Mystique and Aura have left the building

Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts throwing the perfect strike to the plate to bag Aaron Judge, after Yankee third base coach Phil Nevins didn’t stop Judge rounding third at the moment Bogaerts released the throw. This is the kind of thing that used to make Red Sox life living hell—in the last century.

If we must suffer the wild card system still, we hope yet that the wild card games themselves have potential for excitement, and maybe even a little transcendence. The kind that happened in the American League wild card game Tuesday night, in Fenway Park, was everything the Yankees didn’t have in mind.

Their season ended in a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox that flipped the too-long script of Yankee-Red Sox surrealities past and ancient. Because something that usually happened in the last century to the Red Sox, when they could just taste even a piece of glory, happened to the Yankees Tuesday night.

Two teams about whose seasons it could be said most politely that they threatened to implode at too many points collided. The Red Sox played like a championship team. The Yankees played like a team whose destiny was disaster. This was not the natural order of things for either side before the turn of this century.

That was the Twentieth Century: Dubious decisions with games on the line or close enough to it compounded what seemed ages of Red Sox disaster. This was Tuesday night: A dubious decision when the Yankees could have had a clean chance at possibly tying the wild card game all but guaranteed their homegoing instead.

Much as you’d like to see the sports goat business put out of business once and for all, it’s going to be hard to resist planting those horns squarely upon the head of Yankee third base coach Phil Nevin for what transpired in the top of the sixth.

Nevin only thought he could send Aaron Judge all the way home from first, when Giancarlo Stanton drove one off Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier that looked like it was going to fly into the Green Monster seats. Until it didn’t. It banged off that notorious wall and to the ground in left center, where Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo overran the ball but center fielder Enrique Hernandez running right played the carom almost perfectly and threw in.

Hernandez fired a perfect strike to Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts as the cutoff man, and—as Judge rounded third barreling home on his long legs—Bogaerts whipped around to fire a perfect strike to Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki. Judge started his dive as Plawecki caught the throw, and Judge was a dead pigeon with his right hand about two feet from touching the plate.

Instead of first and third and one out, after finally ridding themselves of Boston’s lights-out starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, the Yankees settled for Stanton on second and two out. With Joey Gallo coming to the plate and popping out to Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers playing it back on the short outfield grass for the side.

And, with every cheering jaw in Fenway Park still dropped over Nevin turning Judge into a kamikaze.

Yankee manager Aaron Boone takes an excessive share of abuse for the Yankees’ in-season hiccups and postseason shortfalls—especially with his contract expiring now, but just about since he first took the Yankee bridge. Never mind that Boone managed back-to-back 100+ win seasons in his first two years on that bridge, which no Yankee manager did before him. Never mind the Yankees averaging 98 wins a year in his three full seasons on that bridge.

But even Boone’s worst critics can’t get away with hanging this one on him. Not that they’re not trying. From almost the moment Boone took the bridge in the first place, the first Yankee shortfall of any given series or season—a bad pitch, a bad plate appearance, a bad inning, a one-game losing streak—has brought demands for Boone’s perp walk and summary execution. Preferably five minutes earlier.

You’d think Yankeetown still hasn’t grasped the concept that it’s entirely possible for the other guys to play better and smarter when it means the most. Which is exactly what happened Tuesday night.

Boone once broke Red Sox Nation hearts with his pennant-winning blast in the bottom of the eleventh in Yankee Stadium in 2003. Now the poor man seemed as befuddled himself as everyone else in Fenway Park and in the ESPN television audience for making sense of Nevin’s send.

“I think . . . the ball coming in looked like it was going to be kind of an in-between hop to the infielder,” Boone said postgame about Hernandez’s throw in to Bogaerts. “Bogaerts did a good job of creating a hop, catching it clean and and obviously throwing home and getting him. And that kind of squashed the potential rally there, so I think what [Nevin] saw was what he thought was going to be kind of an in-between hop and really a tough chance.”

“Create” the hop? Bogaerts was simply standing on the short center field grass waiting for the throw and the hop created itself, right into Bogaerts’s glove held out to his left. He turned at the split second the ball hit his glove and threw home perfectly.

Bogaerts talking postgame said that play and his part in it meant even more than the two-run homer he drilled into the center field bleachers off Yankee starter Gerrit Cole in the top of the first. Small wonder. The Red Sox were the American League’s most defensively challenged team of the regular season. On Tuesday night they found it in them to play far above their own defensive heads when it mattered the most.

“That [play] was better than a homer for me, personally,” he said. “I mean, if that run scores, it’s 3-2. Stanton is at second base, the whole momentum is on their side. The dugout is getting pumped up. As Judge was out at home, I saw Stanton was pretty mad. He probably wanted a homer there, but also an RBI, and he didn’t get that, and he probably felt like he didn’t do much because that run didn’t score. But that changed the game.”

The Monster factor was made only too vivid in the bottom of the sixth, when Alex Verdugo sent a high liner to deep right off Yankee pitcher Luis Severino working in relief. The ball bounced off the lower part of the fence, a clean enough double, well enough to enable Bogaerts (aboard with a one-out walk) to score the fourth Red Sox run of the night.

