Two at-bats late in Game 5 showed what makes this Yankees team so dangerous
Todd Frazier and Brett Gardner had two of the best at-bats in recent postseason memory
Thanks to a miraculous ALDS comeback, the New York Yankees are heading to the ALCS. The Yankees rallied from down 0-2 in the best-of-five ALDS to beat the 102-win Cleveland Indians and take one step closer to the World Series. They'll now face the Houston Astros when the ALCS begins Friday.
The Yankees took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning, and given how good the Indians are, that one-run lead didn't feel very safe. Insurance runs weren't necessary, per se, but the Yankees sure would've appreciated them.
Sure enough, the Yankees broke through against Cody Allen to cash in two big insurance runs, giving them some breathing room. Aaron Hicks started the rally with a one-out single to left, which Austin Jackson bobbled, allowing Hicks to take second base.
The most impressive part of the rally came with two outs. Todd Frazier, the No. 9 hitter, worked Allen for a nine-pitch walk that included three two-strike foul balls. Here are the pitch locations, via Brooks Baseball:
Frazier is not your ordinary No. 9 hitter. The guy is a former Home Run Derby champ and he's hit 102 home runs the last three seasons. He's a flawed hitter for sure. He pops out a lot and doesn't hit for a high average. But Frazier has power, and he also works the count well. His 14.4 percent walk rate was sixth highest in baseball this season. He'll work a pitcher hard.
Allen learned that in the ninth inning. He couldn't find the finish pitch and wound up walking Frazier with two outs to put another man on base. That set the stage for Brett Gardner, the quintessential pesky leadoff hitter who works counts and battles at the plate. He saw 4.23 pitches per plate appearance during the regular season, the 12th most in baseball. Gardner isn't the greatest hitter, but he never gives away an at-bat.
Following Frazier's nine-pitch walk, Gardner put together an epic 12-pitch battle against Allen, the kind of at-bat that was reminiscent of the late-1990s Yankees teams that wore pitchers down on the regular. Gardner fouled away six two-strike pitches before lacing a two-run single to right field. Give the Indians an assist for some sloppy defense. Look at this at-bat:
During the regular season the Yankees had the third highest walk rate in baseball (9.7 percent) and also the second highest percentage of three-ball counts. They worth a three-ball count in 22.7 percent of their plate appearances this year, well above the 20.4 percent league average.
The 2017 Yankees are going to make pitchers work for their outs, and that was never more evident than in the ninth inning of Game 5. Frazier and Gardner forced Allen to throw 21 pitches -- 21 pitches to two batters! -- and he didn't even get an out of it. Allen walked Frazier then gave up the two-run single to Gardner.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Yankees, remember. When it became obvious they were ahead of schedule, general manager Brian Cashman acted quickly to acquire Frazier (and David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle) to bolster the lineup. Gardner, who was on the trade block all offseason, never moved.
In Game 5, Frazier and Gardner showed exactly what makes the Yankees a legitimate World Series threat. It's not just the bullpen or the Aaron Judge homers. It's the grind it out mentality that exists up and down the lineup. The No. 9 hitter and the No. 1 hitter showed it Wednesday. There are no easy outs in the lineup.
"Look at our at-bats, the at-bats that Didi had today, the at-bats that Gardy had," said manager Joe Girardi following the game. "There's just a ton of fight in this club. It's a great mixture of youth and veteran players that are leading the way, and it's hard to believe, because we just beat a really, really good team."
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