González, Guardians walk off Yankees for 2-1 ALDS lead

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEVELAND – Rookie Oscar Gonzalez hit a two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning, rallying the Cleveland Guardians to a 6-5 win over the New York Yankees on Saturday night for a 2-1 lead in their AL Division Series.

Gonzalez, a hero earlier in the postseason as well, lined a 1-2 pitch from Clarke Schmidt through the middle to score rookie Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario as the young Guardians, who have shown no fear during this storybook season, rallied once again and pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination.

Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer for New York, which carried a 5-3 lead into the ninth before its bullpen flopped and the Guardians staged yet another comeback win.

As Rosario crossed the plate, Gonzalez flung his helmet high in the air standing near first base as his teammates rushed onto the field to mob him. The 24-year-old outfielder hit a walk-off homer in the 15th inning last week to sweep the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card round.

Game 4 is Sunday night, when the Yankees turn to ace Gerrit Cole to prevent an early postseason exit.

Before Cleveland’s comeback, the Yankees were 167-0 in the postseason when entering the ninth inning with a multiple-run lead.

The win followed a familiar formula for the Guardians, who led the majors with 29 wins in their final at-bat this season and have now done it twice in a week – both times with Gonzalez delivering the game-winning hit.

Gonzalez walks to the plate to the theme song for “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a fitting anthem for baseball’s youngest team.

With one out in the ninth, Myles Straw blooped a single off Wandy Peralta and scampered to second when the ball got by left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera, who missed it with a dive. Kwan then dropped a base hit into left and Yankees manager Aaron Boone brought in Schmidt.

Rosario followed with an RBI single to make it 5-4 before Jose Ramirez fisted a ball to the open left side that shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa stopped with a slide, preventing the tying run from scoring.

Schmidt then struck out Josh Naylor on three pitches before Gonzalez had his second monumental moment of this October.

The Yankees are in trouble. They were outhit 15-5 and will be facing a team with all the momentum when they try force the best-of-five series back to Yankee Stadium for Game 5 on Monday.

Judge belted a mammoth two-run homer, and Cabrera and Harrison Bader also connected for New York.

Judge’s 449-foot shot in the third inning off Triston McKenzie was his first hit in 10 at-bats in the series. The timing couldn’t have been better as the Yankees needed a spark and got a seismic jolt from baseball’s most feared slugger.

However, the Yankees’ bullpen, which has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency, couldn’t protect the lead. It also hurt that Boone didn’t have Aroldis Chapman, who was left off the postseason roster when he skipped a workout.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.