CLEVELAND -- The Yankees' dominant bullpen has been responsible to a large degree for their first-half success, but as they prepared to scatter for the All-Star break, a lapse by the relief crew let them down. Michael Brantley launched a tiebreaking homer off Chad Green in a noisy eighth inning,
CLEVELAND -- The Yankees' dominant bullpen has been responsible to a large degree for their first-half success, but as they prepared to scatter for the All-Star break, a lapse by the relief crew let them down. Michael Brantley launched a tiebreaking homer off Chad Green in a noisy eighth inning, sending the Yanks to a 5-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday at Progressive Field.
New York's bullpen combined to fire 14 1/3 scoreless innings over its previous four contests entering Sunday's affair, and Green extended the string as he helped Masahiro Tanaka out of a jam in the seventh. That success ended in the eighth, as Green left a fastball up that Brantley slugged over the right-field wall for his 12th homer of the season.
"It was what I was trying to do, but I thought the ball caught too much of the plate," Green said. "It came back over the plate and he put a good swing on it. Right there, I've got to make a better pitch."
Yan Gomes added a sacrifice fly later in the frame, with Jose Ramirez sliding home just ahead of a strong throw from right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and the Indians tacked on a third run on a wild pitch. Carlos Carrasco picked up the victory in relief, having tossed a scoreless eighth inning in his first appearance out of the bullpen since 2014.
The Yankees ended their first half at 62-33 (.653), the highest winning percentage entering the All-Star break by a team not in first place in the Divisional Era (since 1969). Yet they fell another game behind the sizzling Red Sox, who posted a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays to secure their 12th victory in 13 games. The Bombers trail Boston by 4 1/2 games in the American League East.
"Ultimately, we have to be better if we want to win the division and get to where we want to be, which is to win the World Series," Brett Gardner said. "I'm pleased with the way that we played in the first half, but I'm not pleased that we're not in first place in the division. We've got some work to do."
The Yankees were limited to two runs and seven hits over seven innings by All-Star right-hander Trevor Bauer. Gardner singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Aaron Hicks' single to open the scoring in the third inning, and Neil Walker doubled the Bombers' lead with his third home run of the season in the fourth. It was the first homer Bauer permitted since June 2.
Cleveland answered against Tanaka in the home half of the fourth, as Brantley worked a leadoff walk and Edwin Encarnacion connected for a two-run homer, his 22nd. It was the 18th home run permitted in 15 starts by Tanaka, who scattered six hits over 6 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out five in what manager Aaron Boone called a "strong, encouraging outing."
Making his second start since returning from the disabled list, Tanaka had retired nine of the first 10 men he faced, then settled back in after Encarnacion's homer to pitch into the seventh inning. Tanaka made an excellent play by firing to second base for an out on a Roberto Perez bunt to halt a budding Cleveland rally, completing the afternoon at 77 pitches.
"I think the team has been playing really well," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "As for me, I feel like I haven't been able to pitch the way that I really want to. It's important for me to keep on fighting and try to get my performance to the level that I had similar to today."
The Yankees went 5-2 in the season series against the Indians, and they are 13-4 against the AL Central. New York has won the season series over Cleveland in seven of the last 10 campaigns, dating back to 2009.
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Stanton thought that he had a chance at Brantley's eighth-inning homer, which carried over the leaping right fielder and made it into the seating area. Brantley leads the Majors with 65 hits at home this season.
"The replay was pretty quick, but I think I was pretty close," Stanton said. "Within a foot, I'd guess. The reaction is, that's a big part of the game, either way. You don't want that to happen with six outs left for us."
The Yankees will return from the All-Star break to open the second half on Friday, beginning the second leg of the Subway Series with a 7:05 p.m. ET contest against the Mets at Yankee Stadium. Rookie right-hander Domingo German (2-5, 5.49 ERA) will draw the start for the Bombers, who took two of three games across town in their June 8-10 meeting with the Mets. German pitched the middle game of that series, striking out nine over six innings of three-run, five-hit ball. Noah Syndergaard (5-1, 2.97 ERA) will start for the Mets.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.