The Yankees and Twins treated their viewers to a full buffet of 2019 baseball this evening, complete with dingers and pitching changes galore, and the Bronx Bombers took control down the stretch for a 10-4 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
Minnesota jumped out to an early advantage on solo home runs from Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz, but the Yankees capitalized on shoddy fielding to erase the deficit and put the game away with crooked numbers in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. Tonight was about as positive an opening to a much-anticipated postseason as the New York faithful could have possibly hoped for.
Aaron Boone handed the ball to James Paxton for Game 1, and the decision paid huge dividends. Big Maple was effective in working around the dingers. He clearly fed off the energy of a fired-up home crowd and came up big in an important spot, as he did numerous times during the regular season. Paxton had trouble commanding his cutter early on, and moved away from the pitch as the game progressed, relying on his sharp knuckle-curve that induced whiffs all night. He came oh-so-close to qualifying for a win, but couldn’t quite wiggle out of a jam in the fifth. No matter, as Adam Ottavino issued a walk but Tommy Kahnle induced a flyout on the first pitch he threw to end the threat. Paxton’s overall body of work was strong and the Yankees have to be encouraged by his effort in his first career postseason outing.
On the other side of the ball, the clear heroes were Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu. Torres put the Yankees ahead for good in the bottom of the fifth with a one-out double off the outstretched glove of third baseman Miguel Sanó, the culmination of a tough at-bat in which he ran the count full and spoiled some tough breaking balls from Tyler Duffey. LeMahieu crushed a solo homer to deep center in the sixth and then broke the game open one inning later, lacing a bases-clearing double into the left-field corner. Edwin Encarnación seemed to be suffering no ill effects from his late-season oblique strain, chipping in two doubles, and Brett Gardner followed LeMahieu’s blast with one of his own a few moments later.
Aaron Judge rather quietly contributed a tremendous all-around performance. He lined a 100.9 MPH single up the middle to fuel the Yankees’ first rally in the third, walked twice, and came up with two unbelievable catches in right field, the latter of which quashed a threat in the seventh. Giancarlo Stanton, whose 2018 postseason performance was much maligned, didn’t have a huge night – but he was a key presence and put together some incredible at-bats. In my pre-series scouting report on the Twins bullpen, I mentioned Duffey in particular as a tough matchup for a hitter like Stanton, but Big G made me look silly this time around. Stanton laid off a string of sharp curves and worked an all-important walk that paved the way for Torres’ game-shifting double. His approach looked solid all night, and some enormous offensive performances are on the way.
All told a fabulous night to open the 2019 playoff campaign. The Yankees high-step into tomorrow evening’s game behind Masahiro Tanaka, a man who’s already played postseason hero numerous times in his career, and Yankee Stadium is sure to rock once again. As the Twins continue to search in vain for their first playoff win over New York in 15 years, Boone’s Savages look to take a commanding series lead and a major stride towards a pennant.