CLEVELAND, Ohio — A masterful start from Triston McKenzie, good timing from Franmil Reyes, and Emmanuel Clase escaping a ninth-inning jam led to a 2-0 win for the Guardians on Sunday against the Yankees at Progressive Field.
McKenzie went seven innings against baseball’s best team, giving up just one hit — a broken-bat single to Josh Donaldson, the Yankees only of the day — in the fourth inning. He also walked just one batter and hit one batter en route to striking out seven and his fifth win of the year.
His performance helps Cleveland (40-36) avoid the season sweep by the Yankees, who have lost just six times in their last 32 games.
“I don’t think any of us came into this game looking at the Yankees as the No. 1 team in baseball,” McKenzie said. “We came out here looking at them as a team we have to beat. Things kinda didn’t swing our way the first two games yesterday and we just came out ready to win today.”
After McKenzie exited, Eli Morgan retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, striking out Joey Gallo and Marwin Gonzalez swinging. In the ninth, Clase escaped a scary situation to seal the win.
After Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo reached on a walk, Stanton reached base on an Owen Miller error. With two on and two outs, the Yankees brought Aaron Judge in to pinch hit. After a nerve-wracking, six-pitch at-bat, Judge drew a walk from Clase.
It took the Guardians reliever three pitches to force Aaron Hicks to ground out, ending the game and securing the win. It was Clase’s 19th save of the season.
Entering Sunday, McKenzie (5-6, 3.71) had given up multiple home runs in six of his previous eight starts. He had relinquished 10 homers over his last five starts alone. All numbers that don’t bode well when going up against the league-leading team in home runs (133).
Prior to the game, Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis said that McKenzie’s issues with the longball came down to his fastball command more than anything, and that given his profile with his fastball and curveball, he can be more prone to homeruns if pitches aren’t placed properly. When he does give up homers, though, it helps that more often than not they have been solo shots.
After the win, McKenzie agreed that placement of his pitches was key in this game.
“The difference between this outing and the last couple outings was making them feel a little more uncomfortable at the plate and using all my pitches to both sides,” McKenzie said. “I used my curveball well to kind of slow them down and I think that just helped keep guys off balance and helped keep my heater kind of useful from the first inning to the last inning”
McKenzie seemed to have good command Sunday, and along with utilizing his curveball strategically, moved his pitches throughout the zone. He caught two batters looking and five swinging.
He retired the first 10 batters he faced, and made it through the top of the Yankees order — Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and Donaldson — mostly unscathed. He walked Stanton in the fourth inning and gave up the single to Donaldson in the next at-bat. McKenzie got out of the inning though, getting Gleyber Torres to ground into a force out and Jose Trevino to ground out.
That was the closest McKenzie got to getting in any kind of trouble.
“He was impressive,” manager Terry Francona said of McKenzie. “That was really impressive. We saw the first games, if you give them an inch, they’re gonna probably take ‘em out. And he really pitched aggressively, stayed out of the middle, spun the ball, that was fun to watch.”
After the fielder’s choice by Torres, the only other batter McKenzie allowed to reach base was Gonzalez, who was hit with a pitch on a four-seamer that went too far inside.
Offensively, Franmil Reyes was the star of the show.
In the bottom half of the fourth, the Guardians got on the board as he smashed a leadoff home run into the bleachers on an 81.1 mph curveball that hung too high in the middle of the plate. It was Reyes’ sixth home run of the year and his second this weekend. He hit a solo homer in the second inning of game one in Saturday’s doubleheader against New York.
In the eighth inning as Cleveland nursed a 1-0 lead, Steven Kwan started the inning with a single, and Rosario followed that up with another before Gabriel Arias hit into a tough 4-2-3 double play that ended with the third baseman out at first, and Kwan out at home. That set the stage for Reyes to come through with a huge RBI single to right.
“For me, that was more important than the home run,” Reyes said of his critical eighth inning at-bat. “In the game that got insurance for the team. You know I needed that. The boys needed that and I was very happy about it.”
Rest day for Ramírez
José Ramírez was out of the lineup on Sunday, but it was just in order to get the Guardians slugger some rest before their doubleheader against the Tigers tomorrow, their third doubleheader in six days.
“I just thought he was tired,” Francona said. “I know as hard as it is to not have him in the lineup, if you go too far and find out the hard way like you lose the guy for a week or two, I just thought he really could use a break. And I didn’t want to resort to pinch-hitting him. I just wanted him to have a break. A little different on the Yankees’ side. They have tomorrow off, we have a doubleheader.”
Next: The Guardians will head to Detroit and begin a seven-game road trip with a split doubleheader in Detroit on Monday. First pitch for game one against the Tigers is at 1:10 p.m. EDT. RHP Zach Plesac (2-5, 3.86) will take on RHP Garrett Hill, who is making his Major League debut. The games will air on Bally’s Sports Great Lakes, WTAM 1100 AM, WMMS 100.7 FM and the Guardians Radio Network.
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