Tribe faces elimination after Bieber stumbles

September 30th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- The matchup of and was one of the most highly anticipated events of the 2020 season. But the expected duel unraveled when Aaron Judge homered on the fourth pitch of the game. Bieber couldn’t prevent the snowball effect.

In his postseason debut, Bieber matched his career high by allowing seven earned runs on nine hits, including two homers, in 4 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Cole held the Indians to two runs with 13 strikeouts in seven frames as the Yankees rolled to a 12-3 victory in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series on Tuesday at Progressive Field. The loss matched the Tribe’s third-largest postseason defeat by run differential in franchise history.

“I felt extremely prepared coming into this start, just like every other start of this season,” Bieber said. “I fell behind the first hitter, and that first inning obviously didn’t go as planned. … It was not the first start that we wanted to get out with. Me, personally, as well.”

Since the earned run became an official stat in 1913, only Hal Newhouser (1945), Clayton Kershaw (2013, ‘14) and Bieber have given up at least seven runs in a postseason start after owning a sub-2.00 ERA during the regular season, according to STATS.

And after posting that 1.63 ERA in his 12 starts this season, Bieber had all the attention on him. He entered his first playoff start having secured the Major League Pitching Triple Crown just two days prior, leading all other qualified starters in ERA, wins (eight) and strikeouts (122). He established himself as the clear front-runner to take home the American League Cy Young Award, but his outing on Tuesday was far from reflecting all the achievements he earned in the regular season.

So, what went wrong?

One: His inexperience could’ve played a factor. Carlos Carrasco, who will be toeing the rubber for the Tribe in Game 2, said before the game that Bieber had been asking him questions like, “What do you feel?” and “What do you need to do?” over the last three days about his first postseason start. Bieber was hesitant to make any excuses, but his skipper thought the anticipation may have gotten to the 25-year-old right-hander.

“He's a young kid,” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “It seems to me he was too excited -- first postseason game, fastball would keep coming back to the zone a little bit elevated. … The breaking ball, the slider and curveball, he didn't have his command.”

Two: Bieber threw more pitches over the middle of the plate against the Yankees (nine) than he had in any start during the regular season, including four heaters (tied for the most fastballs down the middle). One of those fastballs clocked in at 93.7 mph, which resulted in Judge’s two-run homer in the first.

“I would’ve liked to establish the fastball a little bit better the second time through the order as well, and just overall be more aggressive,” Bieber said. “Quick reaction, I was putting myself in some bad situations, some bad counts and hitters’ counts. When I made mistakes, they took advantage of it.”

Three: The Yankees were patient. All season, Bieber has relied on hitters chasing his pitches, inducing an MLB-best 146 swings and misses below the zone, and the Yankees were able to lay off. Of Bieber’s 105 pitches, 43 were balls, which was tied for the second most he recorded in a start this year.

“I wasn’t being aggressive tonight with my good offspeed stuff in the zone,” Bieber said. “That allowed them to refine their approach and lay off curveballs down and try to find something to hit in the zone and hit mistakes, and that’s what they did.”

And after a season in which he didn’t permit more than three runs or toss fewer than five innings, Bieber’s first hiccup came at the worst time for the Tribe.

“I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if we were all robots, you know?” said outfielder Tyler Naquin, who had an RBI in the ninth. “He’s human, man. He’s really good at what he does. He was off tonight. I’ll play right field behind Shane Bieber any day of the week, any day of the year. That dude is good at what he does.”

Now, the Indians’ focus shifts to Wednesday's elimination game. The Tribe has lost nine straight games facing elimination -- the longest such streak in postseason history -- and it will attempt to avoid extending it to 10.

“We knew coming in [the Yankees are] a tough team,” Alomar said. “They still gotta win one more game. So tomorrow is a different day. Start back from zero again for us.”