Three times Tuesday night Stanton hit what looked like certain home runs. Aside from the sixth-inning rip that indeed turned out to change the game irrevocably, he ripped one so high toward the Monster that even the Red Sox thought it was going to disappear. Until it didn’t. Stanton was so certain that he settled into his home run trot and was held to a measly single.

In the top of the ninth, against Red Sox relief pitcher (and former Yankee product) Garrett Whitlock, Stanton sent a parabolic launch the other way into the right field seats just past the Pesky Pole himself. By then it was an excuse-me! shot for only the second Yankee run. Whittaker ended the game by getting Yankee second baseman Gleyber Torres to pop out to right.

Kyle Schwarber

The Schwarbinator became the first of two former Cubs batting leadoff Tuesday night to strike big . . .

Legends real and alleged used to include longtime Chicago newspaper star Mike Royko’s postulate that the team with the most ex-Cubs lost. The Red Sox and the Yankees may have really tempted real or imagined ancient fates with their chosen leadoff men Tuesday night: World Series-winning ex-Cub teammates Kyle Schwarber (designated hitter, Red Sox, by way of the Nationals) and Anthony Rizzo (first baseman, Yankees, at this year’s trade deadline).

Those moves came of dire necessity, actually. The Red Sox lacked designated hitter J.D. Martinez after he rolled his ankle in the Red Sox season finale, and the Yankees lacked second base regular D.J. LeMahieu thanks to a sports hernia. So, naturally, the Elysian Fields gods decided to have a little mad fun. Right?

Schwarber struck first. With Cole already having a miserable evening in the hole 2-0, the Schwarbinator led off the bottom of the third by driving a 1-2 service no doubt and about twelve rows into the right field seats. Rizzo struck back with one out in the top of the sixth, hitting Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi’s first service on a high line inside that Pesky Pole for the first Yankee run. Then Judge promptly beat out a tough bouncer to shortstop.

The good news for the Yankees is that that finally got Eovaldi out of the game, after he’d manhandled them brilliantly through five and a third including eight strikeouts and no walks. The bad news was Judge on the threshold of disaster on the Stanton home run that wasn’t and the Nevin send that shouldn’t have been.

No Yankee reached base on walks all night. Seven Red Sox reached on walks from Cole and three Yankee relievers. Only Clay Holmes out of the Yankee pen, facing five batters, didn’t walk a single Red Sox batter while surrendering one hit and striking one out. The walks really burned the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh, when Verdugo sent the insurance runs home with two out, slashing a two-run single against Yankee reliever Chad Green to score Hernandez and Schwarber—both of whom had reached on walks.

That Yankee sixth is what used to happen to the Red Sox when they could just taste even a piece of glory in their mouths. Something surreal. Something from The Twilight Zone. Something else from The Outer Limits. Something more from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Leaving the Red Sox yet again fallen to the rocks below when they’d gotten to within one mile or a few innings of the mountaintop.

Why, even B.F. Dent himself—hitter of the home run that broke an earlier generation of New England hearts in the 1978 American League East playoff game—was in the Fenway stands and chatting for one minute with ESPN analyst Buster Olney. (He admitted he’s still asked about that three-run homer into the ancient Monster net—about two or three times a day.)

Except that the ESPN audience probably noticed Dent a lot more than the crowd around him in the stands did. They were too well and appropriately occupied with the Yankees incurring the kind of outrageous malfortune that once seemed the birthright of Red Sox baseball.

Before the game Dent predicted to Boston Globe columnist (and author of The Curse of the Bambino) Dan Shaughnessy, “I think Gerrit Cole will pitch a great game, and I think the Yankees will beat ’em.” That’d teach him. Cole pitched two full innings in the hole 2-0 and got nobody out while facing two more batters after Schwarber’s leadoff launch in the third.

This time, it was the Yankees crushed by trans-dimensional furies and a fatal miscalculation. It’s starting to become as much a Yankee thing this century as a Red Sox thing last. From Dave Roberts stealing second to launch that surreal 2004 Red Sox self-resurrection to Jose Altuve’s pennant-winning two-run homer, it looks as though Mystique and Aura really have left the building.

The ladies didn’t have to take Phil Nevin’s baseball brain with them, though.

Wherever the Red Sox go from here, and they know it won’t be easy tangling with the AL East champion Rays in a division series, nothing can change the extraterrestrial triumph over the Empire Emeritus that gives them that chance in the first place.

Entering 9/11’s anniversary losing . . . 9/11

Gary Sanchez, Jonathan Villar

Sanchez’s bail-and-reach tag attempt on Jonathan Villar only started the Mets’ scoring Friday night.

Even if you hate everything Yankee because it’s everything Yankee, this is the kind of cruel symbolism to which the Empire Emeritus didn’t deserve to awaken on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities. Even the Yankees didn’t deserve to awaken on 9/11 having lost . . . 9/11, if you look at it one way.

