The way I see it, the playoffs are a payoff for eleven months of devotion, and I sat down on Friday night ready for my reward. Alison grabbed her scorebook, we talked about why Joe Girardi had recently swapped Robinson Canó and Mark Teixeira in the lineup, and she got her first look at Justin Verlander.
On the way to school Friday morning I had explained that even though the Tigers probably weren’t as good as the Yankees, they were dangerous with Verlander was on the hill, since he was the best pitcher in baseball. (She countered by reminding me that Mariano Rivera was actually the best pitcher in baseball, and I conceded the point.)
We had recorded the game, so I pushed play once we had the lineups filled in, and we were off. The atmosphere was electric from CC Sabathia’s first pitch. Austin Jackson quickly went down on strikes, as did Magglio Ordóñez, and the Stadium was buzzing. New addition Delmon Young then stepped up and lifted a lazy fly into the right field stands for a home run and a 1-0 lead.
It’s never good to give up a home run in the first inning, especially not in the playoffs, and especially not when Justin Verlander is looming, but Sabathia recovered get a ground ball out from Miguel Cabrera to end the inning.
Derek Jeter led off the bottom half of the inning. He swung at a wicked slider in the dirt for strike three, but was able to reach base safely when the pitch skipped away from rookie catcher Alex Avila. More effort from Avila would’ve resulted in an out, but he didn’t hustle. Jeter always hustles, so he beat the throw by an eyelash. Granderson then worked a walk, bringing up the team’s best hitter. Canó beat a ball to the right of first baseman Cabrera. The ball had pulled Cabrera towards second base and a certain 3-6-1 double play, but he seemed to hesitate as he crossed the baseline, reluctant to risk a throw across Granderson. He stopped abruptly and flipped the ball back towards Verlander at first for the first out of the inning.
Alison glanced at her scorebook and told me that Alex Rodríguez was due up next. “He could hit a home run, Daddy.”
I explained that we didn’t need a home run. All he really had to do was hit the ball, almost anywhere, and Jeter would score. But then he hit the ball directly to third baseman Brandon Inge, probably the only player on the infield who could come home for the out. Inge was handcuffed by the ball, seemed to have a bit of trouble getting a handle on it, and was forced to throw across the diamond for the out as Jeter scored to tie the game.
Verlander would walk Teixeira before finally getting Nick Swisher on a ground ball to end the inning, but he didn’t look sharp. When Sabathia came back out in the top of the second and blitzed through Victor Martínez, Alex Avila,and Ryan Raburn on twelve pitches, things were looking good. If the Yankee hitters could scratch out another run or two against a subpar Verlander, and if Sabathia could continue pounding the strike zone through seven or eight innings, the Yankees would take a 1-0 series lead. Everything looked great. The only thing I was worried about, really, was the rain.
When the game came back for the bottom of the second inning, the tarp was on the field. Ninety minutes later the game was officially postponed.
This game will be picked up tomorrow — weather permitting — at 5:37. Had this been a regular season game, it would simply be washed out as if it had never happened, but since this is the playoffs they’ll start at 1-1 in the bottom of the second inning, but the batons will be passed to the scheduled Game 2 starters, Doug Fister and Ivan Nova.
Even though the Yankees might have lost an opportunity on Friday night, the Tigers may have lost a lot more than that. In the long term, they’ll only be able to pitch Verlander once in this series now. In the short term, they’ll have the wrong lineup against Nova on Saturday. Manager Jim Leyland had stacked his lineup with righties against Sabathia, but he certainly won’t be able to pinch hit for them in the third inning against the right-handed Nova.
The series is now scheduled to run Saturday through Wednesday (if necessary) without any off days, and with more rain due tomorrow, there’s even an outside possibility that there could be a double header somewhere along the way. Given the way this season has played out, that seems about right.
[Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images]