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Yankees pound Indians in Game 1 of AL Wild Card Series

Gerrit Cole could never have anticipated the twists and turns of his first season with the Yankees, but this challenge is exactly what the ace envisioned while pressing pen to paper on the richest contract ever issued to a free-agent starter.

Saying that he loved “the stakes” of this blockbuster matchup, Cole rose to the occasion and outpitched Shane Bieber, the American League’s likely Cy Young Award winner. The Yankees defeated the Indians, 12-3, in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series on Tuesday evening at Progressive Field.

Mixing his four-pitch repertoire with aplomb, the 30-year-old right-hander struck out 13, the most by a pitcher in his Yankees playoff debut. Cole walked none and is the first Major Leaguer to notch three postseason games of 12 or more strikeouts. Only Roger Clemens (15) has fanned more in a Yankees postseason start.

Continuing a strong run of starts while being paired with backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, Cole scattered six hits over seven innings, permitting two runs. The Yankees never seemed intimidated by Bieber, who secured the MLB pitching Triple Crown by pacing the Majors in wins (eight), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122).

Aaron Judge blasted Bieber’s fourth pitch for a two-run homer and the Bombers did not look back, flipping their offensive switch after losing six of their last eight regular-season games.

Luke Voit ripped a run-scoring double in the third inning. Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu collected fourth-inning RBIs. Gleyber Torres chased Bieber with a two-run homer in the fifth, part of a three-RBI performance for the infielder. The seven earned runs charged to Bieber were four more than he allowed in a game all season.

There were some eyebrows raised by manager Aaron Boone’s selection to start Brett Gardner in left field for Game 1. The longest-tenured Yankee rewarded Boone’s faith with a three-RBI performance, mashing a two-run homer in the seventh off Cam Hill.