CLEVELAND — At one point in the eighth inning of the epic Game 2 of the wild-card series between the Yankees and the Indians, Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela looked back at the clock on the giant scoreboard at Progressive Field and saw that it was approaching 1 a.m. Thursday.
“Oh, this is a long game,” Urshela said to himself in surprise.
If not for that glimpse, Urshela would not have known that a game that was supposed to have begun on Wednesday at 7 p.m. had bled into the wee hours of the next day. The game’s many twists and turns — and there were more to come after Urshela checked the time — had captured his attention and captivated those watching at home, presumably with white knuckles.
When closer Aroldis Chapman struck out Austin Hedges to end the game at 1:14 a.m., the Yankees had not only defeated the Indians, 10-9, to sweep the best-of-three wild-card series and advance to an American League division series, they had also finished the longest nine-inning game, either in the postseason or the regular season, in major league history in 4 hours 50 minutes. That did not include two delays totaling another 76 minutes.
Extra innings were not needed to jam it all in: a nonrain delay, an actual rain delay, wet and windy conditions, 38 players used, 388 pitches thrown, 19 walks, five lead changes, four ties, many feisty plate appearances, several game-changing hits or plays and so much unpredictability.
Trailing by a run with one out in the ninth inning, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez knotted the score with a sacrifice fly off Brad Hand, the Indians’ standout closer, who entered the game without a single blown save all year. Then infielder D.J. LeMahieu, the Yankees’ best hitter, provided the winning run by chopping a run-scoring single up the middle.
“I’m 47 years old,” said Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, the son of a former major league catcher and manager, Bob Boone. “I’ve watched a lot of baseball. I’ve watched a lot of my dad’s playoff games, and I’ve been in some really big games. I don’t know how you top that one.”
That was quite the praise from Boone considering that as a player he hit one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history: a walk-off blast in extra innings against the rival Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 A.L. Championship Series that sent the Yankees to the World Series. The stakes were much different for Boone and the Yankees for Wednesday’s game, but the emotional roller coaster was head-spinning nonetheless.
“It kind of had that feeling that we weren’t going to be denied and they weren’t going to lose,” he said. “They just kept scratching and crawling, and Cleveland kept answering, and we were finally able to outlast them.”
The Yankees will now face their fierce division rival, the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays, in a best-of-five division series slated to begin on Oct. 5 at a neutral site, Petco Park, in San Diego. The Rays, who won the A.L. East crown this year, and the Yankees aren’t particularly fond of each other: Their rivalry has been littered with terse words, bench-clearing incidents and hit batters.
The Yankees and Indians did not need any of those fireworks; their game provided plenty. The night, though, began under inauspicious circumstances. The game was delayed for 43 minutes before the first pitch for “incoming rain” that did not come. But then the game was started, and in the first inning, heavy rain did arrive, and Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka coughed up a run.
Boone called the delays “a little bit frustrating” and “not really fair” to Tanaka, who said through an interpreter that the conditions were “extremely bad.” He added: “You get the ball from the umpire and it’s already soaking wet. You’re not really able to throw.”
Even after the teams returned from a 33-minute rain delay in the bottom of the first, the drizzle continued for some time, and Tanaka, normally a postseason stalwart, surrendered three more runs. But the Yankees’ lineup, the best in the American League, fought back against the Indians’ pitching staff, also the best in the league, thanks, in large part, to Urshela, who spent the first nine years of his professional career in the Indians organization.
In the fourth inning, Urshela clobbered a grand slam off the Indians’ James Karinchak, a young flamethrower who emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball this year, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead. He flipped his bat to the side after watching the ball soar into the left-field seats, and pointed at the Yankees’ dugout as he rounded the bases.
Of course, much more was to come. After the Indians tied the score at 6-6 in the fifth inning off reliever Chad Green and Tanaka, the Yankees’ lineup roared back with help from an unlikely source. Sanchez, who has struggled this year and did not start Game 1 on Tuesday, skied a go-ahead, two-run home run that sneaked over the right-field fence in the sixth.
“I thought it was a fly ball to right,” he said, adding later: “In the regular season, I’ve had good swings and hit the ball hard, but no home runs. And on this one, I didn’t hit it like I can and the ball carried. That’s baseball.”
The lead changes didn’t end there. When Yankees reliever Zack Britton got into trouble by walking two in the bottom of the seventh inning, Boone called on Jonathan Loaisiga, who surrendered a two-run double to pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow that knotted the score at 8-8.
When Loaisiga ran into more problems in the eighth inning, Boone summoned Chapman, whose first pitch was blooped into the outfield by second baseman Cesar Hernandez to give the Indians a 9-8 advantage. The inning could have been worse if not for Urshela: He started a threat-ending double play by diving to his left and throwing to second base while seated on the ground.
“That saved the game,” Chapman said.
But the craziness continued into the final frame. Hand pitched little like himself. Giancarlo Stanton walked, and Gleyber Torres and Urshela each singled to load the bases, setting the stage for Sanchez and LeMahieu.
After the final out, Boone embraced his coaches in the dugout. With Champagne and beer celebrations prohibited because of the coronavirus protocols, Boone addressed the team in the clubhouse, and the team’s championship belt for the player of the game was awarded to Urshela.
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life,” he said.