"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

It’s Not Déjà Vu, It’s Just Game Two

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you’ve seen all this before. It wasn’t too long ago that the Yankees were facing the Detroit Tigers in the Divisional Series, and you’re noticing some similarities. You remember the Derek Jeter Love Fest from Game 1 of that series, and you can’t help but compare it Robinson Canó’s big performance in Game 1 of this series. You remember that Alex Rodríguez struggled terribly in that series and was famously — and ridiculously — dropped to eighth in the batting order for Game 4, and you’ve noticed that he’s 0 for 8 through the first two games of this series amidst calls for a similar lineup demotion.

You’ve seen this movie before, and you didn’t like how it ended the first time, but I’m here to tell you to relax. This was one game. A magnified game with magnified importance, but still just one game.

Freddy García was on the mound for the Bombers, and the most disappointing aspect of this game for me was that García pitched well enough to win, if that makes any sense. Certainly I’d have been depressed and despondent if he had been lit up early, but I’m not sure I’d have been surprised.

He gave up a two-run home run in the first inning on a pretty good pitch that Miguel Cabrera reached for and poked into the right field stands to give the Tigers an early 2-0 lead. After that, however, García put it on cruise control. He retired the side in order in the second inning, gave up a two-out single in the third, and set down six straight over the fourth and fifth innings.

The problem, of course, was that Detroit’s Max Scherzer was even better. It was only a few years ago that Scherzer was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but the Diamondbacks gave up on him and shipped him to Detroit in that three-way deal that netted Curtis Granderson for the Yankees and sent Ian Kennedy to Arizona. (Speaking of IPK — 21-4/2.88/1.09? Seriously?)

Scherzer’s been great for Detroit over the past two years, so while it certainly wasn’t expected that he’d be as good as he was on Sunday, it wasn’t terribly shocking either. He labored a bit in the first inning, walking Canó on four pitches and A-Rod on five before falling into a 3-0 hole to Mark Teixeira, but he recovered by getting Teixeira to pop out to second. It was an opportunity lost, but at the time it certainly seemed like it would be the first of many. It wouldn’t be.

Scherzer went on to retire the next ten hitters in order before yielding a one-out walk to Jorge Posada in the fifth. He then hit Russell Martin to give the Yankees an illusion of a rally, but that rally died quickly when Brett Gardner lined out to third and Jeter grounded into a fielder’s choice. Not only were the Yankees still scoreless, they were hitless as well.

Austin Jackson — another player from the previously mentioned ménage à trois — led off the sixth with a grounder to short. Jeter had to range a bit to his left, but he made the play and rushed his throw a bit in an attempt to get the speedy Jackson at first. His throw bounced in the dirt several feet in front of the bag, and Teixeira wasn’t able to corral it. Magglio Ordóñez laced a hit-and-run single to right, pushing Jackson all the way to third, and suddenly things looked dangerous.

García had already given the Yankees all they realistically could’ve expected — five quality innings — but the Yankee hitters had been absolutely silent. If the Tigers were to score a run here, or even two, Game 2 might be out of reach. From there the mind raced ahead. Justin Verlander was lined up for the Tigers in Game 3, and A.J. Burnett was scheduled for Game 4. If I were a Tiger fan, I wouldn’t have to think too long or too hard about laying some scratch on that exacta.

Joe Girardi, of course, was likely thinking about all of that, but I don’t think he had anywhere to go. I suppose he could’ve gotten David Robertson ready to pitch to Cabrera, who was two batters away, but there would probably have been more questions about a move like that in the sixth inning than are now about the move he chose — which was to keep García in there. Fearless Freddy responded by striking out Delmon Young, and again the mind leapt ahead. What if Cabrera grounds into a double play? What if the Stadium crowd erupts? What if that eruption breaths some life into the listless offense? What if the big bats due in the bottom half (Granderson, Canó, A-Rod, Teixeira) channel that emotion into production?

It took just a few pitches for Cabrera to erase that line of thinking. He lined a single to center, scoring Jackson, and two pitches later Victor Martínez repeated the feat, scoring Don Kelly, who had come in to run for Ordóñez. It was 4-0, but at the time it felt like 40-0. Boone Logan came in for García and almost instantly made things worse by balking the runners to second and third, but he rebounded to strike out both Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta. The damage had been done.

The Yankees’ first hit finally came in the bottom of the sixth, a Canó blooper to left that Young probably should’ve caught, and their first run came in the bottom of the eighth on a long Granderson home run to right. If there was hope of a Yankee comeback, it was dashed when the Tigers stretched their lead back to four with a manufactured run (HBP, sacrifice bunt, single) in the top of ninth.

And there was hope again. Nick Swisher homered on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth from Tiger closer José Valverde, and Posada followed with a legitimate triple to the wall in center. (Incidentally, Posada became only the second forty-year-old to triple in the post season.) After Russell Martin worked an eight-pitch walk, the tying run was suddenly at the plate in the form of Andruw Jones, and it didn’t take a lot to imagine a home run.

