The Cleveland Guardians defeated the New York Yankees 6-5 in walk-off fashion on Saturday in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The Guardians rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the ninth, scoring three runs to take a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series. With another win, the Guardians will advance to play the Houston Astros for the AL pennant. (The Astros won their ALDS against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.)
The Yankees fell behind early, with the Guardians plating runs in the first and second innings to take a 2-0 lead. New York’s offense rallied with a pair of two-run home runs that gave them a 4-2 lead, including Aaron Judge’s first knock of the series:
Starter Luis Severino followed the same trajectory as his team: rough at first, then smooth sailing. He departed in the sixth with two runners on. One of the two would score, reducing the Yankees’ lead to 4-3, but another home run (Harrison Bader) and New York’s bullpen seemed primed to hold the 5-3 lead.
The Guardians rallied in the ninth, however, with four consecutive one-out hits that cut the Yankees’ lead to one. Oscar Gonzalez then delivered a two-out single that plated a pair of runs and sealed the shocking win for the Guardians.
Here are six things to know about the Guardians’ Game 3 win.
1. Gonzalez again plays hero
Just last Saturday, Oscar Gonzalez homered to end the Guardians’ marathon game against the Tampa Bay Rays and put his name on the national stage. That win advanced the Guardians to this series. While Gonzalez had to settle for a single against the Yankees this Saturday, he nevertheless helped the Guardians secure an improbable win.
When Luke Maile struck out to start the bottom of the ninth, the Guardians had less than a five percent win expectancy, according to FanGraphs. Things can change quickly in baseball, and that proved to be the case on Saturday. Myles Straw, Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, and José Ramírez all singled, resulting in a run scoring and loaded bases. A Josh Naylor strikeout later, and the Guardians were down to their final out.
That’s when Gonzalez did this:
It’s worth noting that Yankees manager Aaron Boone attempted to stretch Wandy Peralta for a second full inning, and that he called upon Clarke Schmidt — and not Clay Holmes — in an attempt to lock things down. Maybe the Guardians would have rallied behind their onslaught of well-placed singles anyway, but it does mean that the Yankees will have even more reason to look back at Game 3 with regret if they lose this series.
Of course, none of that matters to the Guardians or Gonzalez. They simply have another reason to celebrate an unlikely hero.
2. Severino recovers from rough start
Severino finished his night an out short of a quality start: 5 2/3 innings, eight hits, three runs, and no walks with six strikeouts on 106 pitches. That qualified as a win in a few respects, since it marked a massive turnaround from how his night started.
Put another way, Severino was so shaky early on that manager Aaron Boone had right-hander Domingo Germán warming up in the bullpen during the second inning.
Severino allowed three hits in the first inning and then three more in the second. Yet in both instances, he stranded a pair of baserunners who, had they scored, could have broken the game early and led to a drastically different outcome. Boone allowed Severino to start the third inning, and Severino rewarded his manager’s faith.
Indeed, Severino righted the ship from there, retiring 13 consecutive hitters until Andrés Giménez reached on an infield single in the sixth inning.
Severino’s counterpart, Triston McKenzie, started the night in much better shape than the Yankee did. At the end of the evening, however, McKenzie departed having thrown five innings and surrendered four runs on four hits and a walk.
2. Judge breaks slump with home run
As mentioned in the introduction, Judge delivered his first hit of the ALDS, and, by virtue of the Yankees having a first-round bye, of the postseason as a whole. It was a 449 foot blast that had an exit velocity of 113.7 mph, according to Statcast.
Judge had entered Saturday mired in a season-worst slump: 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts and a walk in the first two games.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but if we did (have a plan to shut down Judge), I’m not sure I’d really want to share it. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said following Game 2. “I think sometimes — hitters can’t hit a button. As good as guys are, sometimes guys take 0-fors. Until you get through a series successfully, I don’t think anyone’s going to stand up here and pound our chest. He’s too dangerous. We know that.”
Judge’s struggles have been a surprise, in part because he just recorded one of the best offensive seasons in history by breaking the AL and Yankees single-season home-run records (with 62 long balls) and competing for the AL Triple Crown.
3. Rookie left fielders have big games
It was a good night and a good game for rookie left fielders.
Oswaldo Cabrera of the Yankees notched two hits: a double in the third inning that precipitated Judge’s two-run shot, and then a two-run home run of his own in the fifth. His home run had an exit velocity of 104.8 mph and traveled 409 feet:
Cabrera appeared in just 44 regular-season contests, making him one of the least experienced players in this series.
On the other side of the field, Steven Kwan of the Guardians also recorded three hits. He led off the bottom of the first with a double (and then scored), plated a run in the second with a single, and singled again in the ninth. He even scored the game-winning run. Kwan, of course, was one of the most productive rookies in the majors during the regular season, appearing in 147 games and amassing 5.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference’s calculations.
4. What a 2-1 lead means
This should not come as a surprise, but going ahead 2-1 in a best-of-five series is a big deal. To wit, our own Dayne Perry’s research has revealed that teams who have taken a 2-1 lead in the LDS go on to win those series around 75 percent of the time. That would seem to bode well for the Guardians’ chances of advancing to the ALCS. Even so, the Yankees aren’t to be counted out until they’re officially eliminated.
5. What’s next
The Yankees and Guardians will reconvene on Sunday in Cleveland for Game 4. The Guardians have a chance to close out the series, while the Yankees will attempt to stave off elimination and force a return trip to New York for a decisive Game 5.