CLEVELAND — The Indians dropped the series finale against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field, but they went down kicking, screaming and rallying almost to the end.
Cleveland overcame a brief and ineffective outing from Shane Bieber to erase a sizable deficit, then came back again in the ninth to force extra innings before falling 7-6 to New York in 10 innings.
The Indians trailed 5-0 after two innings, climbing all the way back to tie it on Jake Bauers’ solo home run in the seventh before former first-round draft pick Clint Frazier returned the lead to the Yanks with a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth.
Cleveland knotted it again in the bottom of the inning off a familiar face, fireballing left-hander Aroldis Chapman, before the Yanks won it on Aaron Hicks’ two-out double to left off Oliver Perez.
“I was actually really proud of the way they competed today,” manager Terry Francona said of his team. “It’s a tough way to start the day and then knowing what’s sitting out there (in the bullpen) ready to come in. And I’ll be damned ... We’ll win that game sometimes. We had a runner on third base (in the ninth). That was a heck of a game. There was a lot going on.”
New York was forced to go with an opener strategy after Sunday’s scheduled starter Masahiro Tanaka was placed on the paternity list, but the Indians wound up using the same amount of relief pitchers thanks to Bieber’s unraveling, which came quickly and as a surprise.
He needed only 12 pitches to strike out the side in the opening inning, then retired the first two hitters in the second before allowing the first hit of the game to Frazier.
Brett Gardner followed with a two-run homer to snap an 0-for-22 skid and the next five New York hitters reached, capped by a two-run double from Luke Voit that put the Yankees in front 5-0.
Bieber failed to get out of the inning, matching the shortest outing of his career.
“He looked so good and then he got two quick outs and then there was the single and the homer and it just seemed to go south,” Francona said. “All of a sudden everything ... breaking ball’s out of the zone and he wasn’t commanding. I’ve never seen it go that quick with him like that before.” Bieber had no explanation.
“It’s a little confusing, definitely frustrating,” he said. “I got two quick outs in that second inning and then things just kind of started to unravel. I thought I had plenty of opportunities to get myself out of that inning and just couldn’t capitalize on them.
“I can’t say enough about the fight we had today, really proud of this group of guys for picking me up. It’s obviously a less-than-ideal start and the bullpen picked us up big time, and the offense and defense put up some runs and fought back real good today.”
There was little fight over the first five innings from the Indians, who went scoreless on just one hit — a bloop single in the second from Jose Ramirez.
That changed in a four-run sixth that included homers from Leonys Martin and Mike Freeman, as Cleveland closed to within 5-4. Freeman was pinch hitting for second baseman Jason Kipnis, who left the game with hip tightness but is expected to play Tuesday.
The Indians’ run against Chapman was unearned, scoring when shortstop Didi Gregorius committed an error on a sharp grounder from Francisco Lindor.
Though they failed to complete the sweep, the Indians have shown some life on the homestand, taking two of three from first-place Minnesota and New York.
“You’re careful to ever say ‘We’ve figured something out,’ because the minute you do that, you land right on your (butt),” Francona said. “But I have liked what I’ve seen — competitiveness and when we’ve got knocked back we’ve come back and played and I see the energy in the dugout. I like that stuff. We’re not the perfect team, and I know that. But just because of that doesn’t mean we have to lose. We can always compete.”
“I think we’re starting to play the brand of baseball we want to play,” Bieber said. “Today showed that especially. We played some really good series in the last week, week and a half. I know we’re going to keep that rolling. It’s just a matter of doing it.”