CLEVELAND — The ball hissed off Francisco Lindor’s bat and ascended into the October night, a prayer answered for 37,681 souls at Progressive Field, a thunderbolt through the gloom. The Cleveland Indians had become a vulnerable juggernaut, their ace cut down, their cleanup hitter impaired and their lead in the American League Division Series jeopardized. And then came Lindor’s liquid lash, and a ball clanging off the foul pole, and a stadium becoming a cauldron, and a game lurching into loopiness, and another frenzied reminder: These Indians are inevitable.
The notion of control evaporated as Friday afternoon turned to night. A manager fumbled, a five-run lead disappeared, dinner reservations were canceled and the scoreboard ran out of space. The first five hours and 100 plate appearances decided nothing. It became its own animal and chewed through whatever leash it may have been on.
The New York Yankees’ autopsy of Game 2 will include a miasma of managerial misadventures, missed chances and bullpen arsonists. Given an opening, the relentless Indians struck. Lindor’s grand slam in the sixth inning served as the lodestone of Cleveland’s 13-inning, roar-from-behind, 9-8 triumph. Jay Bruce’s solo home run in the eighth tied it. And Yan Gomes provided the culmination with a single down the left field line off Dellin Betances, scoring Austin Jackson 5 hours 8 minutes after first pitch.
“Playoff baseball,” Jackson said afterward, “is crazy.”
The Indians overcame so much to earn the 2-0 lead they will carry with them to New York, where the series resumes Sunday night. Corey Kluber, the presumptive AL Cy Young winner, lasted 2⅔ rotten innings and exited with the Indians down three runs. They lost designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, for the game and perhaps longer, after he suffered a nasty ankle sprain in the first. The Indians trailed by five runs after five innings.
The Yankees provided assistance. Manager Joe Girardi allowed Chad Green to face Lindor, the Indians’ best player, despite signs he was flagging, “because he’s had success off Lindor,” Girardi said. He chose not to challenge a phantom hit-by-pitch that loaded the bases before the slam because “being a catcher, my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm,” he said.
He let right-hander David Robertson, in the midst of his second multi-inning outing in three days, a pitcher whom Girardi was unsure would be available, face the left-handed Bruce in the eighth inning despite a gaggle of fresh relievers in the bullpen, Betances primary among them. And he sent Betances out for a third inning while options remained.
“The understatement of the year would be to say that there was a lot going on in that game,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said.
The Yankees erred once more in the top of the 11th, when pinch runner Ronald Torreyes wandered too far off second base with no outs and Gomes picked him off with a bazooka-grade throw. Afterward, Torreyes would walk through the clubhouse with red eyes.
The missteps allowed the Indians to creep back into the game, and the relief quartet of Andrew Miller, Joe Smith, Cody Allen and scheduled Game 4 starter Josh Tomlin held the score until the denouement. Betances mowed through the 11th and 12th innings, but he could not survive the 13th. Jackson drew a leadoff walk, which set in motion a certain chain of events. Since the start of 2016, runners have swiped 29 bases in 32 attempts against Betances. Jackson took second with ease.
Gomes and Betances dueled for 10 pitches, five of them with two strikes. “One of the best at-bats I’ve ever seen,” Allen said. Gomes ended it by bouncing a slider down the line and into the left field corner. Jackson held his right index finger aloft as he circled third base.
The Indians swarmed Gomes and celebrated their 35th victory in the past 39 games. They are winning at a clip unheard of in the sport, with an uncommonly great team. The Indians outscored opponents in the regular season by 254 runs, the best in baseball by 56 runs and the widest margin since the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners.
“You just sit back and say, ‘This is an unbelievable team,’ ” Tomlin said.
The pitching matchup played out as everyone expected, except the exact opposite. At the start of the third , Kluber carried a 3-2 lead to the mound after 37-year-old Yankees starter CC Sabathia barely escaped disaster. Kluber would leave before the inning ended, down 6-3 after Aaron Hicks smashed a three-run homer into the right field seats. Sabathia would stabilize himself and retire 11 in a row.
When Sabathia retired Bruce on a lineout to shortstop for the first out of the sixth, he had set down 12 of 13 batters and thrown 77 pitches. Greg Bird had a launched a two-run homer in the fifth to give New York an 8-3 cushion. Girardi wanted Sabathia to face Bruce, a lefty, and then shake his hand for a job well done.
Girardi called on Green, who induced a flyout from Jackson, and an uneventful inning beckoned. Gomes kept the inning alive with a double into the left field corner, bringing Lonnie Chisenhall to the plate.
Chisenhall deserves credit for forcing the pivotal, and contentious, pitch — he fell behind, 0-2, and stayed alive by fouling off four consecutive 97-mph fastballs. Green fired a fifth, on Chisenhall’s hands. The ball, per the ruling of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, nicked Chisenhall’s wrist. Replays showed the ball may have actually grazed the knob of his bat, or nothing at all.
All Chisenhall would say: “I’m not the umpire.” In other words: Nope, didn’t hit me.
Lindor, the beating heart of the Indians, walked to the plate. When Encarnacion went down, Francona had told him, “Hey, we can’t act like we got hit in the stomach and got the wind knocked out of us. Keep them going.”
Girardi stuck with Green. Lindor plastered his second pitch down the right field line. “After a couple steps, I was like, no, don’t go foul, please,” Lindor said. “I started blowing on it a little bit.” When the ball crashed off the foul pole, Lindor skipped around the bases and Progressive Field erupted. Suddenly, the Indians trailed by only a run, 8-7.
Bruce and Gomes and a raft of relievers finished the incredible night. “It was an honor,” Francona said, “to be part of this game.”
Spirits were dimmed only by the injury to Encarnacion, the free agent signing who led them with 38 homers and posted an .881 OPS this year. Encarnacion was upbeat despite needing to be carried off the field, telling teammates he thinks he is fine.
“Right now, they say he’s day to day,” Francona said. “Which, if that’s the case, would be tremendous.”
The Indians packed for New York late Friday night, some of their voices hoarse from screaming. They had taken another step toward returning to the World Series, a march that seems more and more inevitable by the day.