him some good. There are a lot of bumps and bruises.”
Mike Freeman started in Ramirez’s place at third base. Freeman, in just his third start since July 28, hit a three-run homer off CC Sabathia (5-7, 3.01) in the second inning for a 4-0 lead. Franmil Reyes singled to open the inning for his first hit of the series. Roberto Perez added another single and Jason Kipnis advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt.
Reyes, running on contact, scored on Greg Allen’s bouncer to short. Freeman, with the count 1-1, hit Sabathia’s 79 mph slider over the fence in right. It was his fourth homer of the season and the first three-RBI game of his career. Freeman added two doubles in his next three at-bats.
“They gave me a heads up after the game Saturday that Jose would have a day off and I’d be in there,” Freeman said. “I just tried to do my best Jose Ramirez impression and it worked out today.”
Said Francona, “Mike Freeman, who doesn’t play that often, and then gets a game where he has to face a lefty. And he ends up being our most productive hitter. When you say stay ready, that’s my definition of him.”
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor made it 6-0 with a homer to right that barely eluded Aaron Judge, New York’s 6-7 right fielder. OK, of course, it went out. . . this time.
The last time Lindor and Judge were joined so closely on a long ball hit to right field at Yankee Stadium it went the other way. In the sixth inning of Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS, with a runner on base, Lindor sent a drive to right that Judge caught as he stretched over the fence. That catch was the only thing that stood in the way of the Tribe sweeping the Yankees in the ALDS.
But Judge made the catch, the Yankees won, 1-0, and proceeded to sweep the Indians out of the postseason in the best-of-five series.
“Tito said after that homer, ‘If that had happened in the playoffs we would have been in the World Series,'” Lindor said. I told him, ‘Don’t remind me.’ It stinks. But it is what it is.'"
But that seems like 100 years ago and the Indians are on another playoff quest. This time they’re playing from behind, trying to catch the Twins while hanging on to a spot in the wild-card race. It has made every victory crucial, and the Indians needed Sunday’s game after losing one-run decisions on Friday and Saturday following their 19-5 blowout win on Thursday.
Mike Clevinger (8-2, 3.11) pitched five scoreless innings, striking out 10 and walking two, for the win. Clevinger is 7-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his last nine starts.
“There was some bending but no break,” Francona said when asked about Clevinger. “He only had two walks, but there were so many deep counts. The way they work pitchers, they made him work every inning. But he kept them off the scoreboard."
The Yankees squeezed Clevinger for 104 pitches through the fifth, which meant Francona had to go to the bullpen to cover the final four innings. He used Nick Goody, Hunter Wood, Oliver Perez, Nick Wittgren and Brad Hand to finish the game.
The Yankees, who lead the big leagues with 47 homers in August, finally broke through in the seventh. Mike Ford singled off Wood to start the inning. DJ LeMahieu followed with a 331-foot pop up/turned homer that dropped into the front row of the short porch in right field to make it 5-2.
Hand, making his first appearance in six days, allowed two runs on three hits before ending it in the ninth.
The Indians, 24-13 since the All-Star break, extended their lead to 8-2 on Oscar Mercado’s RBI single in the sixth and his two-run homer in the eighth. Mercado, who doubled twice in Saturday’s 3-2 loss, went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two steals on Sunday.
Mercado sat the first two games of this series because he was slumping and Francona felt he needed a rest.
The Indians are off Monday before playing their first-ever series at Citi Field on Tuesday night against the Mets. The Tribe will start right-handers Shane Bieber (12-5, 3.27), Adam Plutko (5-3, 4.67) and Aaron Civale (1-2, 1.50) in their first series against the Mets in New York since 2004. The Mets will counter with lefty Steve Matz (7-7, 4.33) and right-handers Marcus Stroman (7-11, 3.21) and Noah Syndergaard (8-6, 3.86). SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM will carry the series.