If all you know of Friday night’s game against the crosstown Mets in Citi Field is the line score, it looks on the surface as though the Mets pasted the Yankees 10-3, even with three errors charged to the visitors.

But if you saw the game itself, you know the Mets did benefit from more than a little inadvertent Yankee generosity.

“Just a poor performance, period,” said Aaron Boone, the Yankee manager for whose head Yankee fans have called since, oh, the first Yankee loss of the season. That’s the painful reality of wearing the fabled Yankee pinstripes.

Of all the cliches around the Yankees and their fans, the truest is that they don’t like to lose. Of all the sub-cliches to that, the truest is, alas, “To err is human; to forgive must not become Yankee policy.” If one loss draws calls for heads to roll, nine losses in eleven games probably calls for public executions.

“It’s a bit of a broken record,” Boone said, speaking of the game itself even though he could have been speaking about Yankee fans and their expectations and demands. “We got to keep grinding at it. We got to keep working at it and we will, and trust that it will turn, but it’s obviously going to take everyone and, obviously, that starts with me and making sure we’re ready to roll.”

The Yankees seemed to get a roll going early Friday night, with Brett Gardner scoring on Aaron Judge’s ground out up the middle to second in the top of the first and Joey Gallo—the trade deadline import from Texas, who walks a ton, hits home runs a ton when he hits them, and does little else otherwise—hitting Mets starter Tylor Megill’s first one-out service into the right center field seats in the second.

In between, in the bottom of the first, the Mets offered up a leadoff single (Jonathan Villar), a one-out single up the pipe (Michael Conforto), and a two-out RBI single (Javier Baez, one of the Thumb Bunch) off Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery. The trouble on that hit was Gallo throwing home almost perfectly from left field but Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez bailing on the throw that had Villar a dead duck twenty feet from the plate.

It took a replay review to confirm it: plate umpire Ted Barrett’s initial out call was overturned. Inexplicably, Sanchez stood, bailed backward just enough, and reached up on the play, letting Villar get his foot on the plate before Sanchez got the tag on his helmet.

“He got in between Gary’s legs,” Montgomery said postgame. “It was unfortunate.” Alas, it’s par for the course for the hapless Sanchez this season. Only Baltimore’s Pedro Severino has been as bad behind the dish as Sanchez—each is worth -8 defensive runs saved, the worst mark in the American League.

Still, Gallo’s go-ahead bomb in the second gave the Yankees every right to think they’d hold the Mets off yet. They just didn’t bargain upon their own further misbehaviour starting in the bottom of the third.

Villar opened again with a base hit. Montgomery walked Thumb Buncher Francisco Lindor to set up first and second, then wild pitched that pair of Mets to third and second before walking Pete Alonso to send Villar home with the tying run. Then Baez whacked a feeble grounder up toward third. Uh, oh. Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela picked the ball slickly enough as he hit the ground sliding, but he threw it past Sanchez enabling Lindor to score.

Then Jeff McNeil, spotting the Yankee infield playing a little too deep, dropped a bunt past the mound on the second base side, catching every Yankee around the infield by surprise enough that Conforto came home unopposed. Kevin Pillar of the Thumb Bunch sent Gallo back to the track to haul down his sacrifice fly making the proceedings 5-2, Mets, and counting.

One busted double-steal bid later, McNeil taking second but Baez thrown out at third, Mets catcher James McCann, not exactly one of their more threatening hitters, sent a line double bouncing into the left field corner to score McNeil with the fifth Met run of the frame. Lucky for Montgomery that his next batter was a guaranteed out—even after opening Magill with two balls before striking him out swinging on three straight to follow.

And if the Yankees weren’t able to find bullpen relief for Montgomery just yet, the Mets thought nothing of making his night miserable even further in the fourth. With one out, Lindor going the other way kind of snuck a home run past the right field foul pole. Then the Yankees went to the pen, but an infield hit and a fly out later off Joely Rodriguez, Baez bounced an RBI double off the right center field fence. Making it 8-2, Mets.

The Yankees were mostly futile against Megill (ten strikeouts in seven innings) and the Mets’ defense from the second forward. But they weren’t finished being generous to the crosstown rivals. With the bases full of Mets in the seventh—after a one-out single (Baez) and back-to-back plunks (on McNeil and Pillar)—Yankee reliever Michael King fed McCann a ball that had inning-ending double play stamped on it.

Uh, oh, again. Yankee second baseman D.J. LeMahieu picked it and shoveled it perfectly to shortstop Gleyber Torres on the run. But Torres threw on about two stories above first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove, and home came the two plunk victims unmolested. By the time Rizzo whacked his own leadoff bomb in the top of the ninth, likewise sneaking it inside the foul pole, there were few real thoughts of any Yankee comeback.

Mets reliever Yennsy Diaz made sure those few thoughts disappeared swiftly enough from there with two swift air outs, before Sanchez tried to battle him from an 0-2 count: two balls, a foul, ball three, and then the game-ending fly out to deep right.

