Home Sports What We Learned From Day 2 of the M.L.B. Playoffs

What We Learned From Day 2 of the M.L.B. Playoffs


On a wet night in Cleveland filled with what felt like endless twists and turns, the Yankees defeated the Indians, 10-9, in a game to sweep the best-of-three Wild Card Series and advance to the American League Division Series. The game lasted four hours 50 minutes, a major league record for a nine-inning game in either the postseason or the regular season.

Trailing by a run in the ninth inning, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tied the score with a sacrifice fly off Indians closer Brad Hand. The Yankees then took the lead on infielder D.J. LeMahieu’s chopping ground ball that scurried through Hand’s legs and past the diving Cleveland middle infielders. It was Hand’s first blown save of the year.

The Yankees will now face their fierce division rival, the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays, in a best-of-five series which is slated to begin on Oct. 5 at a neutral site, Petco Park, in San Diego. The Rays, who won the American League East crown this year, and Yankees aren’t particularly fond of each other: Their rivalry over the years has been littered with terse words, bench-clearing incidents and hit batters.

The Yankees-Indians game was delayed twice: 43 minutes before first pitch for rain that never came and then 33 minutes during the bottom of the first inning when rain did come.

Normally a postseason stalwart, the Yankees’ starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka put his team in a 4-0 deficit in the first inning. But the Yankees’ best-in-the-A.L. lineup fought back against the Indians’ best-in-the-A.L. pitching staff.

With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Gio Urshela clobbered a go-ahead grand slam off the Indians’ James Karinchak, one of the best relievers in baseball.

After the Indians tied the score at 6-6 in the fifth inning off Chad Green and Tanaka, the Yankees’ lineup roared back thanks to an unlikely source. Sanchez, who has struggled throughout the year and didn’t start Game 1 on Tuesday, skied a go-ahead two-run home run that sneaked over the right field fence in the sixth.

The lead changes didn’t end there. When Yankees relief pitcher Zack Britton got into trouble by walking two in the bottom of the seventh inning, Manager Aaron Boone called upon Jonathan Loaisiga, who surrendered a two-run double to the pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow that knotted the score at 8-8.

When Loaisiga ran into problems of his own in the eighth inning, Boone called upon closer Aroldis Chapman, whose first pitch was blooped into the outfield by second baseman Cesar Hernandez to give the Indians a 9-8 advantage. But like much of the night, the craziness continued into the final frame, during which the Yankees prevailed.

— James Wagner

Mookie Betts had two hits and an R.B.I., Corey Seager homered and Los Angeles beat Milwaukee, 4-2, in the opener of their wild-card series.

The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead on a leadoff double by Betts and four walks by left-hander Brent Suter in the first, tying for the most walks by a pitcher in a single inning in postseason history. Betts scored when Will Smith drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded. Seager walked and scored on A.J. Pollock’s bases-loaded walk.

Suter needed 32 pitches to get out of the inning. He gave up three runs and three hits in one and two-thirds innings. His five walks were a career high, and he didn’t record a strikeout.

Chris Taylor doubled leading off the second and scored on Betts’ double, making it 3-0. Max Muncy walked with two outs and Ryan Braun caught Smith’s drive to right at the wall to end the inning, potentially saving three runs.

Braun winced as he hit the wall with his right shoulder. He was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the fifth.

The Dodgers could have inflicted more damage but were just one for seven with runners in scoring position in the first two innings.

The Dodgers capitalized early in a bullpen game for the Brewers, and can wrap up the best-of-three series on Thursday. Milwaukee — a playoff entrant despite a losing record — limped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed without its best starter and reliever, who are hurt.

— The Associated Press

The Padres waited 14 years to get back to the postseason, only to face the Cardinals, the playoff regulars who knocked them out in the first round in 1996, 2005 and 2006. The new generation kept the tradition going on Wednesday, with the teams playing to form.

It ended with a leaping catch at the wall by Harrison Bader, the Cardinals’ fleet center fielder, who stole a long drive by Wil Myers. It looked promising off the bat, but wasn’t actually headed over the fence — fitting for a game in which the Padres flirted with success, but never quite made a move.

It started with a thud, even before the Cardinals’ four-run first inning. The Padres’ top two starters, Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger, were left off the roster with arm injuries that did not heal in time. The Cardinals peppered starter Chris Paddack for eight hits and six runs, chasing him in the third inning.

“They came out swinging first pitch; they barreled some balls up,” Padres Manager Jayce Tingler said. “He never got the opportunity or the chance to settle in.”

