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No debate: Judge, Yankees pound Bieber, Indians in series opener

By TOM WITHERS

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — On a night for debates, Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees made quite an opening statement.

Shane Bieber had no rebuttal.

Judge smashed a tone-setting, two-run homer on Bieber’s fourth pitch, Cole struck out 13 in his New York playoff debut and the Yankees opened their AL wild-card series with a resounding 12-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday.

Just a few miles from where President Donald Trump and campaign opponent Joe Biden made their cases to the nation in their presidential debate, the Yankees teed off against Bieber, who was baseball’s best pitcher during the condensed regular season but ineffective in his playoff debut.

Judge and the rest of New York’s hitters hadn’t faced Bieber in 2020, but they were well prepared and took some meaty cuts against the 25-year-old ace, who gave up season highs in runs (seven) and hits (nine) over 4 2/3 innings — his shortest stint since June 9 last season against the Yankees.

“The first inning didn’t go as planned,” Bieber said. “I wish I would have been with my off-speed stuff in the zone, and challenged those guys a little more. I forced myself into some bad situations and some bad counts on top of not having my best stuff and making mistakes.

“No excuses. It was not good.”

The best-of-three series continues tonight with Carlos Carrasco trying to save Cleveland’s season against Masahiro Tanaka.

When Bieber’s final pitch clanged loudly off the empty left-field bleachers on a two-run homer by Gleyber Torres in the fifth, the Yankees were up 7-2 and had delivered a boisterous postseason message to the rest of baseball: Don’t forget us.

“We scored quite a few runs,” said Brett Gardner, who hit a two-run homer in the seventh and drove in three. “I don’t think you ever expect that against a pitcher the caliber of Shane Bieber. Hopefully that’s a sign of more good things to come.”

After giving up Torres’ homer, Bieber handed the ball to acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. and walked slowly toward Cleveland’s dugout, seemingly carrying all of the city’s hopes for a long run with him. The Indians have lost seven straight playoff games.

Staked to an early lead on Judge’s homer, Cole showed why the Yankees shelled out $324 million for him in the offseason. The right-hander gave up two runs — including Josh Naylor’s homer — and six hits without a walk in seven innings.

Naylor, who came over in the deadline trade from San Diego, went 4 for 4 and became the first player with three extra-base hits in his postseason debut.

Cole’s strikeouts were the second-most by a New York pitcher in postseason history. Roger Clemens fanned 15 in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS. Cole also became the first pitcher to strike out at least 12 in three postseason games.

“We needed to set the tone for the series,” Cole said. “I’m obviously very thankful and humbled to be able to take the ball and be in this position. To be able to deliver feels really good.”

Giancarlo Stanton added a solo shot in the ninth for the Yankees, who didn’t even have to warm up their top relievers — keeping Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino fresh for Game 2.

Judge’s first homer since coming off the injured list on Sept. 16 — and the first allowed by Bieber at home this season — gave the Yankees a stunning 2-0 lead.

“We had a big, long hitter’s meeting about all sticking to the same plan and just trying to work counts, get pitches to drive and I think, as a whole, we did that,” Judge said. “That’s when this team is dangerous, when we go out there and we can just grind out at-bats.

“Any mistakes that are thrown up there, we hammer them.”

DJ LeMahieu, the AL batting champion, led off with a single before Judge, who missed 29 games with a strained calf, blasted Bieber’s first pitch, a middle-of-the-plate fastball, beyond the wall in right-center.

It was just the shot in the arm the Yankees were looking for after going 11-18 on the road this season and dropping six of eight down the stretch.

Unlike the previous four postseason matchups between the Indians and Yankees since 1997, this one, played amid a pandemic that threatened to wipe out the entire season, was different in so many ways.

There was barely any buzz downtown, parts of which were cordoned off because of the debate taking place on Case Western Reserve’s nearby campus. Progressive Field was mostly empty and a cold front dropped the game-time temperature to 61 degrees so it felt like fall.

There were a few midges, those pesky flying insects that swarmed New York reliever Joba Chamberlain in the 2007 playoffs.

This time, though, the Yankees were the ones causing all the mayhem.

“Our season,” Gardner said, “started today.”

White Sox 4, Athletics 1

OAKLAND, Calif. — Lucas Giolito dazzled in his postseason debut, stymieing the Oakland Athletics through six perfect innings and sending the Chicago White Sox to a victory in the opener of their best-of-three wild-card series.

Giolito (1-0), who pitched a no-hitter against Pittsburgh on Aug. 25, didn’t allow a baserunner to the AL West champions until Tommy La Stella’s single up the middle to start the seventh. Giolito gave up one run on two hits over seven innings, struck out eight and walked one before giving way to Evan Marshall after a stellar 100-pitch outing.

Giolito got plenty of support: Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer and Adam Engel also connected for Chicago against Jesus Luzardo (0-1). Yasmani Grandal homered in the eighth.

Alex Colome, Chicago’s third reliever, worked the ninth for a save in the 2-hour, 53-minute game.

Now, Oakland must win Game 2 today at home to avoid another early playoff exit. The A’s are in the postseason for a third straight year, having lost in the AL wild-card game each of the past two seasons after 97 wins both times.

Astros 4, Twins 1

MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Altuve drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning after a two-out error by shortstop Jorge Polanco, and Houston beat Minnesota to open their AL playoff series and stretch the Twins’ all-time record postseason losing streak to 17 games.

Manager Dusty Baker’s Astros became the first team in major league history to win a game after reaching the postseason with a losing record. Game 2 in the best-of-three wild-card matchup is today at Target Field.

Michael Brantley tacked on a two-run single in the ninth after Sergio Romo issued a full-count walk to the 5-foot-6 Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP who had a quiet season at the plate.

Framber Valdez, who made 10 regular-season starts for the Astros, pitched five scoreless innings in relief of Zack Greinke for the victory to keep the bullpen fresh for the rest of the series. Valdez allowed his only two hits with one out in the ninth, but Willians Astudillo grounded into a double play to end the game.

Minnesota’s previous win in the playoffs was notched in New York on Oct. 5, 2004, in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

Rays 3, Blue Jays 1

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Blake Snell took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and top-seeded Tampa Bay opened the playoffs with a win over Toronto.

Manuel Margot hit a two-run homer and Randy Arozarena tripled and scored on a wild pitch to give Snell and a dominant Rays bullpen all the offensive support needed to begin the best-of-three matchup.

The AL East champion Rays will try to advance today in Game 2 at Tropicana Field.

Snell allowed just two baserunners until Alejandro Kirk singled leading off the sixth. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner permitted one hit and struck out nine — tying a club postseason record — in 5 2/3 innings.

Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks followed, limiting the wild-card Blue Jays to Bo Bichette’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly. Fairbanks closed for his first save of the season.

Toronto reliever Robbie Ray took the loss. Margot homered off A.J. Cole to make it 3-0 in the seventh.

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