To Jones’s credit, he didn’t allow himself to get caught up in the moment like the rest of us did. He took what Valverde gave him and lashed a line drive towards right field. For one brief, beautiful moment I was sure it would find the grass, scoring another run and pushing Martin around to third, but it didn’t happen that way. The ball hung in the air long enough for Kelly to grab it, but Posada was able to score to cut the lead to 5-3.

Here’s where things got crazy. The weather had been fine throughout the game, but suddenly the heavens opened up and it was raining as hard as it had been at any point on Friday night. Jeter was at the plate, but both he and Valverde struggled throughout the at bat, both trying to deal with the downpour. Jeter was constantly wiping the brim of his helmet in a futile attempt to keep the rain from dripping into his face, and Valverde kept his throwing hand tucked first under his arm and then comically between his legs in an equally futile attempt to keep his hand dry. As much as we expect Captain Clutch to come through in these situations, it wasn’t a surprise when he struck out.

And then things got crazier. Granderson came to the plate and the MVP chants began pouring down as thick as the rain. He worked the count to 2-0, but then he skied a popup towards the Tigers’ third base dugout. Avila tossed away his mask and quickly headed towards the spot where the ball would land and the game would end. The ball wasn’t in the air for very long, but it was long enough for every Yankee fan to contemplate what had happened that afternoon and sort through their fears about the two games to come in Detroit.

Avila shuffled, shuffled, shuffled… then slipped on the rain-slicked on-deck circle and fell on his ass. A second later the ball fell harmlessly next to him. When Tiger manager Jim Leyland was later asked how he felt as all that transpired, he calmly said, “Well, it wasn’t my finest moment.”

I’m not sure how I feel about Leyland, by the way. He’s a bit too comfortable for my taste, as if nothing really matters to him. I know it’s just a game he’s playing with the media, and that everything he says is not-so-secretly directed at his players, but I miss the old Jim Leyland who seemed to be dancing on the edge of a razor as he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the 1990s, fighting back the stress by chain smoking in the dugout during the late innings. But I suppose if you’ve been managing in the big leagues for twenty years you’ve probably seen enough to help you through anything, even a play like Avila’s pratfall.

As Granderson returned to the plate with his new life, it seemed like something was happening, something divine. Surely that ball wouldn’t have dropped if it weren’t supposed to have dropped. Surely Granderson would extend the rally. Surely he’d give Canó the chance to stand at the plate as the winning run.

He would.

Granderson took another strike, but then two more balls for a walk, and Canó came up to win the game — or at least that’s what I was thinking. Valverde didn’t mess around, pumping four straight fastballs, the last three of which Canó fouled off. I’d seen this before. I was sure that Canó would continue spoiling pitches until he found one that he liked. I imagined his beautiful swing, his momentary pause at the plate, the deafening roar from the stands, and the thrill of a walk-off postseason victory. But it wasn’t to be. Valverde came in with a splitter, Canó bounced it out to second base, and the game was over. Tigers 5, Yankees 3.

In 2006 the Yankees never got a look at either game in Detroit, losing 6-0 in Game 3 and trailing 8-0 in Game 4 before tacking on a few cosmetic runs in that elimination game. It’s conceivable that things could go that way again, but I don’t think so. Verlander has had a long season and has never pitched on short rest, so he’s far from a sure thing. CC Sabathia, meanwhile, is about as close to a sure thing as the Yankees have. In Game 4, spontaneous combustion is just as likely for Tiger starter Rick Porcello as it is for Burnett, so that game could be just as competitive as Game 3.

So step off the ledge. There’s a game to watch tonight.

[Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press]

Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Playoffs  SNY TV  Yankees

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1 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 3, 2011 7:20 am

Vivid report, Hank. Thanks. I feel as if I had watched the game now. And now(tomorrow morning for us), the season rests on CC's shoulders.

2 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 3, 2011 7:23 am

Until the game, dig this feature on John Sterling from the Times.


3 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 3, 2011 7:37 am

nice writeup, Hank.
I'm nowhere near the ledge. I trust CC and the bats, including the third baseman's.

Max Scherzer has one of the coolest names in baseball in my opinion.

4 Marek   ~  Oct 3, 2011 7:43 am

That balk in the 6th was weird; it looked like Logan thought that time had been called, because Martin was practically standing up.

I agree about Garcia; he gave them enough for them to win. Too bad about Jeter's error. Who knows how that inning develops if that play is made (or if Tex scoops it better).

5 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 3, 2011 8:23 am

Never understood the outrage over A-Rod hitting 8. I don't remember the uproar over Giambi hitting 7 three years prior.

I am not at all comfortable facing Justin Verlander in a must win game.

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Oct 3, 2011 8:53 am

[5] You don't think it was odd to put one of the ten-best hitters EVER in the #8 spot? Indefensible and still makes me angry.

CC is going to mow them down tomorrow, let's hope they run up Verlander's pitch count like they did in Game 1!

