Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees have to win their fourth elimination game in just over a week to advance in these AL playoffs. The Indians must shrug off the ghosts of their blown World Series last year, in which they lost three consecutive do-or-die games to the Cubs.
Corey Kluber thinks he needs to correct, as he put it, "Everything," about the way he pitched in his Game 2 stinker. CC Sabathia is just glad to be working Wednesday night in Cleveland. Why? "Watching these games, you'll get an ulcer," Sabathia said at the off-day press conferences in Cleveland.
"But pitching in them is a lot more fun."
There's plenty more percolating in what has been a riveting AL Division Series, so much so that Wednesday night is must-see baseball. Cleveland is looking for its first World Series title since the days of Lou Boudreau in 1948. The Yankees are trying to get their tremendous young talent to keep this unexpected run going.
Joe Girardi's legacy might be at stake - a Yankee win at Progressive Field could mean that Girardi's blunders in Game 2 won't stick to him like an annoying nickname. And while Terry Francona might get some heat for starting Trevor Bauer on short rest in Game 4, he's got his ace, Kluber, lined up on regular rest for the deciding game.
Edwin Encarnacion could be back from a sprained ankle, a development that would vastly improve the Cleveland lineup. The Indians were a woeful 9-for-61 in Games 3 and 4, posted a .148 average, and had just three extra-base hits and scored only three runs.
MVP candidate Jose Ramirez is 2-for-17 (.118) overall and Francisco Lindor may have hit that splashy grand slam in Game 2, but it's his only hit in the series. Michael Brantley (.091), Jason Kipnis (.222) and Austin Jackson (.200) have struggled, too.
When Francona was asked about Ramirez, if there was anything the manager could do to get him to relax, Francona joked: "Do you want me to give him like a Xanax?"
Hmm, maybe the Indians aren't as tight as they looked in a messy Game 4. Still, that performance was enough for Francona to call a brief team meeting afterward. "We just met for literally 30 seconds," Francona said.
The message was simple: "We've got to move forward," Francona said. "It was just, 'Hey, let's remember who we are, how we got there and what we do.'
"I'm glad we did it, because I felt better when we left. You might as well start heading in the right direction as soon as you can, not let guys think about it all night."
There is plenty about this series that will stick in people's minds, however. Francona mentioned Aaron Judge's stellar defensive play in Game 3, when the 6-foot-7 Yankee right fielder robbed Lindor of a home run by reaching above the wall to make a catch.
"There are so many things that are within a game that sometimes between winning and losing is so little margin," Francona said. "Like the other night, if Judge is 6'2", we win. And everybody's like, My God, you guys swept 'em."
And, as some Yankee fans no doubt think about every day, the series might already be done if the Yanks had held on to an 8-3 lead in Game 2.
In that game, Girardi caught some flak for taking out Sabathia in the sixth inning after only 77 pitches. Actually, it was kind of in line with the way Girardi had used Sabathia during the season, but the Yanks had a big lead and the bullpen could've used a break. We'll never know what might have happened.
It bears watching how the manager handles Sabathia Wednesday night. "CC's used to these big moments, so we feel good about him on the mound," Girardi said.
Judge is another enormous subplot and that's not a joke about his extra-large frame. He is 1-for-15 with 12 strikeouts in the series, his one hit being a two-run double in Game 4. He's walked four times, but he can really do damage with one powerful swing. Does he inflict any Wednesday night?
Kluber, who allowed six runs in 2.2 innings in Game 2, could take over the game with his tremendous stuff, including a nasty breaking pitch. Francona noted that his ace has been "having a hard time finding his comfort level in his mechanics" and not just in the one start.
But his side work was productive and Francona opined, "My feeling is he'll be just fine."
Still, the Yankees know they can hit Kluber now. They also know they've taken three straight win-or-go-home games.
We'll find out what those are worth in Game 5. Whatever happens, it should be worth watching.