If you want to know the truth, these recaps usually write themselves. Either you’ve got a ho-hum game that only needs a generic rehashing, or there’s a singular moment that leaps out as the obvious focal point of the story. This isn’t rocket science.
And then there’s a game like this one. Do you start with A.J. Burnett’s shockingly successful start? The eighth inning Score Truck delivery? The positive contributions of Alex Rodríguez, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira?
Maybe we should start in the first inning. After folding quickly in the top of the first against Tiger starter Rick Porcello, the Yankees took the field in the bottom half behind A.J. Burnett. There’s no need to rehash the trials and tribulations of Mr. Burnett, so I’ll just sum it up like this: somehow it felt like the Yankees were behind before Burnett even threw his first pitch.
And then he went about the business of building a small fire. He walked lead off man Austin Jackson, but when Ramon Santiago popped up a bunt and Delmon Young grounded out to third, it looked like maybe our fears were unfounded. Maybe everything would be okay.
Nine pitches later, though, Burnett had walked the bases loaded. Don Kelly was at the plate, Cory Wade was warming in the bullpen, and the Fat Lady was warming in the wings.
Kelly took a ball, then laced a line drive directly at Curtis Granderson in center. Granderson took three or four quick steps in and to his left before realizing the ball would be over his head. He sprinted back towards straight away center, but the ball was just a bit faster. He leapt into the air, fully extended his left arm, and caught the ball just before crashing back to earth.
The inning was over, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what might’ve happened if Granderson hadn’t made that catch. With all three runners moving at the crack of the bat, the Tigers would’ve scored at least three runs on the play, and probably four. Girardi would’ve had to lift his starting pitcher two outs into an elimination game, and Yankee fans would’ve died a long, slow death over the ensuing eight innings. Thankfully, it didn’t happen that way.
The Yankees again went down meekly in the second, but a strange thing happened when Burnett took the mound again in the bottom of the inning. He was good. He needed only eleven pitches to retire the side in order on a grounder to third, another back to the box, and a swinging strikeout. He gave up a two-out walk in the third, but a harmless grounder to short by Miguel Cabrera ended the inning. The old A.J. made a brief appearance in the fourth and yielded a lead off homer to Victor Martínez and then a one-out double to Jhonny Peralta, but he recovered to strike out Alex Avila and Wilson Betemit.
By that point he was working with a lead. The resurgent Jorge Posada was hit by the first pitch of the third inning, and Russell Martin followed that with a single up the middle. If you were scripting a rally, you probably wouldn’t start out by putting a catcher on first and a old catcher on second, but two batters later Posada was jogging home and Martin was racing up his back to score on a Derek Jeter double. Posada scored standing up, but Martin needed a nifty slide to get around Avila’s tag and the Yankees were up 2-0.
Martin started another Yankee rally with another single up the middle to lead off the fifth. Brett Gardner slapped a single to left, and they looked to be in business. When Jeter followed with one of the worst bunt attempts you’ll ever see, allowing Porcello to nail Martin at third, it looked like it might be a lost opportunity for the Yankees.
Porcello had been cruising since his troubles in the first, but he had been helped tremendously by a generous strike zone. When Sabathia was on the mound last night, it was frustrating to see the blue TBS strike zone box riddled with pitches on the corners and edges of the zone that were called balls; it was equally frustrating to see so many of Porcello’s pitches land outside of the blue only to be called strikes. It was clear, though, that his lack of control would eventually do him in, especially since so many of his pitches were leaking up to the top of the zone.
He lost a pitch up to Granderson, and Curtis pounced on it, rifling it to the wall in right field, scoring Gardner and pushing Jeter to third. Tiger manager Jim Leyland made the obvious call and walked Robinson Canó to load the bases for Rodríguez. (Let’s think about that for a moment — he chose to load the bases for a man who’s hit more grand slams than any in the history of the game not named Lou Gehrig. Even so, it was the right decision.)
A-Rod was down 0-2 in the blink of an eye, but Porcello let another pitch drift up in the zone, and Rodríguez was able to get enough of it come up with a sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead. Teixeira, whose postseason average with the Yankees continues to plummet, struck out looking to end the inning.
Burnett faced only three batters in the fifth, then retired Cabrera, albeit on a blistering liner to Jeter, and Martínez to open the sixth. When Kelly singled and Girardi came out to the mound, I was actually hoping he’d leave him in, perhaps the strangest thought I had all night long. But Girardi knew that Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera were easily fresh enough to get the final ten outs, so he made the move.
Peralta was due up next, and he lifted Soriano’s first pitch towards left center field. This play wasn’t nearly as important as the one in the first inning, but it was spectacular. Granderson had been shading Peralta just to the right of second base, but he got an excellent jump on the ball. He was at full speed almost immediately and closed the gap with fifteen strides before going horizontal and making an incredible grab for the final out of the inning.
Granderson lay on the turf for a minute or two with the wind knocked out of him, but jogged off the field and returned to a hero’s welcome and an embrace from Burnett in the dugout.
Soriano blitzed through the Tigers in the seventh on eight pitches and the game seemed to be in hand. After the top of the eighth, it was out of hand. The Yankees sent eleven men to the plate and scored six runs — one on a balk, another on a wild pitch, and four others on singles by Jesus Montero, Gardner, and Canó. Yankees 10, Tigers 1.
And so the series comes back to the Bronx and everything is rosy again. The bullpen will be fresh, thanks to that eighth-inning outburst and Wednesday’s off day. The offense will be deeper and more potent, thanks to the resurgence of A-Rod. The Stadium will be louder than it’s been all year, thanks to the gravity of the moment. Most importantly, Ivan Nova will be on the mound.
So enjoy your day of rest today, but do so knowing that you’ll enjoy Game 5 even more.
[Photo Credits: Andrew Weber/US Presswire; Leon Halip/Getty Images; Duane Burleson/Associated Press]