“It gives me all the confidence in the world,” Megill said post-game, “just to throw the ball over the plate in a way and attack hitters more confidently knowing I have, I guess, room for mistakes pitching. The offense killed it today. It’s awesome, they’ve been playing really well.” The Empire Emeritus went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded four on the night, including Gardner after a two-out single in the third when the Yankees still had that 2-1 lead.

The Mets needed only Diaz and Heath Hembree before him out of the pen Friday night. They’ll need all pen hands on deck the rest of the weekend. Especially if the Yankees are only too conscious of losing 9/11 entering the twentieth anniversary of those atrocities.

Can’t we teach the thugs a real lesson?

Alex Verdugo, Alex Cora

Alex Verdugo’s (left) generosity turned into a particularly nasty piece of Yankee fan foolishness.

If you want to know why baseball players come to see baseball fans with contempt, as some always have and always will, you can point to the Yankee Stadium doings Saturday night. Even knowing the eternal rivalry between the Empire Emeritus and the Olde Towne Team, this was above and beyond the call of insanity.

All Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo did before the bottom of the sixth started was see fit to toss a practise ball to a young Red Sox fan in the bleachers. The ball didn’t quite reach that young fan’s hands, but it did reach a Yankee fan to whom Red Sox generosity might just as well have been a home invasion leaving none alive.

That Yankee fan threw Verdugo’s should-have-been gift ball back to the field and hit Verdugo squarely in the back. Verdugo was anything but amused. He turned toward the bleachers hollering to the fans. Highly-touted Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran hustled over to pull Verdugo away. Umpires, stadium security, and Red Sox coaches sought only to find the miscreant.

Miscreant found. And ejected from the ballpark posthaste. Eliciting a few cheers and a few more boos among the fans in that section. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasted no time pulling his team off the field after coach Tom Goodwin urged still-steaming Verdugo out of the outfield and toward the Red Sox dugout.

Cora even had to debate with the umpires over letting Verdugo have a few minutes to compose himself in the dugout. It shouldn’t even have been a debate point. This time, it was only Verdugo’s back. It could have been his head.

“I know my left fielder, I know Alex,” Cora said post-game. “He needed time to breathe and to get his thoughts.” Tell that to the umpires, as Cora ultimately did.

It seemed like nobody was listening to me. Like, imagine getting thrown at with an object in a sport and you’ve got to be out there right away because we have to continue to play the game — that part I didn’t agree. But Alex was OK with it. But you never know. What if he jumps the fence? What if he goes out there and attacks somebody? Whatever. That’s what I was telling them, just give us a chance to collect our thoughts, breathe a little bit and we’ll go out and play the game. That was the whole thing.

Verdugo knows the score only too well. Talk all the trash you want. Hammer all the family members you can think of. Chant your little heads off. Even holler “[Fornicate!] Verdugo” until your throat resembles a pair of sand blocks rubbing together. Throw a ball or other debris? Not so fast.

[T]he moment somebody throws — as players, we’re throwing balls in the stands to try to give people souvenirs, try to make little kids’ days and things like that. Just to hear people saying, ‘Throw it back’ and then someone actually throws it back and it felt like it was targeted towards me, it doesn’t sit right with me.

Throwing enemy home run balls back is a tradition almost as old as the live ball in some ballparks. Wrigley Field’s storied Bleacher Creatures have made it so much so that if you happen to watch a Cubs home game without a Creature throwing back an enemy home run ball (unless, of course, it’s a particular milestone mash with dollar value attached) it’s one step short of breaking-news bulletin time.

But no such Creature has ever been known to try separating an enemy outfielder from his assorted anatomy or his brains throwing a ball back. And not even the worst, most bombed out of his or her trees fan was ever been known (unless it just hasn’t been reported, until Saturday) to throw back a ball an opposing player tried to give a visiting fan as a souvenir.

Things weren’t hard enough between the Red Sox and the Yankees with the scheduled series opener last Thursday postponed after several Yankees—including right field star Aaron Judge—turned up COVID-positive? Things weren’t testy enough already Saturday, with a near-hour rain delay before the game and continuing rain during it?

Red Sox Nation should know that they now have an ally in Yankee manager Aaron Boone, who made no secret of his hope that the bleacher idiot ended up behind bars. Cora should also know that Boone would have acted the same as he did if the game had been in Fenway Park and a particularly brain-damaged Red Sox fan did likewise to one of his players.

It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable. My understanding is they did catch the guy. Hopefully he’s in jail right now. That’s just a bad situation. If I was Alex Cora, I would have done the same thing as far as going out and getting his guys off the field. There’s zero place for that in this great game, and in this great rivalry. Players should never feel like they have to worry about anything like that. I already reached out to Alex Cora, just to apologize, and to Alex Verdugo that, you know, that’s just a terrible, bad, sad situation. And sorry about that.

