NEW YORK — Off the bat, it looked like Josh Donaldson had connected on an opposite-field home run, a fly ball down the right-field line with just enough juice to sneak over the short porch.
If it did clear the wall, Donaldson would’ve given the Yankees a 2-1 lead over the Guardians in the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Briefly admiring the baseball’s flight, Donaldson started his home run trot. Even as the ball caromed back into the field of play, Donaldson kept jogging, rounding first base as though he had just smacked a no-doubter 15 rows deep in the bleachers.
Only when Guardians right fielder Oscar Gonzalez fired to the infield, hitting shortstop Amed Rosario at the second base bag, did Donaldson realize his error. At that point, it was too late to hustle, though.
Donaldson was thrown out trying to get back to first base, a blunder that didn’t come back to bite the Yankees in a 4-1 win but one that still resonated with manager Aaron Boone.
“It’s a unique one down that line like that,” Boone said, explaining that he didn’t have a good vantage point of where the ball landed from his spot in the Yankees’ dugout. “I thought it was a home run off the bat. I’ve got to look at it a little bit better. If he’s getting it right away, is it an automatic double? He ain’t the fleetest of foot. So we have to make sure we’re getting where we need to get to. I’m glad it didn’t end up hurting us.”
The issue here is that Donaldson has pimped other fly balls that have stayed in the yard this season. He’s a repeat offender.
To be fair, it did look like the ball might’ve hit a fan in the front row. Nobody was close to pulling a Jeffrey Maier, leaning over to make the catch, but there’s a reason so many of his teammates thought it was a home run as well.
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“I thought for sure it was a home run. It was a weird play,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the second time it’s happened to him this year.”
Nonetheless, if Donaldson busted it out of the box, he would’ve had a better shot at getting to second base. Conversely, he could’ve stayed alert and stopped at first base just in case as the Guardians fielded a live ball, waiting for an official ruling instead of hanging himself out to dry mistakenly thinking it was gone.
From there, New York was able to pick their third baseman up and make sure they took the lead, never looking back.
Five pitches later, Isiah Kiner-Falefa looped a single to shallow right field, a ball that got by Gonzalez down the line and into the corner, allowing the shortstop to scamper all the way to third base. Then, on an 0-2 pitch, Jose Trevino barreled up a cutter in the zone from Cal Quantrill, driving Kiner-Falefa in with a clutch sacrifice fly.
The following frame, Rizzo homered, sending a towering two-run shot to the second deck. That was more than enough insurance with Gerrit Cole dealing and the bullpen set to throw 2.2 scoreless frames in relief.
Donaldson was the only Yankee with two hits on Tuesday—he drove a single up the middle and also walked, playing strong defense as he has all season at third base in his Yankees postseason debut.
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