NEW YORK -- Two seasons ago, the Yankees faced the Indians as postseason underdogs, their overachieving band of "Baby Bombers" outlasting a 102-win juggernaut in the American League Division Series en route to advancing within one victory of the World Series. Those franchises may well be on a collision course for another October showdown.
That was the overriding takeaway from a four-game weekend set at Yankee Stadium that seemed to have a sprinkle of everything. The Indians secured a split by rudely welcoming CC Sabathia back from the injured list in the Yankees’ 8-4 loss on Sunday afternoon, but the series as a whole offered a tantalizing appetizer for what we might witness in a couple of months.
"We’d have liked to have won all four, but that’s a good ballclub over there that we’ll probably see down the road," Aaron Judge said. "It was fun. Those are series you like to play. It was tough. They were scoring runs, we were scoring runs, back and forth. It was a fun one to compete in.”
The Bombers were trounced by 14 runs in Thursday's lopsided opener, then responded with a taut one-run win behind Masahiro Tanaka's sharp effort on Friday. New York slugged four homers in a spirited Saturday contest that featured the ejections of manager Aaron Boone, outfielder Brett Gardner and Sabathia, who was a day away from being activated from the injured list.
Boone remains supremely confident in his club, which dressed in button-down shirts sporting the Yanks' top hat logo and “Savages” in red script for their flight to the West Coast. When Boone looks across the way at Cleveland, he sees a versatile team that could improve its championship odds with an addition or two on the pitching side.
"We know that’s a team that is very capable," Boone said. "After a slow start to the season, they’ve really righted the ship and are playing really well in the second half here. Nothing changes with us. I think we’re really good. We still have a long way to go. We’re still in position to do something special."
Returning from his second right knee-related IL stint of the season, Sabathia bypassed a rehab assignment in order to spend his bullets on the big league stage, so Boone only reasonably expected 60 or so pitches from the lefty.
"Just a little rusty, but I felt really good," Sabathia said. "I feel like it's something I can build off of."
Most of those offerings were tossed in Cleveland's four-run second inning. Greg Allen knocked in a run on a fielder’s choice before the Tribe's No. 9 hitter, Mike Freeman, pounced on a lazy slider to blast his fourth homer of the year over the right-center-field wall.
"It was just a bad pitch, just hung up there like a real hanger," Sabathia said. "I've been doing that a lot this year to the lefties, way too much. I need to tighten that up and start getting those guys out at the clip I normally do."
The Yankees had few answers for right-hander Mike Clevinger, who picked up the win by striking out 10 over five scoreless innings. DJ LeMahieu hit a seventh-inning homer to keep the Yankees’ no-shutout streak alive.
“He just kind of kept us off-balance all day and we weren’t able to have that big inning against him," Judge said of Clevinger.
The Yanks have scored at least one run in 208 consecutive games since July 1, 2018, tying the 2000-01 Reds for the third-longest streak ever. The Major League record is held by the 1931-33 Yankees, who scored in 308 consecutive games. The 1978-79 Brewers (212) are second.
New York scored twice in the ninth off Brad Hand, with LeMahieu and Judge driving in runs, but Hand retired Gio Urshela on a deep flyout that sealed just the Yanks' fourth loss in 20 games. Now they'll try to keep that pace on the road, playing 19 of their next 25 away from the Bronx.
"We’re going up against Oakland and the Dodgers and Seattle, good ballclubs right there -- especially that Dodgers series," Judge said. "It’s going to be like another postseason matchup, so it’s going to be rowdy and we’re motivated for those. We can’t wait. We want to play the best teams, and those are some of the best teams out there, so I’m looking forward to it.”