This during a season in which Reds first baseman Joey Votto—after getting ejected early in a game over an argument with an umpire, then learning a little girl named Abigail was heartbroken that she wouldn’t get to see her favourite Red play for just about all game long—reached out and sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I’m sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”

Saturday’s game was supposed to be about Duran’s major league debut. (He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a run scored, both in the top of the second.) And, about a pitching duel between Nathan Eovaldi (five innings, one earned run) and Gerrit Cole (six innings, one earned run, eleven punchouts).

The nasty weather ended the game after six in a 3-1 Yankee win. (Back-to-back solo bombs from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth took care of that, on Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s dollar.) The nasty weather in the left field bleachers became the story of the game, unfortunately.

The Yankees travel to Boston for a set in Fenway Park starting this coming Thursday. Red Sox Nation, beware: don’t even think about trying any similar stupidity if any Yankee decides to toss a practise ball to a visiting Yankee fan before an inning begins.

Maybe the thing for baseball government and the players union to consider together is mandating a forfeit to the opposing team, when a team’s own fans get as thuggish as the thug who thought Verdugo’s reward for generosity to a visiting young fan should have been a ball attack upon the left fielder’s back.

Once upon a sad October 1971 time, umpires awarded the Yankees a forfeit after heartsick Washington Senators fans—with Second Nats reliever Joe Grzenda one out from saving what should have been a win, and the Senators playing their final game before moving to Texas—stormed the RFK Stadium field. Grzenda never got to throw a single pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Those fans didn’t blame the Yankees or try to mangle, bangle, or dismember anything in a Yankee uniform. They’d have preferred decapitating duplicitous Senators owner Bob Short. (Banners with his initials proliferated in the stands.) Absent that, they took it out on RFK Stadium.

If you can forfeit to the visitors over breaking an entire ballpark, you ought to be able to forfeit to the visitors when a home fan decides a baseball offered a visiting fan should be the instrument for spontaneous back surgery upon the visiting player who offered it. Maybe (big maybe) that’ll teach the jackasses a few lessons.

Heartbreak Hotel, Cleveland

James Karinchak, rocking a Ricky Vaughn haircut, but having been rocked by Gio Urshela Wednesday night.

Bad enough: Cleveland having to host the world babyweight championship bout that was Tuesday night’s allegedly presidential debate. Worse: The Indians won’t get the chance to win their first World Series since the births of Israel, NASCAR, the Polaroid Land camera, and Scrabble.

Again.

They won’t even get to play a division series after the New York Yankees swept them out of their wild card series. But to lose an almost five-hour Wednesday night grapple extended by two rain delays totaling 76 minutes and finishing in a 10-9 Yankee win, after both sides threw everything including the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room sinks?

It’s not quite the same as losing Game Seven of the 2016 World Series after one somewhat long rain delay and an almost equally soul-wrenching back-and-forth. But it’s close enough. It isn’t quite the single most heartbreaking loss in Indians history. (Game Seven of the 1997 World Series still clings to the top. Barely)

But it’s close enough to have turned Progressive Field—in the city that also hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—into Heartbreak Hotel.

The Indians unable to cash in for another tie at minimum in the bottom of the ninth—when Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman’s should-have-been game-ending strikeout turned into a wild pitch, enabling pinch hitter Orlando Mercado to take first on the house, before Chapman regrouped and struck out swinging another pinch hitter, Austin Hedges? It isn’t Edgar Renteria ruining Charles Nagy with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eleventh.

But it’s close enough.

The Show’s most reliable irregular season closer and one of the league’s better defenses handing the Yankees a re-tie and go-ahead in the top of the ninth? It isn’t Bryan Shaw surrendering a tie-breaking and a semi-insurance run, and the Indians able to get only one of those runs back, in the tenth inning in Game Seven, 2016 Series.

But it’s close enough.

While you’re at it, it won’t do any good to comfort the Indians by telling them the Yankees once lost a World Series Game Seven by a 10-9 score. Not even if you tell the Tribe the Yankees lost it when Hall of Famer Yogi Berra playing left field could only watch helplessly when Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski’s leadoff drive sailed over the left field wall in ancient Forbes Field.

Cleveland’s going to have a tough enough time trying to figure out which part hurt the most Wednesday night. They’ll have plenty of candidates. They’ll need plenty of salve.

“We had many different things and a lot of obstacles, but this group stayed together — by any means,” said Sandy Alomar, the Indians’ interim manager thanks to Terry Francona’s continuing health issues, who might yet get Manager of the Year votes just for getting the Indians to the postseason at all. “We had an eight-game losing streak, they came back. Today’s game reflected how much this team grinds and how much they fight.”

The candidates for the biggest hurt of the Indians’ now-finished season may only begin with Alomar deciding he needed a strikeout machine to handle Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela in the top of the fourth, with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the Tribe with a 4-1 lead they built with a pair of RBI doubles and an RBI single in the bottom of the first.

Alomar brought in James Karinchak to relieve starter Carlos Carrasco, cheated a bit by the rain delays The first pitch of the game was delayed by rain that hadn’t yet arrived. The second hit in the bottom of the first, and that time the rain lasted slightly over half an hour.

