Confident, versatile New York Yankees will test Cleveland Indians

By Roger Rubin, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 4, 2017 at 12:52 PM
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NEW YORK -- The Cleveland Indians get no easy road in the American League Division Series.

The Yankees team they will face after New York's 8-4 wild-card win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday is clearly going to be a handful. And the character the Yankees showed to pull out the victory -- turning the page on a dreadful start, immediately responding to get back in the game and doing the unconventional -- may make New York the team no one wants to face.

Cleveland's regular season was remarkable, and there is a good reason the Indians are installed as the favorite to win the pennant for a second straight year.

The Indians won 102 games, produced an AL record 22-game winning streak and posted the biggest run differential in the majors at plus-254. Cleveland possesses a Cy Young Award candidate in Corey Kluber, a stellar bullpen that made its name a year ago by lifting the Tribe to Game 7 of the World Series, and a lineup with few holes.

However, the Yankees are undaunted, especially after beating the Twins.

"Cleveland has got a good bullpen, that's for sure. They've got a good lineup, as well. They're a good team," New York reliever David Robertson said. "I'm excited to take them on ... and I think we're more than capable of getting the job done."

The Yankees last reached an AL Division Series in 2012. That was the luxury-liner version, with high-priced older talent performing in well-established roles. This version has grit, youthful self-confidence and unselfishness. New York is patient at the plate, athletic on the bases and in the field and always aggressive.

All of that came into play in dispatching Minnesota because the Yankees found themselves in as bad a spot as they have all season. Ace Luis Severino was a disaster in the top of a first inning that he didn't get out of. He gave up three runs, allowed two more runners to get into scoring position with only one out and seemingly killed his team's season before it could get a turn at bat.

"It's not how you draw it up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Before the last rites could be read, the Yankees' never-say-die character emerged.

Chad Green came out of the bullpen to put on a tourniquet with two big strikeouts to end the inning. Then the Yankees' offense got to work on dismantling Minnesota ace Ervin Santana through a 44-pitch bottom of the first. Didi Gregorius followed Brett Gardner's six-pitch walk and Aaron Judge's flare single to center with a one-out, three-run homer.

"The character was shown in the way we fought back and answered in the first inning," Girardi said. "Scoring those three runs right in the first inning just showed that there was -- what I've seen all year -- the fight in this club. You see the resolve, and they never get down."

Girardi also showed a gritty resolve in engineering his bullpen to get the last 26 outs. He asked players to do things they don't: calling on Green in the first inning, pushing Robertson to get 10 outs in the longest outing of his career, and pulling seven more outs from Tommy Kahnle.

"I pushed some guys a little bit further than I would like tonight, but it's win or go home, and that's why I did it," Girardi said.

In other words, the Yankees will do whatever it takes.

There is selflessness with the group.

Robertson went from being a closer with the Chicago White Sox to being willing to pitch in any situation at any point in the game. Chase Headley accepted a move to first base when third baseman Todd Frazier came over in that deal with the White Sox, and then to being a role player when first baseman Greg Bird came off the disabled list. Matt Holliday hasn't resisted the move to coming off the bench.

"I am committed to winning a World Series," Robertson said. "I may be asked to do things I'm not normally used to doing, but it doesn't mean I can't go out there and do them."

So the Indians had better not be looking for a conventional foe in the other dugout when the series begins Thursday in Cleveland. They aren't going to find one. Instead, they will face a team that is resourceful and never thinks it is out of a game. Girardi has shown he is willing to innovate, and the players will do whatever is asked.

"With what (Girardi) can throw at you? He made the right choices," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "He extended some guys past their comfort zone probably, and still they performed."

Cleveland will find out soon enough. The team that will take New York out of this postseason? It will have to wrestle away the Yankees' last breath.

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