7 YankeeAbby   ~  Oct 3, 2011 9:07 am

I was at a bar on the upper west side on Friday night watching the game with a Yankees meetup group - and during the first inning, I was nervous after CC gave up the run. But at the same time, he didn't seem to get rattled and while I'm no expert, I felt he really started dealing after that - and then the rains came...total bummer!!! I hope that dealing carries over.

8 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 3, 2011 9:17 am

[6] I think they had to do something.

9 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 3, 2011 9:18 am

4) Jeter was talking and I think it unnerved Boone. Yeah, Alex is looking bad right now. So I wouldn't look at dropping him down as a bad thing. Not like it was in 06.

10 T. Hawk   ~  Oct 3, 2011 9:52 am

[5] Totally agree. Maybe 8th was extreme, but I don't recall the rest of the lineup.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 3, 2011 9:58 am

The thing is, Torre's move smacked of desperation. And maybe that's what it came down to with Alex. But it showed how much he'd lost A Rod. Now, Alex isn't pressing, his struggles aren't mental, they are more physical so the move would make more sense. However, I get the feeling that it would take a lot for Girardi, who covers for his stars more than Torre did, to move him.

12 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:02 am

Does everyone one else (or anyone else) desperately want Alex to have a good postseason? I do. I don't know why, but I do.

I suppose it's a tall order at this point.

13 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:07 am

Almost a comeback for the Yankees, and considering how they were shut down by Scherzer has to be a momentum builder for tonight's game.

CC can pitch on short rest, and really did look good on Friday in the short outing. That NYS home run would not have been in Detroit. Verlander doesn't pitch on short rest, and while he was only in one inning Friday, it has to mess with his routine.

I like the Yankees chances tonight. And Arod will have his moment.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:08 am

12) I do and it is. But just a few timely hits or plays will do the trick.

15 T. Hawk   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:11 am

My impression is A Rod doesn't have to get hot per se but the lineup probably can't cover for him. He needs to contribute.

Ever since 2009 I have a lot more faith in him. He seemed to finally relax and when he's been healthy since then has gotten a lot of big hits, unlike cherry-picking days of yore.

16 seamus   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:19 am

Dropping A-rod is ok. But he shouldn't be dropped to 8th all of a sudden. That was a stupid move. How can such a move not affect his psyche? No, if you drop him you shift him to 6th, maybe move swisher up or something. or at least swap Tex and A-rod.

17 JeremyM   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:46 am

Actually, the big move IMO wasn't that A-Rod was dropped to 8th. It was that he was dropped to 6th before game 1. A-Rod rode into the playoffs playing pretty well (maybe even on fire, I don't quite recall) and Torre placed him in the 6th spot instead of showing confidence in him. Gary Sheffield, who was playing first base, coming back from an injury, and hadn't shown a whole lot, was in the cleanup spot. It was a very, very odd move that put the spotlight on A-Rod's issues and made it clear as to what Torre thought of him. He then batted him fourth in game two. By the time was dropped to 8th, the mental damage had been done.

At least when Giambi was dropped, he had already been struggling, both at the plate and physically. Of course, he then hit the two homers, which likely made Torre think it was an effective move.

18 seamus   ~  Oct 3, 2011 10:58 am

[17] yeah i totally forgot all the details of those moves.

19 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 3, 2011 11:05 am

All I'm looking for from Alex at this point is the ribbie-double. I can see him making a difference in Detroit's big ballpark. I wouldn't move him. Comerica will be good for America's Boyfriend.

20 ms october   ~  Oct 3, 2011 11:44 am

[17] i'm pretty sure that was also when the si article that several yankees went on the record about arod's "problems" came out which all added to the bs of it all.

anyway - i'd like to see arod have a good game, but i don't really care who drives the score truck. the yankees just need to piece together more hits and score some runs.
so far the pitching has been as good as one could expect.

21 Greg G   ~  Oct 3, 2011 12:47 pm

It has been painful watching Arod, but also Tex, Martin, and Gardy haven't been doing much. It is only 2 games, but in a best of 5 it gets late pretty early.

That was tough last night that the rain picked up twice during Yankee rally's. The Yanks have the "ghosts", and "mystique and aura" on their side, but their central ALDS foes seem to have mother nature on their sides. The rains last night and the midges in Cleveland in 2007.

I was impressed with Garcia, but he has been a good starter for 5 all year, but cinderella's carriage turned back into a pumpkin in the 6th. A tough call for Joe. They also had to overcome Jeter's error.

Austin Jackson was Jete's nemesis in this game, and his speed screwed Derek twice. That should have been a double to lead off the game and may have been a triple to the deepest part of the park, but Austin ran it down. Then Jeter rushed his throw a bit knowing Jax speed. 9.9 times out of 10 Tex digs that ball out.

Baseball is a game of inches, and last night they belonged to the Tigers.

We need to run amok on Verlander!!! Go get 'em CC!!!

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