Yan Gomes was the player mobbed by his teammates between first and second base, and deservedly so.
The veteran catcher drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the 13th inning Friday night to complete the Cleveland Indians’ comeback from a five-run deficit as they beat the New York Yankees 9-8 in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.
Two innings earlier, Gomes made a pivotal defensive play when he picked pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes off second base with none out in the 11th. That, too, helped the Indians take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series and put them in position for a sweep if they win Game 3 on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium following a day off Saturday.
Little noticed in the celebration was the man who started the 13th-inning rally and scored the winning run. Austin Jackson has resurrected his career with the Indians this season without fanfare, other than the amazing catch he made to rob the Boston Red Sox’s Hanley Ramirez of a home run on July 31 at Fenway Park.
However, Jackson came through big time in Game 2. He worked Dellin Betances for a leadoff walk and stole second base before scoring on Gomes’ single down the left-field line.
Though Betances lost the faith of manager Joe Girardi after compiling a 5.59 ERA in September, he set down the Indians 1-2-3 in the 12th in his first inning. However, opponents were 8 for 11 in steal attempts against the 6-foot-8 right-hander in the regular season after going a perfect 21-for-21 against him last year.
“We knew going into the inning that that was probably our best way to go about it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We certainly weren’t knocking Betances all over the ballpark, but he has given up some stolen bases.”
Francona opted to start the right-handed hitting Jackson in left field with the Yankees starting left-hander CC Sabathia, and the 30-year-old responded by going 2-for-5 with a walk. That followed a fine regular season as a part-time player in which he hit .318/.387/.482 with seven home runs in 85 games.
Jackson was limited to 54 games with the Chicago White Sox last year before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Following three consecutive seasons on an OPS+ under 100, it was safe to wonder if Jackson’s career might be over.
“When you’re at home rehabbing, you start to question whether you’ll ever step foot back out on a baseball field and if you’ll be able to run the same, if it you’ll be able to hit the same,” Jackson said. “Basically, use my legs. That’s part of my game.”
After also pursuing him during 2015-16 offseason, the Indians signed him to a minor-league contract as a free agent on Jan. 25 that guaranteed him $1.5 million if he made the major-league roster. He has provided excellent value.
“I hate to say surprised but we’re pleased,” Francona said of Jackson’s performance. “He had a pretty good resume behind him. He has just fit right in and played against righties and lefties and did a terrific job.”
Jackson is in the postseason for the fifth time in his eight-year career after making three straight trips with the Detroit Tigers (2011-13) and one with the Chicago Cubs (2015).
“Watching the postseason last year, it definitely inspired me a lot to start training harder because I wanted to be back in this position,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer to come here with them showing interest in me two years in a row. I wanted to be part of this winning atmosphere. I could just tell the fight that this team had, just watching that postseason, and I wanted so bad to get back out on the field and try to get back to this position. It’s worked out so far.”