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Yankees defeat Twins 8-4 in AL Wild Card game, advance to ALDS

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The Yankees advanced to the ALDS with an 8-4 victory over the Twins in Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium. They did so despite getting only one-third of an inning from starter Luis Severino.

Things started poorly for Severino and never got better. He served up a leadoff home run to Brian Dozier, walked Jorge Polanco with one out, then yielded a two-run home run to Eddie Rosario, putting the Yankees in a 3-0 hole before they could blink. Severino put two more runners on base before being yanked. Chad Green came in and stranded both runners to end the first inning, allowing Yankee fans to breathe a heavy sigh of relief.

The Yankees got back all three of those runs in the bottom half of the first against Ervin Santana. Brett Gardner led off with a walk and advanced to third when Aaron Judge singled. After Gary Sanchez fouled out, Didi Gregorius scorched a three-run home run to right field to tie the game up at three apiece.

Brett Gardner broke the tie in the bottom of the second with a home run to right field of his own off of Santana. The Twins re-tied it in the top of the third when a run scored on a Byron Buxton ground out (Buxton eventually left with an injury). The Yankees un-tied it in the bottom half of the third on a Greg Bird RBI single. Aaron Judge finally provided some breathing room, drilling a two-run home run to left field off of Jose Berrios in the fourth, making it a 7-4 game. Aaron Hicks drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh to account for the Yankees’ eighth and final run.

The unsung heroes of the game, of course, were the Yankees’ relievers. Green gave up a run, but he also got four of his six outs via strikeout, including two to help limit the damage in that sticky bottom of the first. David Robertson pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a walk with five strikeouts. Tommy Kahnle retired all seven batters he faced. Closer Aroldis Chapman worked around a two-out single from Joe Mauer, striking out three batters in the ninth to make the win official.

The Yankees will now face the Indians in the ALDS, which begins on Thursday. Trevor Bauer will start Game 1 for the Indians.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.