Until he entered Wednesday night, Karinchak’s young career showed 131 batters facing him and only one ever hitting anything out. It also shows him rocking the jagged-back haircut Charlie Sheen made famous as fictional flame-throwing Indians pitcher Ricky Vaughn in Major League. Now, Urshela and Karinchak wrestled to a full count.

The Wild Thing he wasn’t, but poor Karinchak’s young career now shows one postseason appearance and one disaster. With one swing and one launch into the left field bleachers, former Indian Urshela burned his old team four ways to eternity.

He also made Yankee history while he was at it. Thirteen Yankees have hit postseason grand slams, and Urshela is the first Yankee third baseman to slice such salami and the only Yankee anywhere to do it when the Yankees were behind.

Maybe it’ll comfort Indians fans to know that the Buffalonto Blue Jays got shoved out of the postseason earlier and likewise Wednesday. When the Jays’ best pitcher, former Dodger Hyun-Jin Ryu, faced Hunter Renfroe, a Ray who’d been 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts lifetime against him, in the second inning . . . and Renfroe sliced what amounted to season-ending salami for the Jays.

All night long, the Indians had answers for the Yankees. Let Giancarlo Stanton put the Yankees up 6-4 with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth, three innings after Stanton accounted for the first Yankee run with a home run? Why, they’ll just let Jose Ramirez whack a two-run double down the right field line to re-tie in the bottom of the fifth.

Let Gary Sanchez—the embattled Yankee catcher benched for Game One after he made Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle on the irregular season, and batted ninth for Game Two—smack a two-run homer in the top of the sixth to break the six-all tie? Why, the Indians will just send Jason Luplow to the plate, pinch hitting for Josh Naylor—their return from San Diego, after unloading pitcher Mike Clevinger a fortnight after he violated  COVID protocol violations.

That was some cojones on Alomar pinch hitting for Naylor, who’d set a Show precedent with five hits in his first five postseason plate appearances. Good thing the Indians let Luplow smack a two-run double to the back of center field to re-tie the game at eight.

For good measure, they’ll even let Cesar Hernandez fight Chapman off to dump a floater of an RBI single into short center field to make it 9-8, Indians. Then, they’ll shake off Urshela’s likely game-saving double play start to end that eighth and bring in Brad Hand, who led the Show with sixteen saves and didn’t blow a single save opportunity all irregular season long while he was at it.

Hand picked the wrong night to open a save opportunity by walking Stanton. Urshela then singled Stanton’s pinch runner Mike Tauchman to second. Gleyber Torres beat out an infield dribbler to load the pillows, and Brett Gardner struck out, but Sanchez lofted a re-tying sacrifice fly to center field.

Up stepped American League batting champion D.J. LeMahieu. He called slider in the center pocket and cued it right up the middle and right through the Indians’ middle infield. And, alas, right under center fielder Delino DeShields’s down-stretched glove, enabling Urshela to score the tenth Yankee run.

The Indians ran out of answers in the bottom of the ninth.

One night after they punished American League Cy Young Award favourite Shane Bieber, the Yankees had to survive the elements and Indians tenacity to get themselves a division series date with the Rays, who beat them out of the American League East title and who lack both the Yankees’ star power and the meaning of the word “quit.”

“You don’t have to pour champagne on each other,” said Yankee manager Aaron Boone, whose winners stuck to the COVID protocols and exchanged mere fist bumps to celebrate, “to appreciate what an epic game that was and the fact that we’re moving on.”

Forgive Cleveland if the epic side of the game escapes for a good while. Embrace these Indians who fought the good fight against a Yankee team they never saw on the irregular season but had to get past excess familiarity with the medical profession for a second straight season.

So far as the Indians are concerned, these Yankees picked the wrong time to remember how to win on the road. And, the Tribe with the irregular season’s best pitching overall picked the wrong time to post an 11.00 ERA in two games against the Empire Emeritus with eleven walks in eighteen innings and seven home runs surrendered.

So far as these Yankees are concerned, they survived the best the Indians could throw at them to make it four times in the past four seasons they’ve sent either the Indians or the Minnesota Twins home for the winter early. But the Indians and their fans—already rubbing their eyes over Francisco Lindor, Franmil Reyes, and Carlos Santana going 1-for-23 at the plate this set—are going to wonder how their number one strength, their pitching, became their number-one vulnerability.

Don’t remind Cleveland that the same thing happened in the 1954 World Series, when another stellar Indians pitching staff—including Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn, Mike (The Big Bear) Garcia, and what still remained of Hall of Famer Bob Feller—led an 111-game winning team into a Series sweep by the New York Giants. It won’t make this one sting any more gently.

“That game is literally the definition of a rollercoaster ride right there,” said Indians relief pitcher Nick Wittgren after it ended Wednesday night. “It was amazing to see our guys fight back . . . We were fighting, battling the entire game. That was fun to watch. It would have been a little more fun to be playing tomorrow.”

