I couldn’t envision how the Yankees could possibly win Game 4. They were opting to start Jordan Montgomery, the starting pitcher they view to be the weakest of their five in an elimination game, five weeks after he couldn’t make it out of the first inning against the same Rays at Yankee Stadium. Their right-handed heavy lineup was going to see the Rays’ bullpen for nine innings, a group they have failed to hit against in 13 games in 2020. And the Yankees were going to have to piece together at least 15 outs from a bullpen that has two truly trustworthy relievers and a third who has fallen off of late.
I expected the Yankees to lose. Like I wrote after Game 3, they would need a miracle to save their season and get to a Gerrit Cole start in Game 5 on Friday. And a miracle is what they got.
Here is what I wrote in my Game 3 Thoughts:
I hope the offense we saw in the first three postseason games returns and Montgomery is good enough to give the Yankees length and Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman can close it out. That’s asking for a lot. It’s asking for a miracle. But that’s what the Yankees will need to win this series and avoid wasting another season in their championship window: a miracle.
It was asking for a lot, but it all got answered.
Montgomery pitched four innings of one-run ball in Game 4, working in and out of trouble right from the first batter of the game when Yandy Diaz opened the night with a leadoff single. He put six runners on his outing, but limited the damage the way he has when he has been at his best in his young career.
The offense returned to score five runs in the game and the all-important first run of the game. Leading 2-1 in the sixth, the Yankees did what they did in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the series and something they failed to do all regular season: tack on runs. Gleyber Torres hit a two-run home run to increase the Yankees’ lead to 4-1, and in the eighth inning, Torres stole second with two outs and scored on a single to make it 5-1.
Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman did close it out. First, it was Chad Green in relief of Montgomery, and Green redeemed himself from his disastrous second inning of work the night before by pitching a perfect fifth and sixth. Then it was Britton who retired all four batters he faced, striking out three to get the Yankees within four outs of a win. Finally, Chapman came in for his first appearance of the series and slammed the door on the Rays and any hope they had of wrapping the series up in four games.
Luke Voit decided to join the Yankees in the ALDS as the regular-season MVP candidate hit his first career postseason home run to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. I was waiting for Voit, Torres and Aaron Judge to join DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks as part of the offense in this series and Voit and Torres did. I’m still waiting on Judge.
After the Game 3 loss, Judge said, “Win or gome. Those are the games I like to play in. That’s what you live for as an athlete. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
It was a weird thing for Judge to say considering he entered Thursday 7-for-35 with 17 strikeouts and a .300 on-base percentage in nine career elimination games. (The Yankees have obviously been eliminated at some point in his three postseasons with the team.) In Game 4, Judge continued his elimination game slump with an 0-for-4 performance, though he did draw a walk. Judge struck out in his first plate appearance, rolled over a ground ball to third on a 2-0 pitch in his second, walked in his third, popped out to the catcher in his fourth and reached on an error in his fifth.
The Yankees need Judge at some point this postseason to put together some consistency. The two-run home run off Shane Bieber in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series and the solo home run off Blake Snell in Game 1 of this series aren’t going to hold up forever. That has sort of been Judge’s history in now four postseasons: starting off with a bang and then fading as October goes on. The Yankees need Judge if they’re going to go to where they want to get to. They might be able to win the final game of the ALDS without him providing any production, but it’s hard to imagine they can win another two series with him hitting like this.
Aaron Boone had to make four decisions in the game, and they were all rather easy decisions that anyone could have made, but he still had to make them, and they all worked out. So since I’m in a great mood following the season-saving win and ecstatic that my nights aren’t going to be booked with TV Land re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens for the foreseeable future until baseball is played in 2021 (whenever that might be), I will give Boone some credit. The first of those moves was going to Green for the fith. The second was staying with Green for the sixth. The third was going to Britton for the seventh. The fourth was going to Chapman with two outs in the eighth. Everything Boone did worked out. (I can’t believe I just wrote that, let alone in the postseason. It really has been a miracle night.)
For a day, Boone is safe from my criticism (until the Game 5 lineup is announced, so not even a full day). I think he’s safe in his position no matter what happens in this series or this postseason after Cashman recently said he hopes Boone has a 10-year run as Yankees manager, considering Cashman is the one who decides if Boone is the Yankees’ manager. The best thing that can happen on Friday night in Game 5 is that Cole and the Yankees’ offense keep Boone in the dugout and away from the game. That’s the game plan every night: don’t let Boone have a say in the outcome of the game.
I didn’t expect the Yankees to win Game 4, but I do expect them to win Game 5. Winning Game 4 was the hard part. Now they have the advantage in Game 5.
The Yankees have the Rays exactly where they want them. OK, maybe not exactly where they want them since I’m sure they would rather have Cole on four days rest instead of three, but they will have their No. 1 starter going with a chance to advance to the ALCS for a rematch against the hated Astros. The Rays can’t feel good about their chances after losing Game 4 in which they had a definitive advantage.
A year ago Saturday, Cole pitched against the Rays in the same situation: Game 5 of the ALDS. Cole’s Astros had blown a 2-0 series lead with back-to-back losses in Tampa, and the best pitcher in baseball in 2019 would take the ball with a chance to advance his team to the ALCS. His line from that game:
8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HR.
Can he please do that again in Game 5 on Friday?
I do have to temper my expectations though. I remember walking out of the Stadium in 2005 after the Yankees’ comeback win in Game 4 to save their season in the ALDS against the Angels only to lose Game 5 the following night in Anaheim. I remember thinking they would win it all after routing the Tigers in Detroit in Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS in a game started by A.J. Burnett, only to lose because of an inability to hit with runners in scoring position in Game 5 two nights later. The Yankees have the advantage, but nothing is guaranteed, even with Cole pitching. (Though that’s about as close to a guarantee as you can get.)
There is officially at least one more day of Yankees baseball this season. With Cole on the mound in Game 5 on Friday, there should be at least another four days of Yankees baseball next week.
Four down, nine to go.
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