Guards' peskiness proving a match for Yankees' power

October 16th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The Guardians used persistent peskiness to board baserunners. A  hustle double on a ground ball down the line, a José Ramírez base hit off the fists, a  single slapped at an awkward angle over an outstretched glove. Whatever it took to get a guy on and get a guy -- one guy at a time -- in.

And then would hit one halfway to Ashtabula. Or would pound one to the pull side and flex and flip his bat. Or would blast one into the bleachers.

It was exhaustion vs. efficiency when the Guardians and Yankees squared off in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on Saturday night. And just when it seemed New York’s ruthless efficiency would win out, along came Cleveland’s dinking, dunking, dramatic bottom of the ninth, punctuated by ’s sweet two-strike send-off on a bounding ball up the middle that scored a pair for a 6-5 win that left the home crowd equal parts amped and amazed.

“We obviously have a different style of baseball,” Kwan said afterward. “To see that succeed and see that prevail I think is really rewarding for the game.”

We were promised contrasting styles in this ALDS.

Boy, have we gotten that.

And in what can only be described as an October anomaly, it’s the Bloopers beating the Bombers to put themselves on the precipice of the AL Championship Series, with a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five.

No matter what your grandpa tells you, small ball doesn’t win in October. Not recently and not with regularity, anyway. In the past five postseasons leading up to this one, teams went a lowly 26-82 in postseason games in which they didn’t go deep, including a 2-17 record last year. That -- above all else -- is why Judge’s crew, which literally hit twice as many homers as Cleveland this season (254 to 127), entered this set as the obvious favorite.

But the Guards just won a series swing game without hitting anything over the wall, and only a couple of fly balls even near the wall. That’s how they roll. Sometimes literally, as all three of Cleveland’s ninth-inning runs in Game 3 scored on ground balls off the bats of Gonzalez and .

So hey, maybe your grandpa is onto something.

“The Yankees had five hits, but they had three homers, and they were leading the game,” Guardians assistant hitting coach Victor Rodríguez said. “For us to win the game, we have to do the little things. We’ve got to get on base, move the guy over, get hits. We have to be scrappy. That’s what makes this team different.”

The difference-making ninth began with bloops to shallow left from -- who found his way to second base when the ball bounced and rolled away from a sliding Cabrera -- and from Kwan, who put a perfect half-swing on a Wandy Peralta pitch to punch one in front of Cabrera in the opposite field.

“That's just a no-man's-land ball,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Straw’s inning-igniting hit. “Credit to them, they put it in play in that inning. But just a lot of perfectly placed ones in there, too.”

Even against a Yankees team that ranked No. 1 in the AL in defensive runs saved, the Guards have shown in this series how disruptive a ball in play can be. It has compelled the Yankees to make untimely defensive hiccups and has allowed the Guards to grab the extra base. Those hits by Straw and Kwan were both reminiscent of the one Ramírez used to somehow advance all the way to third (when third baseman Josh Donaldson made an ill-advised throw to second) to lead off the 10th inning in Game 2.

Contrast that with a Yankees team that lives and leans on the long ball. It was responsible for an MLB-high 50.8 percent of their runs in the regular season, and it has been responsible for all but one of their 11 runs so far this series.

“I think home runs can change the momentum of the game with one swing,” said Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie, who served up Judge’s 449-footer. “When Judge hits that home run, it kind of silences a crowd, and it changes the momentum. But I think when we come up and have baserunners on, there's this constant energy from us. It’s just a different type of feel. We do a good job of compounding good at-bat after good at-bat and never letting the opposing pitcher get a breath.”

The Yankees are down to their last breath. And if history holds, they just might smack enough balls over the wall to pull out wins in Games 4 and 5. But no matter the outcome of this series, the underdog Guards have done enough to challenge what had become the October norm.

“We don’t talk about getting 10 more runs than the other team,” Rodríguez said. “We talk about getting one. One more.”

And that’s all they need now in this ALDS. One more.