By Ernie Palladino
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The Yankees died by the curve Thursday night, and their season might be finished, too.
Even in a short, potentially five-game AL Divisional Series, it’s still too early to proclaim the Yanks dead, even after the Indians shut them down 4-0 in Game 1. But advancement past this round certainly doesn’t look promising given the way Joe Girardi’s players handled all the big breaking pitches Cleveland hurlers threw at them.
Terry Francona actually tossed the first up there, bypassing his Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber in favor of Trevor Bauer. It would have been hard for anyone in that lineup not to feel a little confident about taking the series lead, even in light of Bauer’s 10-1 second-half record.
They might even have considered Francona’s decision a gift of sorts. But then Bauer started throwing, and it became quickly apparent that the gift was more Trojan Horse than early Christmas.
Bauer mesmerized a lineup that just two days prior had banged three homers and scored eight runs in a wild-card slugfest with the Twins. Curve balls, lots of them, had the Yankees either swinging wildly or looking. Those big 12-to-6 tumblers played a big part in holding the visitors hitless through the first five-plus innings.
Aaron Judge, who hit one of those homers Tuesday, went down three times on Bauer curveballs. The last two were particularly cruel, as he ended the sixth looking at an inside hook with Aaron Hicks standing at third. And when Bauer and reliever Andrew Miller were finished, closer Cody Allen got the rookie sensation on a deuce, low and outside, that ended the eighth with Chase Headley and Brett Gardner on base.
It would have taken a lot to get back in the game by that point, however. Sonny Gray didn’t have his control and lasted only 3 1/3 innings, which if anyone is counting was three innings longer than Luis Severino lasted Tuesday.
Severino’s failure taxed the bullpen to the point where Girardi had to go with Adam Warren and Jaime Garcia instead of the Chad Green-David Robertson-Tommy Kahnle combination that held the Twins in check before Aroldis Chapman finished them off. But the three runs Gray gave up — two on former Met Jay Bruce’s fourth-inning homer — made the bullpen irrelevant given the Yanks’ inability to generate any kind of meaningful production at the plate.
Now, they are in real trouble. They don’t get the No. 2 guy Friday. They get Kluber, the ace whose 18-4 record and 2.25 ERA was also fueled by wise and judicious use of the breaking pitch.
Lose to him, and they’ll head back to Yankee Stadium with no wiggle room at all. And with fellow 18-game winner Carlos Carrasco going in Game 3 on Sunday, the task of merely staying alive will grow exponentially more difficult.
This is not exactly news, however. A team doesn’t win 102 games without solid pitching. Nor will a team put together a record 22-game winning streak with hitting alone.
The Indians pitch. Not with overpowering speed, but by baffling hitters with repertoire and location.
The Yanks didn’t handle that well at all Thursday night. Three hits and three walks buy nothing in the postseason.
Judge, Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and the rest of the power-laden lineup figure to see a steady diet of breaking pitches for at least the next game. And it won’t be No. 2 throwing them this time.
Thursday night was their biggest and best chance.
The Indians threw them a bunch of curves, and they blew it.
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