If the Yankees had brought tonight’s starting lineup on the road in Spring Training, the other team might have complained to the commissioner. It wasn’t March and the Tigers weren’t complaining. With the season hanging in the balance, the Yankees were playing a pivotal postseason game against the best pitcher in baseball with a batting order no one could have imagined even one week ago.
It probably didn’t matter whom the Yankees sent to the plate against Justin Verlander, who, despite struggling with his command in the middle innings, limited the Bronx Bombers to two hits, both by Ichiro, over the first eight innings. Any other time, the potent Yankees offense would have made the Cy Young pay for falling behind in the count, but not this postseason.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Phil Hughes couldn’t match zeroes with Verlander. In fact, he didn’t even make it out of the fourth inning. After allowing a solo homer to Delmon Young in the top of the frame, Hughes pulled up lame with a sore lower back and then departed. Over the next six innings, the bullpen did its best to keep the game close, but a double by Miguel Cabrera in the fifth, which perhaps should have been caught by Curtis Granderson, increased the Tigers lead to 2-0. It might as well have been 20-0.
The ninth inning began with all the inspiration of a trip to the gallows. Then, Eduardo Nunez had what Verlander called one of the best at bats he had ever seen. After fouling off six pitches, including a slider, fastball, and change-up, Derek Jeter’s replacement did his best impression of the Captain, golfing a curveball over the left field fence. Maybe a reprieve was in the offing?
Brett Gardner followed Nunez’ battle with one of his own, but after eight pitches, the speedster grounded back to the mound. Although he didn’t reach base, Gardner’s at bat sent Verlander to the dugout and gave the Yankees two chances to tie the game off Phil Coke. They almost made the most of it.
Ichiro greeted Coke with a ground out, but then Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano singled, the latter breaking his nightmarish 0-29 slide in the postseason, setting the stage for Raul Ibanez. Could he do it again? Should he have even been given the chance?
In the regular season, Ibanez hit an abysmal .197/.246/.246 against southpaws, so, once again, under normal conditions, Girardi probably would have used a pinch hitter. However, nothing has been normal this October. Despite having Alex Rodriguez on the bench, Girardi eschewed the opportunity to use one of the league’s best hitters against lefties, something he had done in the ALDS as well. So, while the Tigers pitching coach went over Ibanez’ scouting report with Coke, Arod made no movement toward the bat rack. In fact, he didn’t even take off his sweatshirt. Undoubtedly, a soap opera to be continued, but at the moment, the Yankees had a bigger drama to attend.
Ibanez battled Coke to a full count, but what little life the Yankees had left was dashed by a curve ball down in the zone. The DH had a good swing, but came up empty, just like most of his teammates have for the entire postseason. A victory could have turned the series on its head, but instead, the Yankees find themselves on the precipice of a series sweep. Every Yankee fan knows only one baseball team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a best of seven series. Can the 2012 Bronx Bombers make it two? Before even beginning to consider that possibility, let’s see the Yankees score a run.