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Yankees teach Guardians a lesson about the Bronx: Enter at your own risk | Klapisch

NEW YORK – The sound comes at you with blunt force, like a wave, or better yet a punch to the solar plexus. That’s what it feels like for an out-of-towner setting foot inside Yankee Stadium in October. It’s not just the decibels, it’s the message being delivered: we’re here to eat you alive.

We: the nine Yankees on the field and the 40,000 savages in the stands.

You: the poor saps who’ve walked into the teeth of a 13-year championship drought in the Bronx.

In this case, we’re talking about the Cleveland Guardians, the surprise winners of the Central Division hoping to shock the Yankees this week. The Guardians arrived with a bit of strut: they won 92 games this year, broke the Rays’ hearts in the Wild Card Series and draw their strength from Terry Francona, who’s on his way to copping his third Manager of the Year award.

But while everyone admires the Guardians for their late-season surge, they’re young and impressionable and were unprepared for Game 1 of the Division Series on Tuesday – and not just because Gerrit Cole had his razor slider working.

No, it was more than that.

The Yankees took the series opener, 4-1, because every critical sequence went their way. Because the Guardians couldn’t match the Bombers’ poise. And because the vibe in the ballpark was downright primal. The Guardians looked and played scared.

That’s what happens when an October crowd becomes so loud and aggressive, “I can’t even hear the Roll Call from the bleachers,” Aaron Judge was saying the other day.

“Rabid” is what Harrison Bader called the fans, adding, “it’s almost like you’re playing with them on the field … that’s the type of energy that’s part of a winning history of a city.”

Even Francona acknowledged the crowd’s effect on his players.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being nervous,” he said. “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of what you’re doing.”


But here’s the thing: the Guardians had a window – several of them – that a more mature club like the Astros would’ve exploited.

Judge was invisible, striking out three times in a hitless night. Cole was wobbly early on, needing 62 pitches to get through three innings. DJ LeMahieu was removed from the roster because his fractured toe is so painful, Aaron Boone said, “it wasn’t the responsible thing to do” to ask his infielder to soldier on.

Compounding the Yankees’ roster deficits was news that reliever Scott Effross is heading for Tommy John surgery. The right-hander won’t be back until 2024, leaving a gaping hole in the bullpen.

The Yankees have no proven closer; they don’t even have a credible swing-and-miss weapon for the late innings.

Those issues will be amplified in the next round. And to be fair, those deficits could still haunt the Yankees against the Cleveland. Francona used his No. 3 starter, Cal Quantrill in Game 1. Two better talents, Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, are scheduled to start Games 2 and 3.

But it’s the Yankees who have the upper hand. Ever since the advent of the best-of-five Division Series in 1995, 74 of the 105 contests have gone to whichever team won the first game.

Using history as a guide, the Yankees now have a 71% chance of advancing to the League Championship Series where the Astros (who beat Seattle on Tuesday) will be waiting.

Two points to consider until then: the Astros are not afraid of the predators inside the Stadium. They actually thrive on the crowd’s hostility.

And second, the Yankees won’t have the home field advantage over Houston. If Judge, Cole and the rest of the Bombers are dreaming about a trip to the World Series, they’ll have to win Games 6 and 7 of the LCS on the road.

That’s why all the under-the-radar successes the Yankees enjoyed over the Guardians will have to become habits, at least until Judge regains his home run swing and Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres (combined 0-for-5) start clicking.

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The Bombers were lucky that Bader, who hit his first HR as a Yankee in the third inning and Anthony Rizzo, who blasted a two-run shot in the sixth, gave Cole all the oxygen he needed.

Actually it was Cole was who proved to be the difference. The Guardians’ scouting report was built on the premise of wearing down the Yankees’ ace. Long counts, keeping at-bats alive, not chasing pitches out of the strike zone combined to drive up Cole’s early pitch count.

And the fact that he gave up another HR – a solo shot to Steven Kwan – was an immediate red flag. Remember, Cole led the American League by allowing 33 jacks, prompting Boone to toy with the idea of starting Nestor Cortes until two days before Game 1.

The Yankees would’ve never entertained the idea of demoting Cole two years ago. But times have changed.

Still, Cole delivered when it mattered, allowing only one hit over his final 3.1 innings.

Francona confessed his admiration for the way Cole, “can have overwhelming stuff. You know, he starts to speed you up and then he spins it. It can get tough.”

Between the speed up (four-seam fastball) and spin (slider), Cole got 19 swings and misses, generating eight strikeouts in 6.1 innings. The most critical punch-out occurred in the third inning, when Andres Gimenez whiffed with the bases loaded and two out.

That ended the Guardians’ only legitimate rally of the night, dooming them to an uphill battle from here on out.

Cole’s triumph over Gimenez also supercharged the crowd, which spent the final innings ginning up the insults, chants and decibels in anticipation of the next round. Everyone’s already itching for the Astros.

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Bob Klapisch may be reached at bklapisch@njadvancemedia.com.


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