So it had to go in the voracious post-season baseball week in the history of the sport, with more teams, more games, and bigger rosters than ever before. Eight games will be played on Wednesday alone, half of which are potential winners. Show yourself hungry, buckle up your seat belts and don’t walk away until you’re crammed.
But anyone who saves space for dessert would be disappointed with the prime-time nightcap on Tuesday: The much anticipated Bieber-Cole duel in Game 1 of the first round of the American League between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees was extremely unexpected Path.
The Yankees flashed Bieber, the alleged winner of the AL Cy Young Award that emerged from a historic regular season, for seven earned runs with a final 12-3 win and gave them the chance to hit the best-of-three series on Wednesday night to win.
Cole, the 2019 runner-up to AL Cy Young, has settled in after being considered beatable in the early innings. He allowed two earned runs over seven innings and hit 13 without strolling in his latest in a series of postseason gems. With four starts from more than 10 strikers in his postseason career, Cole is only followed by Justin Verlander, who has seven, and Cliff Lee, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw and Bob Gibson, who each have five.
At the fifth inning in Cleveland, when Gleyber Torres’ homer chased Bieber with two outs and two outs, the Indian Yankees game was already the highest score of the four games played on Tuesday. The seven earned runs abandoned by Bieber that tied the 25-year-old’s career high matched the number of seven other pitchers who started the four games on Tuesday.
“No excuses,” Bieber said in a video interview with reporters. “We just have to keep going.”
Tuesday’s three previous games provided a suitable starter for the main course that awaited the nightcap. Chicago White Sox ace Lucas Giolito brought a perfect game into the seventh inning against Oakland. Left Tampa Bay player Blake Snell brought a no-hitter to sixth place against Toronto. Against Minnesota, Houston Astros leftist Framber Valdez tossed five scoreless innings of relief – the first pitcher to perform this post-season feat since Madison Bumgarner for the San Francisco Giants in 2014.
But there’s a reason everyone was intrigued by the prospect of what was waiting for them in Cleveland. Bieber was by far the best pitcher in baseball that season, winning the Triple Crown of Pitching by leading the majors or combining the lead in the major league in wins (eight), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122) – but obviously in a shortened season in which he only made 12 starts. Still, his ERA was the third best among qualified pitchers since the hill was lowered after the 1968 season, after only Dwight Gooden in 1985 (1.53) and Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56).
Cole made his postseason debut in a Yankees uniform after signing a record nine-year contract for $ 324 million in the off-season. Though he wasn’t as consistently dominant in 2020 as he was as a member of Astros in 2019 – he gave up 14 homers who ranked third in the majors – and saw a 1.00 ERA over his in September 3-1 last four starts.
All the known hallmarks of the baseball pandemic were in place on Tuesday evening. Masks in the shelter. Fake human noise over the speakers. The stands are deserted with the exception of about 100 members of the gambler’s families who had chosen to enter the postseason bubble.
Bieber’s combination of unbeatable stuff and precise command clashed with the over-patient crime of the Yankees, who ranked fourth in the majors for pitch per record performance (4.1). Their strategy was obvious: jump on fastballs early in the count and don’t give Bieber a chance to put them down with his selection of nasty breaking pitches.
Yankees’ second baseman, DJ LeMahieu, shot Bieber’s third pitch of the game, a fastball, into right field for a single, and right fielder Aaron Judge crushed the next pitch, a fastball for the first pitch, for a homer with two runs .
“We had a great plan,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “You know you are up against an ace. … The key to Bieber: If you want a chance against him, you have to make good swing decisions. “
Bieber had allowed two or less earned runs in nine of his twelve starts in 2020 and had hidden his opponent in five of those starts, but he had already lost two runs four pitches at the start on Tuesday after the season. He’d played 90 Batters at home in the regular season and not a single one had said goodbye – but Judge did, two Batters in Bieber’s postseason debut.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough with my good off-speed stuff in the zone,” said Bieber, “and that allowed them to refine their approach to curveballs and waiting for mistakes – and that’s exactly what they did.”
For Judge, it was his first homer since early August. The injuries and inconsistencies up and down the Yankees’ roster formed the subtext for the streaky quality of their play. They started the season with a 16-6 throw, tripped over a 5:15 skid, picked up 10 straight wins in mid-September and then went 6-2 over the last eight regular season games.
However, the expanded 16-team baseball postseason set up for this pandemic-shortened season reduced urgency at the top of the standings, and for a seasoned pedigree team like the Yankees, the postseason is another opportunity.
“Our season,” said left fielder Brett Gardner, who drove three runs and was three times shy to reach the cycle, “started today.”
In the seventh inning, when Torres was on first base after an RBI single – the third of four hits that day for a player whose numbers had plummeted across the board this season – Judge caught his attention in the visitors’ dugout and pointed to his wrist and mouthed the words, “It’s time.”
After what the Yankees did to the best pitcher in baseball on Tuesday night, Judge’s small gesture of encouragement to his teammate could have been a warning for the rest of the sport as well.
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