All of the Yankees’ home runs came off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, whose extraordinary power manifested in the form of a shockingly casual rocket into right field, tying the game at one in the second, and a three-run shot crushed to the tune of 118 mph in the fourth, both off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow. They were his fourth and fifth homers in four postseason games this year.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, though, both of these homers were hit while trailing. Overshadowing Stanton’s displays of strength was the way that the Yankees chose to set up their pitching. The rookie Deivi Garcia was ostensibly tapped for the start. But after pitching a single inning and giving up yet another Randy Arozarena home run, Garcia was lifted, a secret opener for J.A. Happ.
The Rays’ starting lineup, presumably designed with the right-handed Garcia in mind, featured five lefties; this was, perhaps, where the Yankees thought they could find an edge by foisting Happ upon Tampa Bay in the second, as he’s performed well against left-handed hitting this season. (Aaron Boone, in a mid-game interview, said that it was “probably” the plan for Garcia to pitch only the first; Happ, in his postgame interview, seemed ambivalent about the strategy.) Whatever the logic behind the skulduggery was, it backfired almost immediately. Joey Wendle led off the bottom of the second with a single, and scored two outs later on a massive homer from Mike Zunino. The game had not stayed tied very long. An inning later, another two-run shot — this time from Manuel Margot — put the Rays ahead 5-1. An infield single, an error, and a walk later, Happ was out of the game.[embedded content]
His immediate successors, Adam Ottavino and Jonathan Loaisiga, didn’t fare much better. Ottavino, though he managed to close out the fifth, allowed Wendle to reach on a leadoff walk and steal second, and Loaisiga promptly allowed the inherited runner to score. Loaisiga went on to allow an Austin Meadows solo shot to lead off the sixth, capping off the Rays’ scoring.
And though Stanton’s second homer had put the Yankees within one run, the added-on runs from the Rays put the game out of reach. Aside from Stanton and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees’ lineup struggled bitterly against Tyler Glasnow, who threw multiple pitches that touched 101 mph. Glasnow struck out 10 through five innings plus a batter, with his fastball and curveball working together in glorious whiff-inducing harmony. He generated 20 swings and misses on 47 curveballs, eight of those for third strikes.[embedded content]
Diego Castillo was the first out of the ‘pen for the Rays in the top of the sixth, and set the tone with consecutive three-pitch strikeouts of Luke Voit and Stanton. After the first two batters reached in the top of the seventh, bringing up Gary Sanchez as the tying run, Nick Anderson took over. With the incredible efficiency he’s shown all season, Anderson struck out Sanchez, Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu in quick succession. He dealt with Hicks, Voit and Stanton with equivalent ease in the top of the eighth.
It was only in the top of the ninth, with Pete Fairbanks on the mound, that the Rays’ bullpen faltered. The Yankees’ first two batters reached on walks, and Fairbanks, throwing 100 mph heat, seemed to have no idea where the ball was going — though he got a little help from CB Bucknor, whose strike zone was a matter of consternation to both teams. But Fairbanks got Clint Frazier swinging for the first out, and Sanchez swinging on three pitches for the second — a brutal plate appearance for Sanchez, and his third strikeout of the game. Though LeMahieu drove in a run with a single, Judge, after falling behind 0-2, grounded out to end the game.
One of the strengths of the Yankees’ offense this season was their ability to work the strike zone: As a team, they led baseball in walk rate and had the eighth-lowest strikeout rate. In his recap of Game 1, Brendan Gawlowski noted the quality of the Yankees’ approach against Blake Snell. But that approach was not there in Game 2. Yankees finished the game with 18 strikeouts, a record for a nine-inning postseason game. Four of their hitters — Judge, Voit, Frazier and Sanchez — struck out three times. With their pitching failing to execute against the Rays’ power, poor plate appearances in critical spots made a comeback impossible.
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