Usque ad proximum annum expectare.

How the Yankees beat themselves

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It almost figures that Aroldis Chapman’s smile of utter disbelief would be taken the wrong way by Yankee fans after Jose Altuve’s Saturday night special.

Aroldis Chapman showed a very odd smile almost immediately after Jose Altuve ended his assignment and the Yankees’ season with one swing. Then, as the Astros’ little big man rounded third, Chapman finally made the long, head-down walk off the mound into the Minute Maid Park visitors’ clubhouse.

Every report from that clubhouse after the Astros’s stupefying 6-4 win Saturday night describes Chapman as, phrased politely, bent out of shape. He sank at his locker, refusing to look up unless one or another teammate happened by for a pat on the back. And when he looked up, the towel he put over his head stayed put.

He’s not the only man who ever smiled in disbelief after being humiliated in front of a full house in the ballpark and a throng watching on television or listening on radio. And he won’t be the last. He’s not even the only Yankee who ever smiled in disbelief in a moment like that.

Even Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera showed a very similar smile after Luis Gonzalez singled the Diamondbacks into a World Series ring on the longtime Yankee bellwether’s dollar. But I don’t remember Yankee fans crawling all over The Mariano the way they hammered Chapman over it.

“At that moment when the ball went out, I couldn’t believe it,” the 31-year-old lefthander who still throws the proverbial lamb chops past wolves said after Altuve’s drive banged off the left field pavilion concrete. “I couldn’t believe it went out at that time of the game. For that split-second, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Why did Chapman throw Altuve a second straight slider on 2-1 after showing him two fastballs that didn’t quite reach his once-signature 101 mph but still had plenty enough giddyap to stay above the average? Did beleaguered Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez lose the plot? Did manager Aaron Boone call the pitch from the dugout? And did either or both simply make a terrible call?

“I fell behind in the count and wanted to get ahead with the slider, and I didn’t,” Chapman said. “It didn’t land in the spot where I wanted, and he took full advantage of that. That’s what I was trying to do in that at-bat.”

In the moment you, too, sat in disbelief, even if you were an Astro fan and even if you knew that if anyone could or would come up big enough in that moment, a pennant on the line in a game tied in the top of the ninth, it just had to be Altuve.

Look at the Astros through the full ALCS set. Alex Bregman, who’s liable to be named the American League’s Most Valuable Player if Mike Trout isn’t, had a solid on-base percentage but slugged .222.

Yuli Gurriel looked like an Astro bust overall until he smashed a three-run homer in the Game Six first. Carlos Correa hit a couple of home runs including the electrifying Game Two winner but hit 22 points below his weight otherwise. And their likely AL Rookie of the Year, Yordan Alvarez, was last seen offering a ransom for his kidnapped bat.

And look at the Yankees. Aaron Judge hit one out in Game Two (and it was his only homer all postseason long) but nothing else among his six hits in 27 plate appearances went for extra bases. Except for one home run Giancarlo Stanton’s bothersome quad made him useless in the designated-hitter role. Brett Gardner, Mr. Savages-In-The-Box? He had a .345 . . . series OPS.

Sanchez, the classic good-hit/terrible-field catcher, hit one out and managed to drive three in but he was otherwise good for nothing much at the plate. Of all the Yankee regulars, only D.J. LeMahieu—whose two-run homer in the top of the ninth set the stage for Altuve’s heroics in the bottom of the inning in the first place—and Gleyber Torres showed real value in the batter’s box.

Then you remembered Chapman began reaching for his slider more after 2016. Including 31.1 percent of the time this season and 38.3 percent of the time when he had a hitter at two strikes, according to MLB.com. And with George Springer aboard on a two-out walk, Chapman and the Yankees didn’t even think about putting Altuve on to pitch to Jake Marisnick, a late-game insertion who’s known for his defense far more than his bat.

Boone said it wasn’t an intentional walk situation but a situation to pitch aggressively. “[H]e just hung a breaking ball,” Boone told reporters after the game. “That’s obviously a pitch he’s trying to not give in and probably get down and out of the zone, see if you get a chase or something, and he hung it.”

Except that there wasn’t a jury on earth who’d convict him for malfeasance or cowardice if he’d ordered the free pass to Altuve. And of the eleven breaking balls Chapman threw in the inning, four of them hung—including the strike at which Altuve looked one pitch before the hanger that graduated Altuve from mere Astro heart and soul into eternal Astro legend.

All season long Boone and the Yankees operated around their bullpen. All season long Boone managed his pen adroitly, refusing to overwork those bulls, refusing to let the other guys have the same looks at the same arms in too-short intervals.

And all of that disappeared in the American League Championship Series. Against a team that pounces on the slightest mistake and refuses spurn such gifts as seeing the same arms in just about the same situations. And, against a Chapman whom the Astros hadn’t even seen except for two ALCS innings before Saturday night but whose slider suddenly made the ten most wanted list.

