Cleveland – DJ LeMahieu's tiebreaking single in the ninth inning off Cleveland closer Brad Hand sent the New York Yankees into the AL Division Series with a wild 10-9 win over the Indians early Thursday in a rain-delayed Game 2 that started in September and ended in October.
At 4 hours, 50 minutes — even without the delays — it was the longest nine-inning game (regular season or postseason) in major league history, ending after 1 a.m.
"I don’t know how you top that one — the back and forth, the amount of big plays,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Tonight just had that feeling that these guys weren’t going to be denied. They weren’t going to lose.”
The Yankees will play rival Tampa Bay in a best-of-five division series next week in San Diego. New York went 2-8 during a testy season series with the top-seeded Rays, who 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.
Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees but was charged with six runs in four innings. Tanaka struck out three and walked three in the ninth postseason start of his career.
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 stumbled into the playoffs, 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.”
Aroldis Chapman got the last six outs for the Yankees, aided by a spectacular play from Urshela at third base to begin an inning-ending double play that kept it a one-run game in the eighth. The Indians got the tying run to first in the ninth on a strikeout passed ball with two outs before Chapman struck out pinch-hitter Austin Hedges.
The Yankees rejoiced in the dugout but didn't celebrate on the field — they simply lined up and bumped fists.
New York had taken control of the series with a 12-3 rout in Game 1, but the Yankees quickly found themselves in a hole on Wednesday after the Cleveland offense had its way with Tanaka in a rain-interrupted first inning.
The 31-year-old right-hander gave up RBIs to Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez either side of a two-RBI double from Josh Naylor.
Giancarlo Stanton belted a second-inning homer to start the New York rally and the team chased Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco with a triple and two walks in the fourth. The Yankees took a 5-4 lead when Urshela belted a grand slam off the first man out of the bullpen, right-hander James Karinchak.
Tanaka made way for reliever Chad Green in the fifth after allowing two runners to reach with no outs.
"The ball was soggy and I just couldn't throw it well. I wasn't able to shake it off at any point in the game and had no control," said Tanaka, an impending free agent whose future with the Yankees is uncertain.
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 10 consecutive elimination games stretching back to the 1997 Series.
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 contract for one more season, but he's turned down several offers and the club may have no choice but to trade him before he's a free agent.
The Yankees, meanwhile, 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.”
Braves 1, Reds 0 (13)
In Atlanta, Freddie Freeman singled home the winning run in the 13th inning, finally ending the longest scoreless duel in postseason history as the Braves defeated Cincinnati in the opener of their NL wild-card series.
NL East champion Atlanta won the first game of a postseason series for the first time since the 2001 NL Division Series and can wrap up the best-of-three series on Thursday. If the Braves do, it will snap a record-tying streak of 10 straight playoff round losses.
What began as a pitching showdown between between Cy Young contenders Trevor Bauer of the Reds and Atlanta’s Max Fried devolved into a strikeout contest.
The teams combined for a postseason record 37 Ks — 21 by the Braves.
After a couple of hits in the 13th against Archie Bradley, Freeman drove one into center field off Amir Garrett against a five-man infield with one out to end a game that dragged on for more than 4½ hours.
A four-time All-Star, Freeman produced another big year in a pandemic-shortened season after a battle with COVID-19 in July so severe that he said he prayed: "Please don’t take me.”
Astros 3, Twins 1
In Minneapolis, Carlos Correa hit a two-out, tiebreaking home run off Cody Stashak in the seventh inning for a two-game sweep that sent the AL Central champion Twins to a record 18th straight postseason loss.
Nine months after Houston’s rules-breaking, sign-stealing system was revealed, the defending AL champion Astros advanced to the Division Series. As the sixth seed, they’ll face Oakland or the Chicago White Sox in a best-of-five matchup starting Monday at Dodger Stadium.
Minnesota is 0-18 in the playoffs since winning Game 1 of their 2004 Division Series at the New York Yankees.
Cardinals 7, Padres 4
In San Diego, Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run home run during a four-run first inning, St. Louis’ bullpen held strong after starter Kim Kwang-hyun stumbled in his playoff debut and the Cardinals ruined the Padres' long-awaited return to the playoffs in the opener of their NL wild-card series.
The Cardinals need one more win to eliminate San Diego from the postseason for the fourth time since 1996. They swept the Padres in the NL Division Series in 1996 and 2005, and won 3-1 in 2006, which was the last time San Diego made the postseason. Game 2 is Thursday.
Rays 8, Blue Jays 2
In St. Petersburg, Florida, Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam and the top-seeded Rays completed a two-game sweep to win a postseason series for the first time in 12 years. AL East champion Tampa Bay advanced to an AL Division Series against the New York Yankees on Monday in San Diego.
Renfroe launched the first playoff grand slam in franchise history during a six-run second inning off Ryu Hyun-jin that also included a two-run homer by No. 9 hitter Mike Zunino. Ryu was rocked for a season-high seven runs in 1 ⅔ innings, the lefty’s shortest outing of the season for the wild-card Blue Jays.
Athletics 5, White Sox 3
In Oakland, Marcus Semien and Khris Davis homered early off Dallas Keuchel, and Mark Canha made a game-saving catch against the wall as the A's tied the series 1-1 and forced a deciding Game 3 on Thursday,
Chris Bassitt allowed one run and six hits in seven-plus innings to help the Athletics stop a six-game postseason losing streak dating to 2013.
Dodgers 4, Brewers 2
In Los Angeles, Mookie Betts had two hits and an RBI, Corey Seager homered and the Dodgers beat Milwaukee in the opener of their NL wild-card series.
The eight-time NL West champion Dodgers capitalized early in a bullpen game for the Brewers and can wrap up the best-of-three series on Thursday. Milwaukee — a playoff entrant despite a losing record — limped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed without its best starter and reliever, who are hurt.
Jake Diekman walked home a run in the ninth, then retired Jose Abreu on a sharp grounder for the final out.
Marlins 5, Cubs 1
In Chicago, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer off a fading Kyle Hendricks in the seventh inning, and Miami beat the Cubs in Game 1 of their NL wild-card series.
Jesus Aguilar also homered and Sandy Alcantara pitched three-hit ball into the seventh as the Marlins conjured up memories of past playoff magic in the franchise’s first postseason game since it won the World Series in 2003. The Marlins, who rallied past the Cubs in a memorable NLCS that year, have never lost a playoff series.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Thursday.
Yu Darvish starts for the NL Central champion Cubs, while rookie right-hander Sixto Sanchez pitches for upstart Miami, which is looking to make an unexpected division series trip in the same season that roughly half the roster was sidelined by COVID-19.