Aaron Judge smashed a tone-setting, two-run homer on Shane Bieber's fourth pitch, Gerrit Cole struck out 13 and the New York Yankees opened the AL playoffs with a resounding 12-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
Just a few miles from where the Trump-Biden presidential debate took place, the Yankees made quite a statement in teeing off on Bieber, who was baseball's best pitcher in the condensed regular season but looked average in his playoff debut.
Judge and the rest of New York’s hitters hadn't faced Bieber in 2020, but they were well prepared and took some meaty cuts against the 25-year-old ace, who gave up season highs in runs (seven) and hits (nine) over 4 2/3 innings — his shortest stint since June 9 last season against the Yankees.
The best-of-three series continues Wednesday night with Carlos Carrasco trying to save Cleveland’s season against Masahiro Tanaka.
When Bieber's final pitch clanged loudly off the empty left-field bleachers on a two-run homer by Gleyber Torres in the fifth, the Yankees were up 7-2 and had delivered a boisterous postseason message to the rest of baseball: Don't forget us.
Bieber then handed the ball to acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. and walked slowly toward Cleveland's dugout, seemingly carrying all of the city's hopes for a long run with him. The Indians have lost seven straight playoff games.
Staked to an early lead on Judge's homer, Cole showed why the Yanks shelled out $324 million for him in the offseason. The right-hander gave up two runs — including Josh Naylor's homer in the fourth — and six hits in seven innings.
Naylor went 4 for 4 and became the first player with three extra-base hits in his postseason debut.
Cole's strikeouts were the second-most by a New York pitcher in postseason history. Roger Clemens fanned 15 in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS.
Brett Gardner added a two-run homer in the seventh for the Yankees and Giancarlo Stanton hit a solo shot in the ninth.
Judge's first homer since coming off the injured list on Sept. 16 — and the first allowed by Bieber at home this season — gave the Yankees a stunning 2-0 lead.
DJ LeMahieu, the AL batting champion, led off with a single before Judge, who missed 29 games with a strained calf, blasted Bieber's first pitch, a middle-of-the-plate fastball, beyond the wall in right-center.
It was just the shot in the arm the Yankees were looking for after going 11-18 on the road this season and dropping six of eight down the stretch.
Luke Voit's RBI double in the third made it 3-0.
José Ramírez pulled the Indians to 3-1 with a two-out RBI double, his 12th straight hit for extra bases. However, Cole struck out Carlos Santana with runners at second and third to end Cleveland's third-inning threat.
Unlike the previous four postseason matchups between the Indians and Yankees since 1997, this one, played amid a global pandemic that threatened to wipe out the entire season, was different in so many ways.
There was barely any buzz downtown, parts of which were cordoned off because of the debate taking place on Case Western Reserve's nearby campus. Progressive Field was mostly empty and a cold front dropped the game-time temperature to 61 degrees so it felt like fall.
There were a few midges, those pesky flying insects that swarmed New York reliever Joba Chamberlain in the 2007 playoffs.
This time, though, the Yankees were the ones causing all the mayhem.
MLB eased its COVID-19 restrictions and allowed family members of players on both teams attend the game.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said nearly half of New York's players had loved ones on the trip, and believes their presence can have a positive effect.
“Hopefully it is something that provides a little bit of an escape after the game and a little comfort,” he said.
The Indians are going through the postseason without their leader.
Manager Terry Francona, who missed 46 games in the regular season due to poor health, watched the game from a suite. Indians president Chris Antonetti said Francona continues to recover, but the 61-year-old is "still far short of 100%.”
This is Francona's eighth season with Cleveland. His contract runs through 2022.
Carrasco's inspirational comeback after being diagnosed with leukemia last year reaches the postseason. He'll face Tanaka, who pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS as the Yankees overcame a 2-0 deficit and eliminated the Indians.