I mean, one half a step too late or too early, and you don't quite make it. One half-second too slow, too fast, and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
— Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday
Trevor Bauer has probably had worse 20-minute stretches of his life than trying to get the last out of the second inning in Game 4 of the ALDS. This is, after all, the fellow who gushed blood on the mound in last year’s playoffs after slicing up his hand attempting to repair a drone, and the recording session of his Miguel Montero-themed rap track has to be up there as well. But on Monday night Bauer paid for mistake after mistake as he just didn’t get the last few inches he needed to hold the Yankees off for another inning, and he really did only need a few inches.
Starlin Castro batting, bases empty, one out
This is basically the time before the time that Bauer could’ve gotten out of the second inning. After putting away Greg Bird to start the frame, Castro came up to the dish. Bauer fed him a curveball on the outside corner for strike one, and doubled up with another curve that caught a bit more of the plate. Castro hit a hard grounder to third base, right at Giovanny Urshela, and Urshela booted it for an error.
It wasn’t the easiest play ever, but Urshela is a career +8.1 FRAA in just under a season’s playing time, with a reputation to match going back to his minor-league days. He also can’t hit at all, if you needed more confirmation that he’s a defensive specialist. Bauer allowed hard contact and thus isn’t completely without blame, but this was a play that Urshela has to make. (Urshela would follow up with another error leading to another run later in the game after Bauer’s exit. Bauer wasn’t the only Clevelander who had a bad night.)
Technically, this would’ve only gotten the second out, but under the perhaps-flawed assumption that scorekeepers make, that made Bauer’s strikeout of Chase Headley in the next at-bat the third out Bauer "earned" in the inning. Yes, all four runs Bauer gave up in this game were unearned.
Todd Frazier batting, runner on first, two outs
Here, we’ve got Bauer’s first actual chance to get out of the inning. Well, hold on a second. Roberto Perez just allowed a passed ball …
Todd Frazier batting, runner on second, two outs
So obviously Bauer thought Frazier couldn’t hit his breaking stuff—he went curve, curve, slider, curve, curve in this at-bat. In general, Bauer was probably right; Frazier hit .175 with a .325 slugging percentage against curves in 2017, and only a marginally better .177 with a .345 slugging against sliders. He’s turned into a fastball-crusher as he’s aged, and Bauer does have wicked breaking stuff when he can command it. But he can’t always command it, and Frazier struggled mightily to catch up to Bauer’s fastball in their meeting in Game 1.
Frazier kept the bat on his shoulder for the first four pitches in Game 4, working the count to 3-1 and watching Castro advance on the passed ball. On the fifth pitch, Bauer caught a bit more of the plate than he’d have liked, and Frazier pulled the ball down the left field line.
— A.J. Herrmann (@AJHerrmannYES) October 9, 2017
The ball landed on the outside of the chalk, just fair. A couple inches further pulled, and there’s no run on the board, and Frazier’s back at the plate with a full count. Instead, Frazier doubled, Castro scored, and the Yankees led 1-0. Bauer’s nightmare was just beginning.
Aaron Hicks batting, runner on second, two outs
Bauer got Hicks behind 1-2 by doubling up his changeup. He then tried to blow Hicks away with the high heat, but Hicks fouled it off. With Hicks set to be looking high, Bauer dropped in a nasty hook hurtling right at the lower bound of the strike zone. Hicks checked his swing. Everyone waited a half-beat.
The umpire called it a ball—a perfectly good call, but one you might expect Cleveland to get a chunk of the time given the vagaries of the check-swing rule or a nice frame. Instead, he came back with the curve again, except it hung in the middle of the zone like it was on a tee.
As you saw in Game 2 against Corey Kluber, Hicks eats hanging breakers like that for brunch, and this time Bauer was probably lucky that he only singled. New York 2, Cleveland 0.
Brett Gardner batting, runner on first, two outs
Once more Bauer got ahead of a hitter, as Gardner stared at three fastballs to fall behind 1-2. Bauer wasted a pitch burying a change in the dirt, probably not the brightest idea against the patient Gardner. That set a high fastball up, the reversal of the eye-level change that he worked Hicks on. Gardner smacked a single. Sometimes you can do everything right, make a good pitch, and give up a hit to a good hitter.
Aaron Judge batting, runners at the corners, two outs
Judge took two curves for called strikes to start the at-bat. Bauer then buried two more curves, and Judge held off. Gardner stole second base on the second curve. Bauer is one of the hardest righties in the game against whom to steal, allowing only four steals in 10 attempts this season and five steals in 10 attempts in 2016.
Aaron Judge batting, runners at second and third, two outs
Terry Francona definitely had some options here. Sure, Bauer had been getting unlucky, but he’d also allowed some hard hits. The Indians have the type of bullpen where you could afford to use a really good reliever in the second inning. Francona could’ve even walked Judge once first base opened on a 2-2 count. Instead, he left Bauer in to face arguably the best hitter in the American League.
After the steal, Bauer tried for the first time to beat Judge with his best fastball, 97 over the plate. Judge fouled it off, and then fought off another curve. Yet another curve in the dirt ran the count to 3-2. Bauer attempt to beat Judge with no. 1 again, and this time Judge put it off the wall to send Bauer to the shower.
Trevor Bauer was just a few inches away from getting out of this inning clean, and then close enough to clean, over and over again. Instead he left down 4-0, a lead that the Yankees would make stand to send the series to a determinative Game 5. That’s baseball, Suzyn.