The Associated Press
CLEVELAND–They ran away with their division again and streaked to history–102 wins and home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.
The Cleveland Indians have had a special season.
A new one–the only one–is about to begin.
Heartbroken after coming up a little short last year against the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland figured to make it to October for another swing at ending a World Series drought stretching back to 1948.
The Indians are back, but there’s now a 6′,7″, 280-pound baseball-bashing behemoth standing in their way.
Behold Aaron Judge.
On the same field where their magical 2016 post-season ended on Nov. 2 in a light rain and extra innings, the Indians will open the Division Series tonight against Judge and the N.Y. Yankees, who rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday.
Unaffected by a larger stage, Judge hit a two-run homer in his playoff debut as the Yankees overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first inning and won their first post-season game in five years to earn a best-of-five matchup against the defending AL champs–and the team favoured to win it all.
“We’re not done yet,” Judge said after the 8-4 win at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ve just got to keep it rolling in Cleveland.”
Judge and his teammates capped a travel day with a workout at Progressive Field, where both he and Todd Frazier hit tape-measure shots into the vacant left-field bleachers during batting practice.
And while fans across the country are excited about watching the colossal Judge, who blasted 52 homers as a rookie and seems to hit the ball hard every time he’s up, face Indians’ ace Corey Kluber and baseball’s deepest pitching staff, Cleveland manager Terry Francona isn’t as thrilled.
“I know, if you throw in the wrong place, he’s going to hit it a long way,” Francona said.
Francona is taking a gamble in the opener and starting Trevor Bauer, a 17-game winner during the regular season, in Game 1 instead of Kluber, who will start Game 2.
Francona reasoned that in doing so, he will have Kluber on regular rest again for Game 5–if the series goes that far and if Mother Nature doesn’t bring rain.
It makes sense. Then again, it seems risky.
Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi expected Kluber in Game 1.
“It’s interesting,” he remarked.
New York will counter with Sonny Gray, acquired at the July 31 trade deadline to help get New York into October.
“Right now we’re playing as good as we’ve played, at least since I’ve been here,” noted Gray, who will be followed by CC Sabathia in Game 2 and Masahiro Tanaka in Game 3.
“We feel really good about ourselves, and I think we showed last night [Tuesday] that we’re very, very resilient and ready for any type of challenge.”
Bauer is well aware of the damage Judge can do, but is just as focused on the rest of New York’s lineup.
“You’ve got some youth in there with big power,” Bauer noted. “You’ve got some veteran guys in there, too, that balance everything out.
“They can do a lot of different things offensively.”
So can the Indians, who don’t have a hole in their lineup and finished strong, stringing together 22-straight wins from Aug. 24-Sept. 14 and winning 33 of their last 37.
Cleveland also went 5-2 against New York.
None of that means anything now.
“Everybody’s even,” Francona stressed. “What’s going to matter is who plays the best.”
Houston will host Boston in the other ALDS that opens this afternoon.