The six runs were enough for the Cardinals’ pitchers, especially the relievers, who twice ended innings by retiring the dangerous Fernando Tatis Jr. with two runners on base. Giovanny Gallegos struck him out in the sixth, and Alex Reyes got him on a grounder in the eighth.

The Padres also ran into an out on the bases in both innings — but at least they were on base, which Tingler took as reason for optimism.

“If we continue to get traffic and hit the ball hard, some good things are going to happen,” Tingler said, adding later, “It’s going to be fun — now let’s find out who we are.”

Awaiting tomorrow is Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ 39-year-old curveball artist. He just happens to be the same pitcher who closed out the Padres to clinch that division series in 2006.

The Tampa Bay Rays won their first multigame postseason series since 2008 on Wednesday, beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-2, to complete the two-game sweep of their wild-card series.

They backed up an impressive regular season in which they won 40 games, second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and captured the No. 1 seed in the American League with a deep, versatile roster.

Next, they will play the winner of the series between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, which was scheduled to resume Wednesday night. If the Yankees prevail, the Rays will feel confident, having recorded an 8-2 record against them this season. All the games will be played in San Diego.

The Rays had not won a postseason series since they beat the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2008. They fell to the Phillies in the World Series that year, which was the first of five straight series losses for the Rays. Tampa Bay also won two one-game wild card playoffs in 2013 and 2019.

The normally defensive-oriented Rays opened up an offensive onslaught early and cruised to victory. Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam in the second inning off Toronto starter Hyun-jin Ryu to boost Tampa’s early lead to 7-0. That came after Mike Zunino, the Rays catcher, hit a two-run homer in the second.

Tyler Glasnow, the losing pitcher in the Rays’ Game 5 loss to the Houston Astros last year, pitched six effective innings. He allowed two runs and six hits, including two solo home runs by Danny Jansen, the Toronto catcher.

The Rays are looking to join the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team in the region’s championship circle. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup on Monday, and Kevin Cash, the Rays manager, believes the Rays are a worthy title contender, too.

“We’re a good team,” he said on Tuesday, before the series started. “We’re a confident group.”

Of all the elements that favored the Athletics in their game against the White Sox — including the location of the game at home in Oakland, their superior record compared to their opponent and a beautiful sunny day — perhaps the most significant was the calendar.

It was still September, and Chris Bassitt was pitching.

The Athletics were facing elimination, so who better to bail them out of the predicament than the lanky right-hander, who has pitched as well in September as anyone in baseball? On the last day of the month, he extended his near-perfect run.

Bassitt pitched seven impeccable innings for the Athletics, who beat the Chicago White Sox, 5-3, at the Oakland Coliseum, setting up a decisive Game 3 on Thursday.

Bassitt allowed one run, which was scored in the seventh inning after he was already on the bench, and scattered six hits and a walk while striking out five. Including his last four starts in the regular season, Bassitt concluded September with a 4-0 record and only two runs allowed in 33⅔ innings for a 0.53 earned run average.

After a mediocre August, Bassitt traced his September success to a nine-day layoff following a rough start in Houston on Aug. 29. He said he was able to throw four bullpen sessions during that span — something that rarely happens during a season — to work on his windup and delivery.

“Everything kind of clicked for me,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “We took full advantage of it and kind of manipulated some pitches around and we’ve been on a roll since then.”

But after he left Game 2, things got dicey for Oakland in the ninth inning.

Liam Hendriks, who gave up a two-run home run to Yasmani Grandal in the eighth inning after Bassitt surrendered a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, came on in relief and came within an out of finishing off the game. But the White Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning, with Grandal coming to the plate again.

So Hendriks came out, and in came Jake Diekman, who promptly walked Grandal to force in a run. That brought up the White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who homered in Game 1. But Diekman got Abreu to ground out, ensuring Bassitt would get another September win, and the A’s would stay alive into October.

The Miami Marlins are the only franchise to be perfect in the postseason. The regular season is more of a problem; the Marlins usually have a losing record. But when they win, they make it count — both of their postseason appearances, in 1997 and 2003, ended with a World Series title.

Their long-awaited third quest has a long way to go. But it started the right way on Wednesday, with a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in their playoff opener at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, who hit just .220 as a team in the regular season, managed a homer by Ian Happ and just four other hits. Starter Sandy Alcantara worked six and two-thirds innings, and closer Brandon Kintzler — who pitched for the Cubs the last two seasons — got the last three outs.

