Bauer held the Yankees without a hit for five and two-thirds innings and allowed just two hits before relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen polished off the shutout as the Yankees managed just one more hit, off Allen.
Their best chance to rally came when Miller — whom they traded to Cleveland midway through the 2016 season — walked Chase Headley and Brett Gardner with two outs in the eighth. But Allen entered and got Aaron Judge to chase a 3-2 curveball in the dirt, the fourth time the Yankees slugger struck out.
“Three hits is not going to do it,” third baseman Todd Frazier. “No chance you’re going to win a game like that.”
The Yankees again dealt with shortcomings on the mound. After Luis Severino, their ace, lasted just a third of an inning in Tuesday’s wild-card win over Minnesota, Sonny Gray, the No. 2 starter, could muster only three and one-third innings before he was pulled.
For a young team that looked so overmatched, Game 2 — in which the Yankees will face the Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber — is shaping up to be an early test of navigating the emotional highs and lows of a playoff series.
“That’s the beauty of baseball,” Judge said. “You go out there and do it again tomorrow. If we go out there and win tomorrow, we forget about today. It’s just about learn from today, regroup and get ready for tomorrow.”
Girardi said the Yankees would possibly try to rattle the idiosyncratic Bauer, whose routine of extreme long tossing and use of weighted balls gave him something of a reputation as an oddball. Bauer missed his first scheduled start in last year’s playoffs when he sliced his finger playing with a drone.
On Thursday night, he carved up the Yankees.
Expertly commanding his fastball at the top of the strike zone and his big curveball at the bottom, Bauer did not allow a hit until Aaron Hicks lined a double with one out in the sixth. Until then, the only ball that was remotely close to being a hit was a liner into the left-field gap by Headley to lead off the third. But Jason Kipnis, a second baseman moonlighting in center field, laid out and made a diving catch.
Bauer also kept his composure. After Judge reached after striking out on a wild pitch to start the fourth, Gary Sanchez grounded the next pitch, a curveball, into a 5-4-3 double play. And after the double by Hicks, he retired Gardner on a grounder and struck out Judge, who shook his head at the call.
While several Yankees complained about the strike zone called by the umpire Vic Carapazza, Headley gave Bauer his due.
“It’s not like these pitches that guys disagreed with were a foot off the plate,” Headley said. “That type of strike zone helped him out. He was getting a high strike, which for his stuff is helpful for him, but I didn’t think it was an overly lopsided strike zone by any means.”
When Manager Terry Francona popped out of the dugout to relieve Bauer following a two-out single to Starlin Castro in the seventh, all of his Indians teammates in the infield congregated on the mound and offered high-fives. As Bauer walked off the mound, the crowd gave a standing ovation, and he tipped his cap as he reached the dugout.
“I’ve had quite a few starts this year where I spray curveballs around and I can’t locate it where I need to until maybe the third or fourth inning,” Bauer said, explaining that he did extra work in recent days so that his best pitch would be sharp from the outset.
“When that pitch is good for me, I tend to have a pretty good night,” he said.
The way Bauer pitched, the Yankees needed a near-perfect effort from Gray, who may have been feeling some déjà vu. The last time he pitched in the playoffs, as a rookie in 2013, Justin Verlander, then with the Detroit Tigers, no-hit his Oakland Athletics for six and two-third innings to win the decisive Game 5 of their American League division series, 3-0.
After Gray departed, Adam Warren, Jaime Garcia and Dellin Betances allowed two hits and only one run over the final four and two-thirds innings. The run was driven in, naturally, by Bruce, who fell behind 0-2, worked the count full and delivered a sacrifice fly against Garcia.
Gray gave credit to Bruce for doing his earlier damage on two tricky pitches — a letter-high fastball that carried into the right-field seats and a low-and-away, two-seam fastball that Bruce hit off the left-field wall.
“Those first two at-bats, he hit some really tough pitches that Sonny threw,” Frazier said of Bruce, his former teammate in Cincinnati. “He stepped up for the Indians. He’s a good player. Any team would like him and Cleveland made a good choice, as you see right now.”
That choice — unbeknown to Frazier, he said — came at the expense of the Yankees.
Bruce, who avidly tracks trade rumors, certainly was aware. He brushed aside questions about how his arrival in Cleveland came at the Yankees’ expense, but he knew immediately after the trade that he landed in a good spot — on a contender in need of a powerful, left-hander who could play right field.
“I couldn’t have fallen into a better situation,” he said. “Obviously when you get traded and you’re in trade rumors, it’s usually to a contender or a team that’s contending at the moment. For whatever reason, I ended up here.”
And while the Indians are paying his salary, the Yankees were stuck with the bill.