2017 American League Wild Card Game
|2017 American League Wild Card Game|
|New York Yankees
91 - 71 in the AL
|1 - 0
85 - 77 in the AL
The 2017 American League Wild Card Game featured the upstart Minnesota Twins paying a visit to New Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees. The two teams were not strangers to recent postseason meetings, having met in the Division Series four times since 2003, but the Yankees had utterly dominated those meetings, with 12 wins in 14 games, and were overwhelming favorites coming into the game.
The game was marked by a wild 1st inning, during which the Twins managed to chase young Yankees starter Luis Severino after just one out, but the Yankees came back immediately, forcing Ervin Santana out of the game after just two innings. The Yankees then handily won the battle of the bullpens, as their relievers recorded 13 strikeouts and their power bats connected for three long balls in an 8-4 win that respected logic. For the Twins, it was a record 13th straight postseason loss.
The Yankees' presence in the postseason was a mild surprise, although following a very good start to their season, it was clear that what some pre-season observers had billed as a "rebuilding year" was not going to be the usual test of the fans' patience. Buoyed by the slugging exploits of rookie superstar Aaron Judge, the Yankees showed immediately that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with, and they gave the division champion Boston Red Sox a run for their money, forcing them to wait until the penultimate day of the season to confirm that they had won the division title. In addition to RF Judge, the Yankees had plenty of other firepower, with C Gary Sanchez, 3B Todd Frazier and DH Matt Holliday all capable of depositing a ball in the stands at a moment's notice, and others such as LF Brett Gardner, 2B Starlin Castro and SS Didi Gregorius having their best major league seasons, although eclipsed by Judge's heroics. The only question mark all year had been at first base, but youngster Greg Bird had hit well down the stretch after missing the bulk of the season (and all of 2016) because of injuries. In CF, manager Joe Girardi had a choice between veteran Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks, who was having a break-out season until injured after the All-Star break.
The pitching was strong, and especially the bullpen that was arguably the deepest in the majors. Closer Aroldis Chapman had seem to find his groove again after a rough middle part of the season, but set-up man Dellin Betances was still searching for his best stuff. That was not a huge concern, though, as Girardi could count on David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, two-mid-season acquisitions, to handle set-up duties as well, and on secret weapon Shawn Green, owner of some tremendous numbers while playing under the radar, to be used in just about any situation. He chose 23-year-old Luis Severino to start the do-or-die game, confident inn his tremendous stuff and his strong finish to the season. Severino had gone 14-6, 2.98 during the regular season, with 230 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings.
The Twins were the first team to go from a 100-loss season one year to the postseason the following year; in their case, 2016 has seen them lose 103 games and finish last in the AL Central. But that was a distant memory by now, as they had managed to hang tight with the overwhelming favorites to win the division, the Cleveland Indians, until the All-Star break, and then were left far in the dust as the Indians blew away everyone starting in mid-August. The Twins were not sure where they stood going into the second half. They made a trade to acquire another pitcher, Jaime Garcia, before the trading deadline in a move typical of a contender, but then they turned around and not only did they trade Garcia to the Yankees a few days later, they also sent their relief ace, Brandon Kintzler, to the Washington Nationals. But still, they managed to hang on with the big boys, clinching the second wild card spot.
The two best players on the team were veteran 1B Joe Mauer, who seemed completely rejuvenated in the second half, and CF Byron Buxton, who had begun to fulfill his potential as a five-tool talent in the second half as well. Their best slugger, 3B Miguel Sano, had missed much of the second half with injuries and was doubtful for the game, but there were a number of other good hitters on the team, such as power-hitting 2B Brian Dozier, OFs Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, and utility player Eduardo Escobar. They were not household names for most fans, but they could do damage.
The mound had been a problem area all season. One exception was veteran starter Ervin Santana, who had been solid all season and was tabbed to start this game after going 16-8, 3.28. Also having a good year was 23-year-old Jose Berrios, who went 14-8, 3.89, but after that, if the Twins managed to get past the Yankees, there were some potentially scary times ahead. They had after all been forced to give 15 starts to 44-year-old Bartolo Colon, considered washed-up by just about everyone by that point. The bullpen was also a big question mark following Kintzler's departure. Matt Belisle, a veteran middle reliever, was now the closer, and none of his supporting crew had been particularly dominant either. It was clear the Twins would need an outstanding performance by Santana to get past the Yankees.
|1||Minnesota Twins 4 New York Yankees 8||October 3||Ervin Santana (0-0) Luis Severino (0-0)||8:00 pm|
Game 1 @ New Yankee Stadium
|WP: David Robertson (1-0); LP: Jose Berrios (0-1)|
|Home Runs: MIN - Brian Dozier (1), Eddie Rosario (1); NY - Didi Gregorius (1), Brett Gardner (1), Aaron Judge (1)|
- Attendance: 49,280
On a beautiful evening in New York, the game did not go at all according to script. Young Yankees starter Luis Severino was not sharp at all as he came out, struggling with his fastball command and unable to locate his breaking pitches. He quickly fell behind in the count against lead-off hitter Brian Dozier, who then crushed a 99 mph fastball to the top of the left-field wall for a homer. After getting Joe Mauer to pop up, Severino walked Jorge Polanco, then allowed another homer, this one on a breaking ball, to clean-up hitter Eddie Rosario, and suddenly the Twins had a 3-0 lead, silencing the huge crowd. And it wasn't over. Up next was Eduardo Escobar, who lined a single up the middle, and Max Kepler followed with a hit to right, which Aaron Judge bobbled for a moment, giving him a double. Manager Joe Girardi had seen enough and removed Severino in favor of Chad Green. In a very clutch performance, Green struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to end the inning. In the circumstances, the Yankees were happy to have escaped just three runs down, as the Twins could have blown the game wide open. But that half inning had taken a long time to unfold, and when Ervin Santana finally came out to pitch for Minnesota, he wasn't sharp either. Lead-off man Brett Gardner worked a walk, then Judge singled to center, and after a pop-up by Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius lashed into a pitch to drive it deep to right for a three-run homer that tied the score. Santana continued to labor to finish the inning, walking Greg Bird with two outs and needing 40 pitches to get through the frame.