In fact, Chapman was almost in danger of resembling the forgotten Yankee this postseason. And when he did appear, he didn’t miss as many bats as usual. Even inserted to pitch the ninth in a Game One division series blowout, when he got one strikeout and two contact outs plus a walk. When a man with a 13.4 strikeouts-per-nine rate on the season doesn’t miss that many bats, the alarm should be blasting.

Just don’t ask Chapman if his use during this postseason factored into the final disaster. He isn’t buying it. “What happened on the field is what happened on the field,” he said matter-of-factly. “It had nothing to do with that.”

Far more sensible to point to assorted Yankee mistakes all series long and even all Game Six long. They weren’t as slapstick in Game Four as they were in Game Six, but Game Six was its own comedy of errors, official and unofficial alike:

* Playing for the double play with nobody out and the Astros having first and third in the bottom of the sixth. Down a run, the Yankees should have played the infield in. Instead, they got the double play grounder, but shortstop Didi Gregorius unexpectedly took a quick peek toward the plate before throwing. That moment cost the Yankees the double play and the run scored regardless.

* Letting Tommy Kahnle pitch a third day in a row. Kahnle was one of the Yankees’ best relievers in the set but it was bad enough the Yankee bullpen rarely if ever appeared in differing conditions without Kahnle being extended like that. The Yankees may have been lucky to escape the sixth with only one run scoring in the inning.

* Judge ambling too far toward second base on Aaron Hicks’s seventh-inning pop to shallow left. Granted that Astros left fielder Michael Brantley wasn’t known for his defensive virtuosity, but his diving catch, springing up promptly, and throwing strongly back to first doubled Judge up too easily. You got why Judge got over-aggressive but every baserunner matters in a tight game and he cost the Yankees a chance to push one around the circuit.

* Edwin Encarnacion was such a bust as the Yankee designated hitter this series that, with Stanton still ailing, Boone could and should have reached for alternatives. He had Cameron Maybin on the bench. He could have assigned the defensively challenged Sanchez to DH in Game Six and sent Austin Romine, who doesn’t hit much but handles things far better defensively, out behind the plate.

The Astros entered Game Six with a shot at both the pennant and at not having to burn Gerrit Cole in a Game Seven when they’d far prefer to have him open the World Series if they got there. The Yankees entered Game Six needing to do or be dead. Those Game Six mistakes built the Yankee coffin Altuve nailed tight shut.

Neither the Astros nor the Yankees hit with authority during most of the ALCS, but the Yankees had potential tying or go-ahead runs at the plate 26 times in the set. Entering Game Six they were 5-for-29 with men on second base or better. The Yankees also became notorious this set for failing to cash in several bases-loaded situations including first innings in Games Three and Four. But staying loyal to the veteran Encarnacion, a June trade acquisition, cost the Yankees dearly.

He may have hit 34 home runs during the season but come the ALCS Encarnacion looked twice his 36 years. He wasn’t anywhere near resembling the bombardier who once sent the Blue Jays into a division series with a mammoth game-ending three-run homer made possible when Orioles manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t even think about bringing in his best reliever because it wasn’t a quote save situation.

All season long Boone looked like a master administrator. You don’t win 100+ games in your first two seasons otherwise. But in Game Six he looked like a novice while his team got out-played, out-thought, and out-smarted most of the way.

Right down to the moment he wouldn’t even think about giving up the ghost, walking Altuve on the house after 2-0, and pitching to a .289 regular-season on-base percentage instead of a .353 OBP with a man on in the bottom of the ninth. If he’d ordered Altuve walked he might have gotten extra innings and another chance.

And don’t even think about blaming Game Six plate umpire Marvin Hudson. Both the Astros and the Yankees had plenty of reasons to complain about his Rocky Horror Picture Show-wide strike zone: a little to the left, a little to the right, let’s do the Time Warp again. The only wonder was that no Astro or Yankee was tempted to try fouling Hudson into the concussion that took Jeff Nelson out of the set unintentionally.

The Yankees measure their success by World Series appearances. And they’re not even a twentieth as obnoxious about it as their fans. Of all the cliches around the Yankees, the truest is that they don’t like to lose. Of all the cliches around Yankee fans, the truest are a) they think annual trips to the World Series are their birthright; and, b) to err is human, but to forgive is not Yankee fan policy.

They’ve just finished only the second decade in their history without reaching a World Series. And they did it by failing to deliver the second part of their most successful manager ever’s wisdom: Baseball is percentage plus execution. With occasional lapses operating the former.

The first ended the year Eugene Debs was imprisoned for speaking against World War I, Prohibition took legal effect, Albert Cushing Read made history’s first transatlantic flight, American women received the vote, and eight members of the White Sox either did their best to throw a World Series or kept their mouths shut about those trying to do it.

It’s enough to make a team whose average age this season is 28 feel as though the average age is 86.

And the way Jose Altuve 86ed the Yankees in the end sent him to the same chamber of legends where Lew Burdette, Bill Mazeroski, Luis Gonzalez, Dave Roberts, and David Ortiz reside in the small but honoured sub-chamber of Yankee slayers.