CLEVELAND — The Yankees season is on the brink. The Bombers’ bullpen coughed up a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night and Guardians right fielder Oscar Gonzalez hit a sharp grounder through second base to walk off a 6-5 win over the Bombers in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.
The Guardians take a 2-1 lead into Sunday night’s — do-or-die for the Yankees — Game 4 of the best-of-five-games series. Entering this postseason, the winner of Game 3 in a best-of-five postseason series tied at 1-1 has gone on to win the series 71.9% of the time, 47 out of 51 times.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Myles Straw’s short fly ball off Wandy Peralta dropped in front of a diving Oswaldo Cabrera and got behind him. As he was picking it up to throw it in, Straw to second base. Steven Kwan singled and Yankees manager Aaron Boone went out to the mound to bring in rookie right-hander Clarke Schmidt, not closer Clay Holmes.
Former Mets prospect Amed Rosario lined an RBI single into left field off Schmidt to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run. Jose Ramirez lined another single over the shortstop to load the bases.
Naylor walked it off with his grounder past a charging Gleyber Torres.
It spoiled what had been a pretty dramatic comeback for the Yankees.
After a historic regular season in which he broke the AL and Yankee single-season home run record with 62 led the majors in OPS, slugging and RBIs, Judge was 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts in the first two games of the series, with a four-strikeout night on Friday. So for the first time this postseason, Boone dropped Judge back into the two-hole where he had started 427 games in his career.
“Just kind of woke up on it. I just did not want to have all the focus on the first at-bat of the game, and settle in,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game. “I feel like we’re a little more whole than we were even 10 days ago. As far as where [Giancarlo Stanton] is now, Gleyber [Torres] and [Anthony] Rizzo for that matter. So I just feel like it’s more doable now.
“I mean, without DJ [LeMahieu] and without [Andrew Benintendi], we don’t really have the ideal leadoff hitter other than Judge,” Boone said. “So I just felt like I wanted to get him there and that two-hole for a minute.”
The rookie Cabrera was 0-for-8 with five strikeouts going into Saturday night’s game, but Boone never hesitated to put him back in the lineup Saturday.
“Our feel with him has always been that — and part of the reason is that first month. There were a couple weeks there when he was playing regularly and doing really well for us defensively, where he wasn’t really hitting yet. But to me, to my eye, I was seeing a guy that was not overmatched, that was having the right at-bats. Just wasn’t getting results yet,” Boone said. “And then, you know, we saw him really take off in the month of September. So he’s shown us at every step that he’s not overwhelmed by anything so I think he’s totally cut out for this and equipped for this and confident he’ll go out there and put together some good at-bats for us.”
The 23-year-old converted infielder snapped that in his first at-bat against Tristan McKenzie, lining a double into right field with one out in the third. That set up Judge’s first hit of the postseason, which appropriately was a game-tying home run. It was his 12th career postseason home run.
Cabrera came up with Harrison Bader on first with one out in the fifth and hit his first career home run — and he enjoyed it. The rookie turned toward the Yankee dugout and posed, tossed his bat and then yelled as he trotted around the bases. He is the first Yankees rookie with a postseason home run since 2017, when Judge hit four.