By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Gerrit Cole pulled the Yankees back from the brink. They’re bound for the Bronx, still chasing a championship.
Cole gave New York what it needed, a solid seven innings and Harrison Bader hit a two-run homer as the Yankees saved their season and forced a decisive Game 5 in the American League Division Series with a 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Guardians in Game 4. Sunday night.
“This series is certainly not over and we have bigger goals,” Cole said. “But I’m definitely having the time of my life and I’m loving it and I can’t wait to move on.”
Cole, the $324 million man from New York, allowed two runs and struck out eight in beating the Guardians for the second time in six days. He didn’t dominate, but Cole kept Cleveland hitters off base and off balance.
Bader homered for the third time in the best-of-five series, connecting in the second inning off Cal Quantrill, who went undefeated in 44 games at Progressive Field.
After blowing up Game 3 on Saturday, when the Yankees’ bullpen had its biggest collapse in team postseason history, New York has bounced back and heads home.
New York will start Game 2 loser Jameson Taillon against Aaron Civale on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
The winner advances to face Houston in the American League Championship Series.
Josh Naylor homered for the Guardians, who are trying to end Major League Baseball’s longest World Series drought in its first year after a franchise name change. Cleveland hasn’t won it all since 1948.
With a history of postseason heartbreak, Cleveland teams are 1-7 in winner-take-all games.
“If you had told me in March, we just signed up to play Game 5 in New York to go to the ALCS, I would have run to New York,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I’m excited.”
Cole was retired after 110 pitches and Yankees manager Aaron Boone brought in closer Clay Holmes for the eighth. Holmes didn’t pitch in Game 3 after Boone decided to shut him down, but he didn’t say anything to the right-hander.
Holmes struck out Amed Rosario and All-Star José Ramírez in the eighth before Wandy Peralta finished for the save. Working his third straight day, Peralta retired three batters on just seven pitches.
“Our guys had that look in their eyes tonight, and it starts with Gerrit,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s a complete win for us and that’s who we are and those are the wins that we need.”
The Guardians weren’t supposed to be here. But they won the AL Central, swept Tampa Bay in the wild-card round and brought the Yankees to the brink of elimination. All the Cleveland kids have to do now is beat the Yankees in the most hostile environment in baseball.
This was the kind of game the Yankees envisioned Cole throwing when they signed him to a nine-year deal in 2019 as a free agent after spending two seasons with the Astros.
There was no magic this time around for the Guardians, who overcame a two-run ninth-inning deficit on Saturday to win Game 3 in dramatic fashion.
Not only did Cleveland rally against New York’s bullpen on Saturday, but the Guardians became the first team in 168 games to overcome a multi-run deficit and beat the Yankees in the postseason.
The Guardians pulled within 3-2 in the fourth on Naylor’s second career postseason homer, and third in 17 at-bats, off Cole.
Naylor’s laser shot into the seats in front of the outfield bullpens sent the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy that grew wilder as the spirited DH circled the bases swinging his arms forward like he was rocking a baby.
Bader’s 429-foot throw into the left-field bleachers put the Yankees ahead 3-0 in the second, giving them not only momentum but confidence that they would even the series after their Game 3 loss.
The New York dugout erupted with screams and punches as Bader rounded off first after his fifth hit in six career at-bats off Quantrill. He also homered in Game 1, when Cole and the Yankees beat Quantrill.
The Guardians got a run back in the third, but missed one more chance when Ramirez got too aggressive on the bases.
With runners on first and second, Ramirez dropped a bloop to left field that scored rookie Steven Kwan. Thinking he had a chance to take an extra base, Ramirez left midway through the second before realizing he didn’t have a chance and was thrown out to first.
Oscar Gonzalez’s rapid rise from rookie to the postseason has mirrored Cleveland’s impressive jump to World Series contender.
While the 24-year-old, who has twice won the postseason with a clutch hit, has an aggressive approach at the plate, he’s also a selective hitter, most of the time.
“He took a swing in the fifth inning that almost hit him in the Adam’s apple,” Francona said, recalling a Game 3 at-bat. “And he comes back and that was an at-bat, he went deep to right field. It’s a bit unique.”
Boone spent much of his pregame news conference trying to clear up the miscommunication between him and Holmes in Game 3.
After the bullpen collapsed, Holmes, who was recently sidelined with a shoulder strain, told reporters he was available. However, Boone said he never informed the right-hander that he was out, leading to confusion and awkwardness.
Boone said he decided not to pitch Holmes on consecutive days so as not to put his health at risk. Holmes reported soreness after pitching in Game 2.
Boone said that he and Holmes “discussed it.”
“I could have thrown and 1, 2, 3, boom, we won,” Boone said. “That’s one of the tough decisions that comes up that we try to make carefully.”
Making his first career relief appearance, Taillon allowed two runs on three hits without recording an out in Game 2. Civale hasn’t pitched since Oct. 5. He has won his last three starts with a 3.18 ERA. The right-hander was on the disabled list three times this season.
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