The Yankees had to go into Thursday night thinking they might steal one. Terry Francona made the
strange smart silly complicated decision to start Trevor Bauer instead of Corey Kluber. Sonny Gray is a respectable no. 2. Aaron Judge might be the best hitter in baseball when he’s on. The bullpen had been taxed against the Twins, but Dellin Betances had gone unused. Cleveland ended the year with a +254 run differential, the best in baseball, but New York was second at +198. These teams were more evenly matched than their records would suggest. This was a game to win. They had to think they could steal one. But they couldn’t. Why? Well, three unexpected things got in the way.
There’s an argument to be made that Jay Bruce is the luckiest man in baseball this year. He’s almost certainly the luckiest man to wear a Mets uniform, though mostly because he got out of one. Bruce was acquired because Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall were hurt and the Mets are cheap; he kept playing because Brantley stayed hurt. In the space of a year, he went from the 68-94 Reds, to the Wild Card Mets, to the best team in the American League. Just a lucky-ass dude.
Before last night, Bruce’s best Cleveland moment was a 10th-inning walk-off single against the Royals to extend the Indians’ winning streak to 22 games. Otherwise it’s been a pretty ho-hum time. Until last night. Last night, Bruce drove in or scored all four of Cleveland’s runs. Last night he wasn’t just lucky. He was also a hero.
Here’s Bruce after he doubled to left in the second. He’s feeling good, and probably a little lucky?
Here’s the crowd after Bruce’s two-run jack in the bottom of the fourth.
I bet the crowd felt lucky, too. A lucky guy caught it. Another guy near him realized this was finally the occasion to try out his sweet new “Got Beer” novelty hat. He sure was lucky to find such a time; I bet they’re limited. I hope he went and got a beer to celebrate. A lucky beer.
Jay Bruce wasn’t supposed to be the Indians' offensive engine on Thursday; you look to other guys for that. You’re hoping for good at-bats and a bit of pop, and to not remember what he looked like in the outfield at all. That’s a decent Jay Bruce day. Above-averageish. Good, even. But instead Jay got to play the hero. Jay Bruce! The salary dump. What a lucky-ass dude.
Jason Kipnis looks like a second baseman, which works because most of the time he is one. He has played 800 games at second. Games the Indians won, games the Indians lost, but 800 of his 853 career games. Entering last night, he had played just 11 games in center field, all in 2017, all because the better options were hurt or right-handed. Now he has played 12.
In the third inning, Chase Headley sent what looked like a sure double to left-center. It looked like a sure double because it was well hit and Kipnis had a ways to go to get to it and because famously, he is a second baseman. Except even sure things fail us every now and again; sometimes the best idea in your board meeting comes from an intern on his 12th day. Which is good. It keeps things spicy.
How do you feel about that, Trevor?
And you, Jason?
Oh yeahhhhhh, very spicy.
The decision to start Bauer in Game 1 was complicated. Going with Bauer instead of Kluber lets you start Kluber on normal rest if there’s a Game 5, and starting on normal rest is important to Kluber. And while Bauer’s 4.58 DRA is middling, his season totals obscure how well he pitched down the stretch, with much of the improvement attributable to an increased reliance on his curveball. That’s why you do it. Why you don’t is, there could be weather issues on Friday. And what if Cleveland trails after three games and you can’t start Kluber in Game 4 because he just threw in Game 2? Also, look at this guy. You’re telling me this is totally normal pitching stuff that totally normal guys do? Look at him! Is he shooing away a persistent ghost?
It was a complicated decision. It felt a little cute. Sometimes though, things work out. Sometimes complicated gives way to inspired. Last night, Bauer’s curveball was practically unhittable. He notched eight strikeouts, including five looking, walked just one, and carried a no-hitter into the sixth. Look at this ghost-shooer.
Aaron Hicks struck out looking on a fastball. Gary Sanchez struck out swinging on a curveball. Bauer struck out Didi Gregorious. He struck out Chase Headley. He struck out Todd Frazier. Aaron Judge struck out three times. Here’s the called third strike he took to end the sixth. A perfectly placed curveball against an MVP candidate.
There was just no doing. Bauer exited the game to a standing ovation in the seventh. If there’s a Game 5, Kluber can start on normal rest. Like Kipnis and Bruce before him, Bauer was an unexpected thing that got in the way.
In The Concept of Anxiety, Søren Kierkegaard describes the terror of death:
When death appears in its true form as the gaunt, grim reaper, one beholds it not without fright. But when, to mock those who fancy they can mock it, death appears in disguise, when the observer sees that the unknown figure captivating everyone with his courtesy and causing all to exult in the wild gaiety of desires is death, then a profound terror seizes him.
The Yankees had to go into Thursday night thinking they might steal one. Instead, death came disguised. Trevor Bauer’s no slouch, but his career has been plagued by inconsistency, and whatever else he is now, he’s not Corey Kluber. Jay Bruce hit 36 home runs this year, but he’s been cold for a month. Jason Kipnis is a second baseman. You expect to get clobbered when a semi-truck bears down on you, or the ice cracks underneath you on a frozen lake, or you swing at Kluber’s slider. That’s grim death as it is. You’re frightened, but a normal amount. But selfies gone awry, or listeria at the nicest restaurant in town, or Jason Kipnis, center fielder? When the ground shifts like that, it’s enough to make you come undone.
Plenty of teams have come back from a Game 1 loss. The Yankees are hardly out of it. But after a night being captivated by unknown—or at least unexpected—figures you might forgive them if they found themselves seized by a bit of terror at what death might look like next.