The Marlins, who had no winning seasons in the 2010s and went 57-105 last season, scored all the runs in the seventh inning, with the big blows coming from veterans acquired as bargain free agents last winter. Corey Dickerson chased starter Kyle Hendricks with a three-run homer, and Jesus Aguilar connected for a two-run shot off Jeremy Jeffress.

The Cubs, who try to thrive on the festive, communal energy for playoff games at Wrigley, noticed the difference with empty stands.

“You miss the fans; it isn’t the playoff atmosphere you’re looking for,” Manager David Ross said, adding that he was responding to a question and not raising the issue himself. “This year’s unique and I’m not trying to make excuses. That’s not a playoff atmosphere, but it’s playoff baseball in 2020.”

To save their season on Thursday, the Cubs will start Yu Darvish against the Marlins’ Sixto Sanchez, a rookie right-hander from the Dominican Republic. Sanchez has No. 45 tattooed on his neck in honor of his idol, Pedro Martinez, and he’d do well to imitate Martinez’s playoff debut. With Boston in 1998, Martinez worked seven innings with eight strikeouts and no walks in an 11-3 romp over Cleveland.

We might have guessed that the Reds and the Braves would play a game like this. The Reds had not advanced in the playoffs since 1995, the Braves since 2001. For 12 innings in their opener on Wednesday, it seemed as if neither team quite knew how to win.

The Braves finally did, on a Freddie Freeman single in the 13th inning. By then, the game had already achieved a distinctive place in history: Never before had a postseason game been scoreless for so long. The teams also combined for a record 37 strikeouts in the game — five more strikeouts than the total for the 1976 World Series, when the Reds swept the Yankees.

This was a noon game that stretched until rush hour, and the early star was long gone when it ended. The Reds’ Trevor Bauer worked seven and two-thirds innings, with 12 strikeouts, no walks and two hits allowed. Three relievers followed, stifling the Braves until Freeman — a leading candidate for N.L. most valuable player — dumped an Amir Garrett pitch into center field, scoring the pinch-runner Cristian Pache. Nick Markakis had started the rally with a single off Archie Bradley.

In the regular season, teams started extra innings with a runner on second base in an effort by Major League Baseball to speed games along and keep players from getting overworked during the pandemic. The rule is not in place for the postseason, but the Reds must have wished it were.

The Reds scored nearly 60 percent of their runs on homers this year, the highest percentage of any postseason team. Without a long ball on Tuesday, they were almost utterly hopeless to score. They failed repeatedly against starter Max Fried, who worked seven innings, and the seven relievers who followed.

The Reds ran into outs on the bases against Fried in the sixth and seventh, then stranded a combined eight runners in the 11th, 12th and 13th. They have lost 12 of their last 14 postseason games — not quite as futile as the Minnesota Twins, but close.

Sports is full of shining examples of postseason heroics and repeated championship runs, from the Yankees to the New England Patriots and the Chicago Bulls.

On the other side of that ledger are the long championship draughts and epic losing streaks strung together by teams like the old Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Browns.

The Minnesota Twins just added a new one to the list this year, and it will not be broken until at least 2021.

The Twins fell to the Houston Astros, 3-1, in Game 2 of their American League wild-card series at Target Field in Minneapolis on Wednesday, and Minnesota was eliminated from the postseason just 48 hours after it started.

The loss extended the Twins’ postseason losing streak to 18 games, extending a record among the four major North American sports. They set that unpleasant record the previous day by losing Game 1 of the series and passing the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, which lost 16 straight playoff games from 1975 through 1979.

The Twins’ last postseason victory came in Game 1 of the 2004 division series against the Yankees, and they have not won a postseason series since they beat the A’s in the 2002 division series.

But this year was supposed to be different, if only because the Twins avoided their perennial nemesis, the Yankees. What’s more, the Twins came into the series with the second-best record in the American League, and also had the best home record in baseball, going 24-7 at Target Field without losing consecutive games at home all year.

Once again, it did them no good in the playoffs. They scored only two runs in the series, with no home runs, and just three hits in Game 2.

The Astros, meanwhile, advanced to another division series, where they will play either the Chicago White Sox or the Oakland Athletics. This year, they are playing the role of party crashers, whom no one wanted at the dance.

The Astros became pariahs after it was discovered that they used illegal means to steal signals from opposing teams in 2017. After an investigation and subsequent suspensions, they fired their manager, A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow, the general manager. Dusty Baker took over in the dugout and after a slow start, guided the Astros to the postseason, the fifth team he has done that with.

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