CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Guardians don’t hit a variety of home runs but they’re pests to opposing pitching staffs. They make a variety of contact and run the bases hard. So after they entered the underside of the ninth inning on Saturday in Game 3 of this best-of-five American League division series trailing the Yankees by two runs, they did what they do best.
Five singles later, three of them bloops, the Yankees walked off the sphere in shock while pandemonium took over at Progressive Field. With two outs, right fielder Oscar González — the rookie who steps to the plate to the theme song of kids’s television show “SpongeBob SquarePants” — the Guardians’ hero for the third time in five games this postseason.
With a single slapped up the center, Gonzalez drove in two runs and stunned the Yankees in a come-from-behind walk-off 6-5 win that moved the Guardians to inside one win of the A.L. Championship Series and the Yankees yet another loss from a protracted winter.
It could be the Guardians’ first trip to the A.L.C.S. since 2016 and maybe essentially the most surprising appearance in team history. The Guardians, who won 92 games and the A.L. Central throughout the regular season, used 17 rookies this 12 months, setting a major-league record for many rookies on a division- or league-winning team.
“After I hear the song, I sing along as well and rejoice,” González, who grew up within the Dominican Republic loving SpongeBob said of his walk-up music, calling it calming for him. “I do know I’m big but I’m a child inside.”
Within the best-of-three wild-card round, the Guardians swept the Tampa Bay Rays due to a Fifteenth-inning walk-off home run by González in a 1-0 win in Game 2. In Game 2 of this round, González had the Tenth-inning go-ahead single in a 4-2 win over the Yankees. And in Game 3, González had his third go-ahead hit of the playoffs, tying the Hall of Fame slugger David Ortiz for essentially the most such hits in a postseason profession.
“That’s incredible,” González said. Added Guardians catcher Austin Hedges, “He’s the right-handed Big Papi without delay. That’s SpongeBob. That’s our guy.”
The Yankees, winners of the A.L. East and 99 regular-season games, at the moment are facing elimination. Their season comes all the way down to their ace, Gerrit Cole, who beat Cleveland in Game 1 and was slated to take the mound in Game 4 on Sunday.
“A gut-wrenching ending, but we got to recover from it,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “Now we’re obviously up against it, but I still love our probabilities.”
The teams’ stark difference in varieties of play has been on display this series but particularly Saturday. The Yankees scored all of their runs via three home runs and totaled five hits in all. The Guardians, however, piled up 15 hits, 13 of them singles and none of them over the fence. “Consider me, I wish certainly one of those balls would have gone out,” Guardians Manager Terry Francona said.
“That is how we win games,” Hedges said. “We don’t necessarily exit and beat teams 10-1 every game. We now have to go grind, now we have to pitch, now we have to play defense and get timely hitting.”
Added Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan, who was a part of the ninth-inning rally: “To see that succeed and see that prevail is basically rewarding for the sport. It shows we’re not going to alter our game style for anybody.”
Led by Kwan and this approach, the Guardians jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino. But as Severino settled down, the Yankees’ lineup heated up.
After a producing certainly one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history and setting a A.L. record with 62 home runs, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge entered the postseason with high expectations. But in the primary two games of the series, the Guardians pitched him tough and Judge missed the few pitches he normally hit hard. Through his first at-bat in Game 3, Judge was 0 for 9 with eight strikeouts.
That each one modified with one mighty swing within the third inning. With the rookie utility man Oswaldo Cabrera on second base after a double, Judge sent a pitch from Guardians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie 449 feet to deep center field to tie the rating at 2.
To take the lead, the Yankees again relied on power. With center fielder Harrison Bader on base after a single, Cabrera clobbered a ball into the appropriate field seats to present the Yankees a 4-2 margin.
After Severino bumped into trouble within the sixth inning and reliever Lou Trivino coughed up a run to trim the Guardians’ deficit to 4-3, Bader got that run back. He smashed his second home run of the series in the highest of the seventh, giving the Yankees a more comfortable lead.
But that quickly evaporated in ninth inning when the Guardians further wore down a Yankees bullpen that has been depleted by injuries all year long. When Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta, in his third inning of labor, coughed up bloop singles to center fielder Myles Straw and Kwan, Boone brought in Clarke Schmidt quite than Clay Holmes.
Like Peralta, Holmes returned from an injury for the series. Holmes was an All-Star closer in the primary half of the season but has been undermined by struggles and injuries — the most recent was shoulder soreness — within the second part. After Holmes threw 16 pitches in Game 2 on Friday, Boone said Holmes had normal shoulder soreness on Saturday and was not yet ready for back-to-back appearances unless it was an emergency.
Holmes disagreed, saying after the sport that he had told the team he was available and “I woke up today preparing to pitch like every other day.”
On the mound, Schmidt sputtered and couldn’t escape the jam. Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario, who said he had predicted a comeback because the inning began, singled. José Ramírez, the Guardians star third baseman, then loaded the bases with a single.
After Guardians designated hitter Josh Naylor struck out, up got here González with two outs. As the group enjoyed his walk-up song, González told himself to place the ball in play with the barrel of his bat. And after two foul balls, he did so on a 1-2 pitch, enough to attain Kwan and Rosario, and push the Guardians closer to the following round.
“I’ve said all of it 12 months: you’ve got to get 27 outs,” Hedges said. “There’s a reason there’s nine innings and 27 outs, and we only needed 26 of them.”