By HAL McCOY
In this season during which home runs were a penny a dozen, it figured that a long ball would break up a wondrous pitching performance by both sides.
And one swing of the bat by Greg Bird broke it all up and decided the outcome of the American League Division Series Sunday night, a 1-0 nail-chewing New York Yankees victory over the Cleveland Indians.
That’s the way it was Sunday night in Yankee Stadium when neither the Indians nor the Yankees could score a run for six innings.
Then Greg Bird, beset most of the season by injuries, led the seventh inning against Cleveland’s icon relief pitcher, Andrew Miller, with a home run into the right field stands.
It was only the second home run this season given up by Miller to a left handed hitter. And it was monumental.
It meant the Indians have to keep the champagne on ice for at least another day. The Tribe led the best-of-five series two games to none and could wipe the Yankees off the 2017 baseball map with a victory.
The Yankees paid $125 million to fetch starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka out of Japan and it paid huge dividends Sunday night. Masahiro pitched seven shutout innings, giving up three hits, one walk and he struck out seven.
Tanaka’s only close call came in the fourth when Jason Kipnis banged a one-out triple off the right field wall. But Tanaka struck out both Jose Ramirez and Jay Bruce. Tanaka struck out Bruce three times.
And the Yankees needed every pitch, mostly split-fingered fastballs from Tanaka, to survive. That’s because Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco was nearly as untouchable as Tanaka.
Carrasco pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up no runs, three hits, walked three and struck out seven — nearly a mirror image of Tanaka.
The Yankees filled the bases with two outs in the sixth and Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in Miller. During the season the opposition was 1 for 15 with 10 strikeouts against Miller with the bases loaded.
He didn’t strike out Starlin Castro, but he induced a second-pitch pop-up to shortstop to end the inning and leave it a 0-0.
Byrd, though, turned around a Miller fastball to open the eighth and that was that.
The first six innings was all pitching and defense. Both team turned a pair of double plays. And Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge used all 6-foot-7 of his stature to go above the wall and bring back a home run bid in the sixth inning by Francisco Lindor with a runner on first base.
Dave Robertson started the eighth inning for the Yankees and with one out he walked Michael Brantley. New York manager Joe Girardi decided it was time for his closer, Aroldis Chapman, to attempt a five-out save.
Was he up to it? He began by striking out pinch-hitter Yan Gomes with a 103 miles an hour fastball. Then he struck out Giovanny Urshela to end the inning and preserve the 1-0 lead. Chapman threw eight pitches, seven for strikes and seven at 100 miles an hour or faster.
The Yankees tried for some insurance in the eighth by Wright State University product Joe Smith said, “Not tonight, guys, not tonight.”
Tyler Olson started the eighth and gave up a bloop double to Brett Gardner. Smith replaced Robertson and struck out Aaron Judge, struck out Gary Sanchez, issued an intentional walk to Didi Gregorius and ended the inning by coaxing a fielder’s choice ground ball out of Starlin Castro.
And Aroldis Chapman, the former Cincinnati Reds closer, trudged back to the mound, needed three outs to extend the Yankees season for another day.
He did it, but he had every patron in Yankee Stadium gulping and gasping for air.
He struck out Francisco Lindor to start the ninth. Jason Kipnis singled up the middle. Yankee third baseman Todd Frazier made a great stop on Jose Ramirez’s hard ground ball, but couldn’t make a play.
So the Indians had a runner on second, only the second Indians player to reach second base ball night. He was the potential tying run and Ramirez was the potential go-ahead run.
Chapman then struck out former Reds teammate Jay Bruce, the fourth time Bruce struck out. Carlos Santana worked the count to 3-and-2, fouled off a pitch, then flied to center to end it.
In 1 2/3 innings Chapman threw 34 pitches, 26 for strikes, and four of the five outs he recorded were strikeouts.
So the series extends to Game Four Monday night, another win-or-go-home game for the Yankees and another win-and-move-on game for the Tribe.