CLEVELAND — There was misery and mystery Saturday night as the Yankees season teeters on the brink. Oscar Gonzalez’s two-out, two-strike sharp grounder off rookie righthander Clarke Schmidt got through second base and capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth 6-5 walk-off win for the Guardians in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.
All while the Yankees’ “closer,” Clay Holmes watched from the bullpen.
It was the Yankees’ first-ever postseason loss with multiple runs going into the ninth inning. They were previously 167-0 in that situation and now the Guardians take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the best-of-five-game series on Sunday night. The Yankees will have their ace Gerrit Cole in regular rest going in what is now a do-or-die game for the Bombers.
“Love that Gerrit’s on the mound. Let’s go get it. Tonight obviously was a gut-wrenching ending, but we got to get over it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Now we’re obviously up against it, but I still love our chances. Got Gerrit going tomorrow. Got to go take care of business and try to get back to New York.”
The Yankees were one strike away from going into Sunday’s game with the series lead.
Lefty Wandy Peralta, who had gotten the four previous outs for the Yankees, came in to start the bottom ninth. He got Luke Maile to fly out to right, before Myles Straw singled on a ball that dropped in front of a diving Oswaldo Cabrera in left field. When shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa went to throw the ball in, Straw took second. Steven Kwan lined a single into shallow left field.
Boone went to Schmidt.
Amed Rosario hit a hard grounder to left field for an RBI single and Jose Ramirez singled on a grounder to shortstop to load the bases. Schmidt struck out Josh Naylor and was ahead of Gonzalez 1-2, but the Guardian’s right fielder slapped a slider past the shift at second base and into center field.
“It’s probably my best pitch,” Schmidt said when asked about going with four straight sliders to Gonzalez. “So, you definitely want to lean on it in a situation like that.”
Holmes, who had thrown 16 pitches in Friday night’s game and 10 in Tuesday nights, was for “emergency use,” only Saturday, Boone said. The All Star who saved 20 games for the Yankees this season, is coming off a rotator cuff strain that shut him down for the last week of the regular season. The Bombers’ brass had decided not to use him in back-to-back situations. Boone said that Holmes had no further injury, but they considered him “compromised.”
“Part of the thing with him being available for this series was not really in back-to-back situations yet,” Boone said. “He just hadn’t thrown any live or anything. So while he was pretty good today and I fully expect him to be available tomorrow, it just felt like we needed to stay away there.”
But Holmes, who stood up in the bullpen in the final two outs, wasn’t aware of that rule and like most Yankees’ fans watching, he was surprised his name wasn’t called Saturday.
“They’ve asked and I said I was good to go if needed, and that’s kind of how that conversation was,” Holmes said in the middle of a quiet Yankees clubhouse. “Those decisions are not mine but I was preparing to pitch if my name was called.”
It was a gut-punch of an ending after most of the night felt like the Yankees were turning things around.
After a historic regular season in which he broke the AL and Yankee single-season home run record with 62 led the majors in OPS, slugging and RBIs, Aaron Judge snapped his 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts to start the playoffs with a two-run homer in the third. Cabrera, who also was 0-for-8 coming into the game, doubled and scored on Judge’s home run. Then the rookie had a two-run shot of his own. Harrison Bader also homered Saturday night.
Luis Severino made his first playoff start in three years and after a rough two innings, settled in to give the Yankees 5.2 innings. Lou Trivino and Jonathan Loaisiga got three outs between them and then they leaned heavily on Peralta, who had thrown 15 pitches Friday night.
Like Holmes, Peralta had missed most of the end of the regular season with a back issue, so Boone wanted to be careful with him too.
“It’s never fun to lose. This team has fought hard all year and obviously, it is a big game, so it’s especially it’s just it’s not a fun one to not go your way. But I believe in the guys in the locker room and our backs against the wall a little bit, but I believe, I believe in the fight in these guys in this room.