The crowd was now back into the game, and Green got them pumped up by retiring the Twins in order in the top of the 2nd. Twins manager Paul Molitor had a tough decision to make: hope that Santana would right himself, or call on youngster Jose Berrios, normally a starter, entrusting the game to his bullpen. He decided to give Santana another chance but it did not work out. With one out, Todd Frazier hit a fly ball to deep center, which Buxton only caught thanks to a spectacular leap against the wall, but hurting his back in the process (he would come out of the game a couple of innings later as a result). Gardner followed by absolutely crushing a pitch, sending it to the second deck in right field, to put the Yankees ahead, 4-3. Green returned for another inning in the 3rd, but used to short outings recently, he began to lose it. He allowed a lead-off single to Polanco and walked Rosario, then after getting Escobar to fly out, Kepler drew another walk to load the bases. Girardi went to his bullpen again, calling on another of his most-trusted relievers, David Robertson. He delivered one of his best-ever performances, and essentially won the game for the Yankees from the mound. In the immediate, though, Buxton managed to beat out a potential double play grounder, allowing Polanco to score the tying run. Buxton then stole second unopposed, but Robertson struck out Castro to end the inning. It was the first of 5 strikeouts for Robertson, who gave everything he had, going 3 1/3 innings while shuting out the Twins in the longest outing of his career.
Meanwhile, Molitor decided that Santana was not going to get better and called on the 23-year-old Berrios to replace him,. But Sanchez greeted him with a double, and after a pair of strikeouts, Bird singled to drive in the go-ahead run, making the score 5-4 in favor of New York. That would prove to be the winning run. Aaron Hicks followed with a dribbler just left of the mound that stopped for a single, but Jacoby Ellsbury popped out for the third out. It had been another complicated inning for the Twins, and after a single and an inning-ending double play by Mauer in the top of the 4th, the Yankees were back at it. Gardner singled with one out, and Judge followed with one of his patented huge blasts to the left-field seats. He had set a rookie record with 52 homers during the regular season, but none of them felt as good as that one, as indicated by the huge grin he sported rounding the bases. New York was now up, 7-4, and the Twins' Cinderella story was quickly drawing to a close. They had a final chance to get back into the game in the top of the 6th, when Robertson finally began to show signs of fatigue as Zach Granite, who had taken over for Buxton in center, opened the inning with a single. After Robertson struck out the next two batters, he convinced Girardi to leave him for one more, but Dozier drew a walk. Tommy Kahnle was brought in to face Mauer, and the former American League MVP hit a ball solidly to the left field corner, but Gardner was able to catch it for the third out. There would be no miracle comeback.
Kahnle retired the Twins in order in the top of the 7th, but the Yankees added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning when rookie Trevor Hildenberger loaded the bases with no out, then after he and Taylor Rogers got the next two batters, Alan Busenitz walked Hicks to force in another run, making the score 8-4. That was the end of the scoring. Kahnle, who also had a great game from the bullpen, added another perfect inning in the top of the 8th, bringing up closer Aroldis Chapman in a non-save situation in the 9th. The fireballer had his best stuff, striking out the side around a two-out single by Mauer. Minnesota had been able to give New York an early scare, but in the end, logic had prevailed, with the better team moving on, the Yankees confirming that their strengths were their deep bullpen and their ability to hit the long ball from just about any spot in the line-up. But there were now questions about Severino's ability to bounce back from his nightmarish outing and the toll that had been placed on the bullpen with 8 2/3 innings of intense work by its top four relievers as they headed to face the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS.
- Ted Berg: "Yankees defeat Twins in AL wild card, advance to play Indians in Division Series", USA Today Sports, October 4, 2017. 
- Bryan Hoch and Rhett Bollinger: "Wild start! Yanks' pop, 'pen erase Minn.", mlb.com, October 4, 2017. 
- Bryan Hoch: "Heralded Yanks bullpen does yeoman's work: Called upon to record 26 outs in WC Game, 4 relievers hold Twins to 1 run", mlb.com, October 4, 2017. 
- Bob Klapish: "Why the Yankees trust Luis Severino", USA Today Sports, October 2, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Small-market Twins can play spoiler to mighty Yankees in AL wild card", USA Today Sports, October 2, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Yankees bullpen goes nuts: 13 strikeouts to save the season in wild-card win over Twins", USA Today Sports, October 4, 2017. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Why the New York Yankees will win the AL wild card game against the Minnesota Twins", USA Today Sports, October 2, 2017. 
- Jake Seiner, Associated Press: "Yankees, Twins renew one-sided rivalry in AL wild-card game", USA Today Sports, October 2, 2017. 
|Major League Baseball Wild Card Game|