YANKEES 3/ CUBS 2
If Friday afternoon was any indication of what is in store for the rest of this Yankees-Cubs series, sign me up. The Yankees were down to their final strike, trailing the defending World Series Champion Cubs 2-0 before Brett Gardner launched a 2-2 pitch from Hector Rondon over the the right field wall for a 3-run homer.
All of a sudden a certain Cubs victory was ripped from their hands by a Yankee team that doesn't fear failure. When Gardner hit the homer, a sense of jubilation sprung out of him that we have rarely see from the typically reserved outfielder. He jumped into the air and high-fived his teammates when he stepped on homeplate and was seen yelling back at the Cubs dugout.
There was a reason for this sense of anger and joy.
An inning earlier the Cubs planted the seeds of their own demise when Pedro Strop acted like he won the World Series after striking out Aaron Judge to end the top of the eighth with an emphatic fist pump. Judge gave Strop a long stare on his way back to the dugout, and one had to know that Strop's actions lifted the Yankees spirits even higher.
The Yankees, who came into this three-game series as heavy underdogs, were not going to be denied of pursuing a historic upset.
Before the 9th inning fireworks, this game was as well played defensively as any game this season around Major League Baseball. There was the great diving catch made by Cubs right fielder Jason Hayward when he scooped up a Sterlin Castro line drive and doubled-up Aaron Hicks on second base to get the Cubs out of the first inning.
There was even the play at the plate on Castro when he never slid toward home, instead crashing into Contreras down the third base line for the final out of the sixth. It was base-running mistakes that could have cost the Yankees, but fortunately for them it didn't.
There was the gutty effort by Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who battled around an error by Judge that allowed Wilson Contreras to reach all the way to third base with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Pineda reared back and got ground ball outs from Kyle Hendricks and Jon Jay to get out of the jam. That inning in of itself proved to be deadly for Chicago later on. Had the Cubs found a way to bring in Contreras, they would have carried a 3-0 lead into the ninth, and presumably Gardner does not win it for the Bronx Bombers.
Overall, Pineda was solid. He gave the Yankees exactly what they were looking for, six innings, allowing two runs on three hits with six strikeouts. The only runs to score on Pineda were homers by Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. That was it.
On the flip-side, Kyle Hendricks was equally good for Chicago. He held the Yankees to six hits over five and a third innings, as New York just couldn't figure him out. In fact the entire Yankee offense looked dazed and confused out there again Chicago bullpen before Rondon entered the picture.
In an ironic twist of fate, while the Cubs watch Rondon melt under pressure in the ninth, it was their old closer, Aroldis Chapman who came in after Gardner's homer and shut the door on the South Siders with a pair of strikeouts to get his seventh save of the year.