This one was a lot more stressful than the final score indicates, right? The Yankees may have won by six, but this was a nail biter for the first five or six innings. The Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, and after blowing it to give the Yankees a 3-2 advantage, tied it again at 3. It looked like this was shaping up to be one of those tight high scoring affairs that we saw in Minnesota this summer, but thankfully our hearts were spared.
The offense started to pull away against Minnesota’s bullpen thanks to home runs from DJ LeMahieu and Brett Gardner. LeMahieu also broke the game wide open with a bases clearing double in the 7th inning. Oh, James Paxton pitched in this one too and did respectably. The final score: 10-4. On to the takeaways:
It’s DJ LeMahieu’s world and we’re living in it. Tonight’s game didn’t start off all that great for LeMahieu, but gosh did he make up for it.
Here’s the poor start for DJ: In the first inning, he struck out against Twins’ starter José Berríos. Then, in the second, it got ugly:
Fortunately, James Paxton bailed him out of this one. He induced an inning ending 5-4-3 double play to escape further trouble.
After that, LeMahieu started cooking. He led off the third inning with a bloop single and came around to score on Edwin Encarnación’s RBI double, which made it 2-1 Twins at the time.
LeMahieu struck out again in the fourth, but rebounded two innings later:
That solo shot increased the Yankees’ lead to 6-4. Later, with the score 7-4 and the game still feeling tight, LeMahieu let everyone exhale:
10-4. LeMahieu’s line: 3-for-5, 4 RBIs, a double, and a homer. Not bad, not bad at all.
It wasn’t just LeMahieu — Gleyber Torres and the rest of the offense are a bunch of savages too. The lineup’s first four hitters were excellent today, but there were contributions all around this evening. First, a glance at spots one through four:
We already touched on LeMahieu. Aaron Judge was on base three of four times and scored twice, though his biggest highlights in tonight’s game were on the defensive side of the field. He made two excellent diving catches to slow down Minnesota’s offense.
Shortly after LeMahieu homered in the sixth, Brett Gardner got in on the action himself:
It’s amazing how he’s turned into a power hitter this year.
And then there’s Edwin Encarnación, who immediately put to bed any health concerns. Obviously, the Yankees were confident enough to roster him, let alone bat him clean up tonight.
EE rewarded the team’s faith right away with a rocket double in the first inning. That nearly led to a run, though Minnesota barely escape on a swinging bunt groundout by Giancarlo Stanton. But, later, Encarnación opened the scoring for the Yankees with an RBI double in the third.
Hitters five through nine only had one hit — Gleyber Torres’ tie-breaking two-run double in the fifth that put the Yankees up for good.
In fairness, the latter half of the lineup contributed by working Twins’ pitchers hard. They reached base via free pass six times, three for Stanton alone.
James Paxton had a solid playoff debut. The Big Maple’s final line wasn’t pretty, but all things considered, his first playoff start was a success. Minnesota’s lineup is a bear to deal with, and that he allowed 3 runs in 4 2/3 innings is no small feat.
In spite of a first inning solo homer allowed to Jorge Polanco, you could tell Paxton was sharp from the start. He struck out 3 in that first frame and 8 overall while generating 12 whiffs on 86 pitches. Let’s circle back to Polanco’s dinger for a second though, which gave the Twins a quick 1-0 advantage.
Polanco ambushed a 97.7 MPH four-seamer for the homer. Can’t say I expected that. Earlier this week, I had noted how poorly Polanco hits from the right side of the plate. So of course, Polanco also got a clutch hit against Paxton in the fifth inning that knocked him out of the game: a two-out RBI single that tied the score at 3. That time, Polanco looped a knuckle curve into left field for the hit. Go figure.
Paxton’s only other mistake of the night was against Nelson Cruz.
It’s no shame to get beat by Cruz, of course. He’s very, very tough to get out.
Obviously, I’d love to have seen Paxton shove against Minnesota, but that’s a tall task against that lineup. More importantly, it didn’t look like Paxton was rattled one bit. He looked composed throughout the entire outing.
Aaron Boone was aggressive with his bullpen. So, how did everyone feel about Boone’s managing tonight? After all, we haven’t seen him put to the test on in-game decisions for at least a month or so now. The division had been all but locked up for September. Here were the big moves:
- Brought in Adam Ottavino to face Nelson Cruz in the fifth inning with two on and two out. The score was 3-3 at the time.
- After Ottavino walked Cruz, Boone summoned Tommy Kahnle to face Eddie Rosario. Kahnle retired Rosario on a fly out.
- In the sixth, Kahnle was yanked with one on and one out. The Yankees had a 5-3 lead to start the frame, but Kahnle allowed a leadoff homer to Miguel Sanó to cut the lead to one. After a walk and a strikeout, in came Chad Green.
- Green pitched got the next two outs and was done. Zack Britton pitched a clean 7th to hold onto a 7-4 lead.
My two cents: I liked the Ottavino move. He’s the Yankees’ best option to retire Cruz in big spots. Yes, he walked him, but not before Cruz spit on a bunch of nasty sliders. I don’t love the fact that he was burned after just one batter, but I also understand not wanting him to face the lefty in Rosario.
I also liked that he didn’t push things with Kahnle, who didn’t look all that great in September anyway. Also, I expected Green to pitch the seventh, but no dice. That would have allowed Britton to stay in the ‘pen until the 8th.
Before LeMahieu’s double, it got a little scary when we saw JA Happ warming for the eighth inning with a three run lead. It was no certainty that Britton would pitch a second inning. Thankfully, the insurance runs allowed the Yankees to exhale and use Happ.
- Cameron Maybin pinch ran for Giancarlo Stanton in the 7th. Maybin stole second and later stole third on a double steal with Gleyber Torres trailing. Stanton’s fine by the way — G’s a good fielder generally speaking, but given his health this season and Maybin’s skills, the move made sense.
- So, about that Twins’ bullpen. They allowed 7 runs in 5 innings tonight, though they really only pitched one of their good relievers, Tyler Duffey. Part of that was Rocco Baldelli’s fault, who oddly brought in Zack Littell to start the fifth in a 3-3 game. He walked Judge and plunked Gardner and was promptly pulled. Both of those runs were inherited by Duffey and came around to score.
- Happ put up a zero in the eighth inning and Aroldis Chapman pitched a clean ninth frame in a non-save situation.
That was a long one, huh? Worth it though! The Yankees lead the best of 5 series 1-0. These two sides are right back at it tomorrow at 5:07pm in the Bronx.