The New York Yankees are now 11 wins away from their 28th World Series championship.
New York beat the Minnesota Twins 8-4 during Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium, setting up a date with the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. The Yankees fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first but overcame the early deficit with home runs from Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge and a stellar bullpen effort.
As for Minnesota, Tuesday's loss ended an impressive bounce-back season after it finished in last place in the American League Central in 2016.
Win-or-go-home playoff games often come down to the starting pitchers, but neither impressed Tuesday.
New York turned to Luis Severino, but he recorded just one out in his playoff debut. He allowed three earned runs, four hits—two of which were home runs to Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario—and one walk in one of the worst playoff starts in Yankees history:
However, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports pointed out Tuesday was far from the first time a team overcame such a lackluster start and won in the postseason:
Minnesota's Ervin Santana made his third career playoff start, and it didn't go much better than his counterpart's. The Twins ace lasted just two innings and allowed a walk, single and Gregorius homer in the first three batters and a solo shot to Gardner in the second.
Offense set the tone early against the starters, but the Yankees' bullpen proved to be the story.
Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman covered for Severino and combined to allow one run and five hits while striking out 13 in 8.2 dominant innings.
As a result, Minnesota's recent tortured history against the Yankees continued:
Dozier cared nothing of the history when he drilled a home run on the fifth pitch of the game. Daren Willman of MLB noted the long ball came off a 99.4 mph fastball—faster than any other a Minnesota player hit out all season.
Rosario added on to Minnesota's lead with his two-run homer, but Green turned things around for New York with two strikeouts with runners on second and third.
It gave the Bronx Bombers momentum before the homers from Gregorius and Gardner, although Byron Buxton stole some back with a leaping catch at the wall to rob Todd Frazier of a potential extra-base hit in the second inning. Unfortunately for the Twins, Buxton exited the contest shortly after he collided with the wall, as Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com noted.
Things went downhill for the visitors after Buxton's catch, as Greg Bird's RBI single in the third off Jose Berrios (three earned runs in three innings) gave New York the lead for good. Judge's two-run homer in the ensuing inning provided insurance, which was more than enough for the formidable bullpen.
Green allowed one run and struck out four in two innings, while Robertson pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out five when the game was hanging in the balance after the back-and-forth start. Kahnle induced a fly out from Joe Mauer with two runners on to escape the sixth and threw a scoreless seventh and eighth.
Not even catcher Gary Sanchez was safe from the bullpen:
Minnesota's bullpen couldn't match the effort, and the deficit swelled to four when Alan Busenitz issued a bases-loaded walk to Aaron Hicks before Chapman closed the contest with a scoreless ninth.
The Yankees now turn their attention to the defending AL champion Indians.
Cleveland lost last year's World Series in seven games to the Chicago Cubs in heartbreaking fashion but bounced back with the second-best record in all of baseball in 2017 at 102-60. It is an experienced core from last season's run and features ace Corey Kluber, who can shut down a lineup multiple times in a series.
New York will enjoy its pressure-packed performance against Minnesota for now, but a daunting challenge awaits in the next round.