By Deesha Thosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer

One day after Cleveland exposed New York’s flaws, the Yankees addressed their issues well before the national anthem rang through Progressive Field. The Yankees team that showed up in Sunday’s potential elimination game was far hungrier and sharper than the one that fell apart in the ninth inning of Game 3.

Infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who admitted he cost the Yankees the game Saturday, was pulled from his starting shortstop position, and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera was plugged in. Yankees closer Clay Holmes, who went unused in Game 3, was told he would pitch in Game 4. Both Cabrera’s clean defense at short and Holmes’ strong three outs in the eighth inning were critical in sending this series to a Game 5.

The Yankees beat the Guardians 4-2 in Game 4 of the ALDS on Sunday at Progressive Field and, in doing so, evened this series 2-2.

What went right for the Yankees

New York’s $324 million man got the ball in an elimination game and, for the most part, mowed down Cleveland’s lineup like the ace the Yankees signed up for. One glance into the Yankees dugout, and the team looked both loose and confident with Gerrit Cole on the mound, similar to their attitude in Game 1, when they toppled the Guardians 4-1.

Cole, though, was a little unlike his typical, animated self during his Game 4 start. His expression was stoic, almost like he knew he’d keep the Yankees’ season alive and take them back to the Bronx. It was just a matter of time. Whatever the mindset was for Cole, it certainly worked.

He limited the Guardians to two runs on six hits while recording eight strikeouts over seven innings and throwing 110 pitches in his second playoff start of the year and 16th career postseason start. Cole, who gave up the second-most home runs (33) in the majors in the regular season, allowed his second homer of this series in the fourth inning: a solo shot to Josh Naylor that trimmed Cleveland’s deficit to 3-2.

Josh Naylor crushes a solo home run to cut Yankees’ lead

Josh Naylor crushes a solo home run to cut Yankees' lead

Cleveland Guardians slugger Josh Naylor hits a solo home run off Yankees starter Gerrit Cole and celebrates around the bases to cut.

But once again, it was Cole’s ability to limit the damage and prevent meltdowns that highlighted his huge start.

What went wrong for the Guardians

Just as the Yankees dugout seemed more relaxed with Cole on the mound, New York’s lineup seemed to be more in control, knowing Cal Quantrill was on the hill for the Guardians. The Bronx Bombers tabbed Quantrill for four runs (three earned) in the series opener last week at Yankee Stadium; they already knew they could beat his stuff.

The Yankees chased Quantrill out of the game after five innings and just 66 pitches, forcing Guardians manager Terry Francona to go to his well-rested bullpen early. Quantrill allowed three earned runs on four hits, plus a critical home run to Harrison Bader.

Harrison Bader crushes a two-run home run to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead

Harrison Bader crushes a two-run home run to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead

The Yankees extend their early lead in Game 4 on Harrison Bader’s two-run home run off Cal Quantrill.

Good starting pitching almost always wins games in the postseason, and Cleveland was on the wrong side of that formula Sunday.

Key moment

The Yankees took an early lead in the first inning thanks to Gleyber Torres’ leadoff hit and Anthony Rizzo’s RBI single that drove Torres in. But it was Bader’s two-run shot to left-center field in the third inning that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead and all the momentum.

Bader’s 429-foot home run was his third dinger of the ALDS. His impact has been enormous for the Yankees this postseason after he joined the team at the Aug. 2 trade deadline but didn’t play his first game in pinstripes until Sept. 20. Bader has emphasized that he took those several weeks to make sure his season-long bout of plantar fasciitis was behind him.

Ever since, he has been clutch. And now he’s a huge X-factor for the Yankees going forward.

What happens next

The Yankees and Guardians will battle in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Monday in the Bronx. New York will have right-hander Jameson Taillon on the hill going against Cleveland righty Aaron Civale. Taillon briefly pitched in Game 2 of the ALDS, making his first career appearance as a reliever in his first playoff game. Civale last pitched Oct. 5 in the Guardians’ regular-season finale.

The team that wins will advance to the ALCS against the Astros, with the series beginning Wednesday in Houston.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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