Late and close at Yankee Stadium has a different meaning for the Cleveland Guardians.
Their AL Division Series opener Tuesday night will be their first trip to the Bronx since an ugly April series when rowdy fans in the bleachers pelted Cleveland outfielders with bottles, cans and debris after New York rallied for a 5-4 win.
Guardians center fielder Myles Straw climbed a chain-link fence to confront a spectator, and was jeered with chants of “Crybaby!” the following day after calling the Yankee Universe the “the worst fan base on the planet.”
“I expect it to be loud. At the end of the day, it’s noise. Nothing we’re not used to,” Straw said Monday. “It’s playoff baseball. It’s supposed to be loud.”
Straw jawed with the spectator after teammate Oscar Mercado pointed out a fan celebrating an injury to rookie left fielder Steven Kwan. Straw said for a time he was harassed online.
“They’ll send death threats and all kinds of stuff but people get that in all kinds of sports,” he said. “So I just try to not look at stuff like that, not let it bother me.”
Winner of the best-of-five series will face defending AL champion Houston or Seattle for the AL pennant.
Yankee Stadium will be hosting its first postseason game since 2019. New York swept two games at Cleveland in 2020, then was knocked out by Tampa Bay in a neutral-site series in San Diego. Last year, the Yankees lost the wild-card game at Boston.
In addition to the familiar short porch in right, the Yankees count on rabid rooters who helped them to a 57-24 home record, tied for best in the majors.
“Man, it’s heaven,” Aaron Judge said. “I get the jitters. The intros, running out on that line, the crowd cheering, the whole crisp, cool air. There’s nothing like it. You can’t hear the Roll Call — even when I’m in right field, with the Bleacher Creatures, I can barely hear what they are saying.”
Even Cleveland manager Terry Francona admires the atmosphere.
“That’s part of the fun of being here,” said Francona, familiar with the Bronx intensity from his days with the rival Red Sox. “It’s not like maybe the old Yankee Stadium. But shoot, in the old stadium, you almost wore it as like a badge of honor.”
After hitting two homers in his last 14 games but setting an AL record with No. 62 on the regular season’s next-to-last day, Judge starts the postseason with his stats reset.
“I’m relieved that it’s over with so that we can kind of go back to focusing on playing the game and winning a ballgame,” Judge said. “It was a little strange there for awhile, every time you step up to the plate , people are expecting to you hit a home run. And every time I step up there, I’m trying to do what I can to help the team win.”
This is a bit of a David vs. Goliath matchup, and not just because Judge is 6-foot-7. New York is third with a $254 million payroll and Cleveland is 27th at $60 million. The Indians had the youngest age of both batters (25.9 years) and pitchers (26.3) during the regular season, according to baseballreference.com.
Gerrit Cole (13-8) starts the opener for the AL East champion Yankees, who had a first-round bye. Cal Quantrill (15-5) takes the mound for the AL Central champion Guardians, who swept two games from the Rays last weekend in the wild-card round and are 26-6 since Sept. 5.
Cole lost last year’s wild-card game at Fenway Park and will be making his first home postseason start for the Yankees. He led the AL with 33 home runs allowed — 55 of 81 runs off him were driven in by long balls, including seven three -run homers.
He oddly shifts to a royal “we” at times when discussing his outings.
“I think we’ve thrown the ball really well lately, and our process has been crisp in-between in identifying what we need to do better based on successes and failures,” he said.
Quantrill is 11-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts since a July 5 loss at Detroit. His dad, Paul, pitched for the 2004 Yankees and surrendered a game-ending homer to David Ortiz in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the AL Championship Series as Boston began its unprecedented rebound from a three games-to-none deficit.
“I have some pretty cool memories from when he was playing here,” said Cal, who was 9 at the time. “That was pretty much a Hall of Fame lineup that they were rolling out every day.”
Cleveland will be missing right-handed reliever Nick Sandlin, who strained his pitching shoulder during the 10th inning of Saturday’s 15-inning win. The Guardians also plan to add right-hander Aaron Civale and rookie Cody Morris and drop left-hander Kirk McCarty.
Cleveland had hoped to add 34-year-old righty Bryan Shaw, who was designated for assignment on Oct. 1 and assigned outright to Triple-A Columbus two days later. But 15 days must elapse before he can be restored to the big league roster .
New York intends to have only 12 pitchers on its 26-man roster because of the unusual schedule, which has off days after both Games 1 and 2. Rain is forecast for Thursday.
Matt Carpenter, sidelined since Aug. 8 by a broken left foot, took batting practice and appears likely to be added for New York. Boone said he was concerned about DJ LeMahieu’s ability to swing freely because of a toe injury and was unclear whether the 2020 AL batting champion will be active.
The Yankee game Tuesday night is on TBS at 7:37 PM and streaming on MLB.TV.