CLEVELAND — It took the New York Yankees nearly five hours and carried them from September into October to complete the sweep.
They stumbled into the postseason. They’re standing tall now.
DJ LeMahieu‘s tiebreaking single in the ninth inning off closer Brad Hand sent the Yankees into the AL Division Series – and a matchup with rival Tampa Bay – after a wild 10-9 win over the Cleveland Indians early Thursday in the longest nine-inning game in major league history.
“I don’t know how you top that one – the back and forth, the amount of big plays,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after enough lead changes and drama for a seven-game series. “Tonight just had that feeling that these guys weren’t going to be denied.
“They weren’t going to lose.”
At 4 hours, 50 minutes – even without two weather delays totaling another 76 minutes – it was draining. It’s no wonder after Aroldis Chapman got the final out that that the Yankees barely celebrated. They observed COVID protocols and shared some fist bumps as they left the field.
“You don’t have to pour champagne on each other to appreciate what an epic game that was and the fact that we’re moving on,” Boone said.
The Yankees will play the Rays in a best-of-five Division Series next week in San Diego. New York went 2-8 during a testy season series with top-seeded Tampa, which won the AL East by seven games over the second-place Yankees.
“They’ve been the best team in our league all year, so we’re excited to play the best team and hopefully can have our way with them,” Boone said.
LeMahieu, the AL batting champion during the shortened, 60-game regular season, grounded his hit into center field to score Gio Urshela, who hit a go-ahead grand slam earlier and made a huge defensive play at third base.
“That was one of the best games I’ve played in my life,” Urshela said.
Down 9-8, the Yankees tied it in the ninth on Gary Sanchez‘s sacrifice fly off Hand, who went 16 of 16 on save tries during the season.
The Yankees were staggering last week. But their heavy-hitting lineup got rolling over two nights in chilly, mostly empty Progressive Field. New York pounded Cleveland ace Shane Bieber in the opener and now the Yankees, who hit seven homers in the two games, have found their swing as the calendar flips to the month that defines them.
“We probably caught people’s attention,” Boone said. “We haven’t done anything yet. This was just a stepping stone.”
Chapman got the last six outs for the Yankees, aided by a spectacular play from Urshela to begin an inning-ending double play in the eighth that kept it a one-run game. The Indians got the potential tying run to first in the ninth on a strikeout passed ball with two outs before Chapman struck out pinch-hitter Austin Hedges.
For the Indians, a season of adversity ends with more heartache. They twice rallied to tie the Yankees and took the lead in the eighth on Cesar Hernandez‘s bloop RBI single off Chapman only to have Hand give it away.
Cleveland, which hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, has lost eight straight postseason games and dropped a record 10 consecutive elimination games stretching back to the 1997 Series.
“We had many different things and a lot of obstacles,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr., who filled in for Terry Francona. “But this group stayed together – by any means. We had an eight-game losing streak, they came back.
“Today’s game reflected how much this team grinds and how much they fight.”
Sanchez, benched in Game 1, had a two-run homer and Giancarlo Stanton connected on a solo shot for New York, which was down 4-0 in the first.
The Yankees were two different teams this season as they played much better at home in the Bronx than on the road, going 11-18.
They entered this expanded postseason as a No. 5 seed and not scaring anyone, but now they’ve got momentum.
“When we’re right,” Boone said before Game 2, “it doesn’t matter where we are.”
Down 8-6 and their postseason in jeopardy of a quick ending, the Indians tied it in the seventh on pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow‘s two-out, two-run double off right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga following a gutty move by Alomar.
With two on, Alomar sent Luplow to the plate instead of Josh Naylor, who became the first player in major league history to get five hits in his first five postseason plate appearances.
Luplow smoked a ball to center that went over Aaron Hicks‘ head and brought in two to tie it, sending Cleveland’s bench into a frenzy.
A two-time All-Star, Sanchez was benched for the opener after hitting .147 over 60 games, and he batted ninth for the first time in his career in Game 2.
But he rewarded Boone’s faith by connecting in the sixth inning off Indians rookie Triston McKenzie with a wind-aided shot to right that barely cleared the wall and snapped a 6-all tie.
“He’s shown me a lot the last couple of days,” Boone said of his catcher.
The Indians will now head into an offseason of uncertainty.
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor went 1 for 8 in the series and may have played his last game in Cleveland. The Indians have him under control for one more season, but he’s turned down several contract offers and the club may have no choice but to trade him before he becomes a free agent.
The Yankees had rallied from a 4-0 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the fourth on Urshela’s grand slam, which looked as if it might haunt Cleveland fans for years.
Urshela, who started at third base for the Indians in the 2017 postseason against the Yankees, connected off reliever James Karinchak after Alomar pulled starter Carlos Carrasco with the bases loaded.
Alomar wasn’t taking any chances and pulled the right-hander for Karinchak, a quirky reliever who warms up to “Wild Thing” and wears No. 99 after the fictional Ricky Vaughn character in “Major League.”
The move backfired as Urshela blasted a 3-2 pitch onto the tarp-covered bleachers in left.
Depending on what happens with Francona, Alomar could be Cleveland’s next manager. The former Indians All-Star catcher has been a managerial candidate elsewhere in the past, but never felt any of the opportunities were genuine.
“Some of the interviews were, to me, token interviews,” he said. “If somebody’s interested, they can call and we’ll talk. But it’s not like I’m pushing myself or promoting myself to be a manager.”
Indians: C Roberto Perez left with a bruised right hand after being hit by a pitch in the seventh.
Yankees: Some rest before the ALDS begins on Monday.
Indians: A potentially turbulent offseason of major decisions on Lindor, Francona’s health and perhaps a name change.