SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the four division series and predicts who will be left standing for the championship series.
USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND – Five takeaways from the Cleveland Indians’ 4-0 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday night in Game 1 of their American League Division Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland:
1. Bauer Power
Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer said he “didn’t enjoy coming to the field” earlier in the season, hitting bottom when he failed to make it out of the first inning June 16 against the Athletics at Oakland. His record fell to 7-7 through 17 starts while his ERA rose to 5.24 ERA.
Bauer certainly enjoyed being at Progressive Field on Thursday night, though, as he pitched two-hit ball in 6 2/3 dominant innings and combined with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen on a three-hit shutout. That came on the heels of Bauer going 10-1 with a 2.60 ERA in his last 14 regular-season starts.
Bauer struck out eight, walked one and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Aaron Hicks broke it up with a one-out double.
“He had his breaking ball early, and he had a good one,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He had his life on his fastball. He pitched in. I thought he pitched a terrific game.”
2. Francona vindicated
Francona took heat from the media and fans for not starting ace Corey Kluber in Game 1. The rationale was the Indians wanted to pitch Kluber in Game 2 the likely AL Cy Young Award winner would be able to start in a potential winner-take-all Game 5 next Wednesday in Cleveland on regular rest.
Now the Indians hold a 1-0 lead in the series are sending a pitcher to the mound who went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 29 starts in the regular season. In his last 14 outings, Kluber is 11-1 with a 1.66 ERA.
Game 2 is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. ET on Friday.
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“I kind of live by you do what you think is right, and you answer the questions, and then in the morning I don’t run to see how I’m being perceived,” Francona said. “You have to have the confidence of what you’re doing. And it’s not always going to work. We can’t win every game. But I was completely comfortable with our decision to do what we did for a number of reasons.”
3. Bruce on the loose
When All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley sustained a sprained ankle on Aug. 8, the Indians acted quickly and traded for New York Mets right fielder Jay Bruce the next day. The move paid off in Game 1 as Bruce homered, doubled and drove in three runs for the Indians.
Bruce got the Indians started when he doubled to lead off the second inning and scored the game’s first run. His two-run home run to right field in the fourth inning off Sonny Gray pushed the lead to 3-0 and he added a sacrifice fly an inning later to close the scoring.
“I’m very, very fortunate to be here,” Bruce said. “I couldn’t be in a better situation.”
4. Counting on CC
The Yankees’ starting pitchers have worked a total of 3 2/3 innings in their first two postseason games, leaving the bullpen overtaxed. Gray lasted just 3 1/3 innings in Game 1, allowing three runs, after Luis Severino retired only one of the six batters he faced Tuesday night in the wild card game victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Manager Joe Girardi could use a solid outing from left-hander CC Sabathia in Game 2. However, the 37-year-old pitched past the sixth inning just six times in 27 starts during the regular season despite going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA.
“This has been a guy we’ve relied on heavily after losses this year, and he’s pitched some of the biggest wins for us over the course of the season,” Girardi said. “He’s been in a ton of these games and you know that there’s no situation that is too big for CC.”
5. Judge grabs some bench
Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge took the dreaded golden sombrero by striking out in all four plate appearances. Judge set the major-league rookie record with 52 home runs in the regular season but his 208 strikeouts were also the most in the big leagues in 2017.
“He just missed a few pitches,” Girardi said. “I thought he had some good swings tonight, and he’ll be back tomorrow.”