CLEVELAND — About the same time New York Yankees star Aaron Judge grabbed a helmet and bat to pinch-hit, the Guardians committed a ninth-inning error that threatened to sabotage a great win.
In the moment, manager Terry Francona's emotions nearly got the best of him.
“When the ball came out of his glove, I almost started crying,” Francona said.
The Guardians pulled it together.
Triston McKenzie shut down the Yankees' big-bashing lineup for seven superb innings in a combined one-hitter and closer Emmanuel Clase survived a harrowing ninth, giving the Guardians a 2-0 win over the Yankees on Sunday.
Franmil Reyes drove in both runs — homering in the fourth and hitting a clutch RBI single in the eighth — as the Guardians salvaged the series finale and handed the Yankees just their seventh loss in 32 games.
McKenzie (5-6) allowed only a broken-bat single to Josh Donaldson in the fourth. A right-hander, who has been hurt by giving up home runs this season, McKenzie kept the ball in the park and the Yankees off balance.
“I don’t think any of us came into this game looking at the Yankees as the No. 1 team in baseball,” McKenzie said. “We came out here looking at them as a team we have to beat."
Eli Morgan worked a 1-2-3 in the eighth before giving way to Clase, the AL's top reliever in June, for a ninth that had a little of everything.
Clase walked Anthony Rizzo leading off and got Giancarlo Stanton to hit a slow grounder that should have been an out, but first baseman Owen Miller dropped the throw. Clase retired the next two before the Yankees summoned Judge, who leads the majors with 29 homers but wasn't in the starting lineup.
“He looked like he was swinging four bats over there in the dugout," Francona cracked.
With the crowd at Progressive Field hanging on every pitch, Clase went to a full count before walking Judge to load the bases. He then retired Aaron Hicks on a grounder to second for the final out and his 19th save in 21 chances.
“You don't expect him to throw three sliders in a row,” said Hicks, who dropped to .138 (8 for 58) in his career with the bases loaded. “I just got jammed trying to hit the ball up the middle and got out.”
The Yankees reached the 80-game mark at 58-22, the third-best start through that many games since 1930.
The Yankees won the first two games of the series, sweeping a doubleheader Saturday by a combined 19-5. Baseball's best team seemed poised to take the entire three-game set and six-game season series against the Guardians.
But McKenzie, who had given up multiple homers in six of his previous eight outings, came through with a stellar start.
“I think the difference between this outing and the last couple outings was making them feel a little more uncomfortable at the plate and using all my pitches to both sides,” McKenzie said. “I used my curveball well to kind of slow them down and I think that just helped keep guys off balance and helped keep my heater kind of useful from the first inning to the last inning.”
Reyes homered leading off the fourth inning against Jordan Montgomery (3-2), who pitched well but didn't get the run support, an unusual occurrence for a Yankees team winning at a record pace.
Reyes, who recently returned after missing 23 games with a strained hamstring, put the Guardians ahead 1-0 in the fourth with his sixth homer. Reyes turned on a 1-1 curveball, sending it over the wall in left field.
Judge didn't connect for a homer during the series in Cleveland. Earlier this week, he joined Babe Ruth (32), Roger Maris (30) and Mickey Mantle (29) as the only players to homer 29 times in the team's first 76 games.
Guardians star third baseman José Ramírez also got the day off. He's been dealing with a sore thumb ligament and went 1 for 7 with four strikeouts Saturday.
“I just thought he was tired,” Francona said. “I know as hard as it is to not have him in the lineup, if you go too far and find out the hard way like you lose the guy for a week or two. I just thought he really could use a break.”
The Guardians re-claimed outfielder Oscar Mercado off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies during the game. Mercado was designated for assignment by the Guardians on June 21 and claimed by the Phillies six days later. He had one at-bat before being designated on July 1.
Yankees: Rihgt-hander Domingo Germán (shoulder impingement) allowed one run and two hits over four innings in his his third rehab start, for Double-A Somerset at Reading on Sunday, as he works toward an expected return later this month. He threw 39 of 49 pitches for strikes. ... Boone received good reports on right-hander Jonathan Loáisiga (shoulder inflammation) after he threw batting practice in Tampa, Florida. Loáisiga is scheduled to have another session Tuesday.
Guardians: Catcher Austin Hedges (concussion) remains sidelined. He took batting practice between games on Saturday, but has not yet been cleared to return.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Guardians blank Yankees behind strong effort from Triston McKenzie