We were wondering which Yankees’ team was going to show up in these playoffs.
Well, Tuesday night marked the emphatic Return of the “Fully Operational Death Star.”
Gerrit Cole shoved. Aaron Judge set the tone. Gleyber Torres looked like a superstar again. Even Brett Gardner posted a throwback performance.
Add it all up, and you get the Evil Empire many love to hate.
The Bronx Bombers executed their gameplan against Shane Bieber to perfection, rolling past the Indians 12-3 in what felt like a must-win Game 1 at Progressive Field.
The Yankees paid Cole $324 million to put them over the top. But they didn’t exactly look like a championship-caliber club during the truncated regular-season, too streaky for anyone’s taste. There were deficiencies across the board. In the lineup. In the rotation. In the bullpen. In the field.
They had lost any sort of homefield advantage. Bieber had looked unhittable. The pressure was on.
With the stakes high, Cole rose to the occasion. His teammates did, too. The Yankees’ advance staff, arguably, most of all.
Cole finished with 13 strikeouts over seven sterling innings, working in perfect harmony with personal catcher Kyle Higashioka. Josh Naylor got on top of his high heater a couple times. Few others did.
But it was what the Bombers did to Bieber that stood out the most. With strong advanced scouting, they hunted first-pitch fastballs and spit at his breaking pitches.
Four pitches in, it was 2-0 thanks to a leadoff single from DJ LeMahieu (on a third-pitch heater) and a two-run shot from Judge (on a first-pitch heater). And remember, Judge had recorded just one extra-base hit since coming off the injured list (and it wasn’t a homer).
No. 99, though, always steps up when the calendar turns to October (or, in this case, late September). He has nine career playoff homers, the last three off Cy Young award winners in David Price, Justin Verlander and Bieber (to-be-announced in 2020).
Opponents hit .210 against Bieber’s fastball with two homers during the regular season, according to Brooksbasell.net. On Tuesday night, the Yankees had five hits against the pitch – two of them homers.
Gardner added an RBI double on a first-pitch heater in the fourth, while Torres contributed a two-run shot on a four-seamer (in the sixth pitch of his at-bat) in the fifth. Bieber who had an AL-best 1.63 ERA in 2020, was charged with seven runs on nine hits in 4.2 innings.
Aaron Hicks was the only Yankee in the starting lineup without a hit, though he walked and scored twice. Torres finished with a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs. He was the team’s most feared hitter during the postseason last year, but struggled through injuries and defensive issues at shortstop for much of 2019. No. 25 becoming a feared bat again is significant.
Meanwhile, Gardner, who many wanted benched in favor of Clint Frazier, finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs. LeMahieu and Voit had two hits apiece, with the struggling Giancarlo Stanton even adding a 443-foot solo blast in garbage time.
The Yankees were able to blend big flies and small-ball. None of their high-leverage relievers pitched. The Bombers still need a win to advance to the ALDS, of course. Masahiro Tanaka (1.76 postseason ERA in eight career starts) gets the ball on Tuesday night in Game 2.
As for Game 1, well, it was perfect. It was the Return of the “Fully Operational Death Star.”