In last year’s ALDS the Yankees touched up Justin Verlander but lost the game anyway when CC Sabathia blew the lead and Rafael Soriano gave up the winning homer. Tonight’s game spun out in unpleasantly familiar fashion as the Yankees got to Verlander for five extra-base hits and five runs in six innings but Ivan Nova couldn’t make it stand up. Nova was the one starting pitcher that had not submitted a stinker yet this season, but that’s history now.
After five pedestrian innings, Russell Martin presented Nova a surprise lead with a two-run homer off Verlander headed into the sixth. Nova proceeded to back up pedestrian with pus. The Tigers teed off on everything he threw, and the lead was gone in three batters – the big blow a booming double by Austin Jackson. Boone Logan came in and lost a battle to Prince Fielder and the inning ended with Detroit up two, 6-4.
The Yankees bounced back, scratching a run in the seventh and clawing another in the eighth. In between, Joe Girardi got run out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. The umpiring was another unpleasant reminder of the 2011 ALDS.
The stellar Yankee bullpen stepped up to hold the line, the highlight being Mariano’s vintage ninth inning. He broke three bats and struck out a guy looking while touching 93 mph on multiple pitches. In his first few outings, Mariano’s cutter wasn’t moving that much. Now it’s biting like a January wind.
In the ninth inning, the Tigers sent out a flame thrower named Brayan Villareal. He threw the ball so hard and with so much movement that one suspected he’d have trouble throwing three strikes before he threw four balls. He ran the count full to Russell Martin but coaxed a grounder to second. Derek Jeter worked a walk (and ended his fifteen game hitting streak in the process) and when ball four to Curtis Granderson skipped off Mike Avila’s shin guard, he was in motion and made it all the way to third. That brought up Alex Rodriguez, who locked in today with three hits, one of them a homer off Verlander, and his only out three feet short of the center-field wall.
Alex looked very dangerous up there and I was sure he was going to drive in the winning run as he tracked Villareal’s offerings into Avila’s glove. After two balls, Villareal’s third pitch sailed away from Avila. The catcher desperately stabbed his glove at the pitch but he couldn’t snag it. The ball rolled away towards the Yankee dugout. I started celebrating, but when the camera cut to Jeter straining down the line, he was not nearly as close to home plate as he should have been. It looked like he was running in mud and Jeter slid just as the ball arrived. Villareal dropped the ball, but Jeter was safe anyway. The Yankees made a winner of Mariano, 7-6.
Turns out Jeter got a poor read on the passed ball and if it wasn’t for Alex Rodriguez urging him to run, he wouldn’t have made it. Great game for Alex all the way around. And a great win for the Yankees after a few days full of bad news. This is exactly the kind of game the Yanks did not win in last year’s ALDS. Hopefully they’ll have one or two in the bag next time they get there.
I’ve been stewing about Pineda’s injury and Montero’s absence since I heard the news yesterday. Since the trade can’t be undone, it’s wasted energy on my part to continue to be upset about this. But before I let go completely, I want to write now what I was unable to articulate when the trade was made.
It was a dumb trade because the Yankees gave up cost controlled talent with ‘x’ risk attached to acquire cost controlled with ‘y’ risk attached, where ‘y’ was clearly greater than ‘x.’ This is an equation that a desperate team might follow, but not a perennial contender with deep pockets. The Yankees were better served keeping their own cost controlled offensive talent and using their financial might to acquire pitching, which is inherently more risky.
The Yankees chose to ignore all of CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish and Edwin Jackson when they were available. Those guys would have all been risky and expensive acquisitions but if they sucked or got injured, ala Igawa or Pavano, they could go get somebody else. They can spend money over and over again. They can only trade Jesus Montero once. I know that Pineda was more attractive than the expensive free agents because of his age and restricted salary, but that’s not a concern the Yankees should have had at the forefront of their decision making. They walked a tightrope when they could have paid to pave a road.
Let’s not forget the Yankees have to buy offense in the very near future. All the savings they were going to get from Pineda’s presence in the rotation were going to be spent filling second base, two outfield spots, catcher, and third base / DH. Why not just keep Montero and save that money? Why is money saved in the rotation any better than money saved in the lineup? Now of course, there will be no savings from Pineda as the Yankees will have to buy pitching to replace him as well.
It’s a classic case of being too cute for no reason. Even if you liked Pineda better than Montero, surely you liked Darvish and Montero better than Pineda and Ibanez. This is a roster equivalent of Girardi’s first inning intentional walk. If everything worked out, he looks like a smart guy. But he brought catastrophic outcomes into play that did not exist before the walk. By trading away the less risky Montero and acquiring the inherently risky Pineda, the Yankees brought into play a scenario where they get neither Pineda nor Montero and have to pay a shit load of money to replace them both.
I feel bad for the dude. Hope he rehabs and pitches well for the Yankees some day. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Photos by Mila Zinkova and AP/Bill Kostroun