"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Playoffs

Twoski

Yeah, there’s life beyond the Yankees. I guess. So I’ve heard.

NLCS Game Two.

Have at it.

[Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America via It’s a Long Season]

Jeff Nelson is Allison Porchnik

 

The Yankees are using Jeff Nelson’s blown call–and perhaps Derek Jeter’s injury–to avoid the fact that have all but laid down and played dead when they are up to bat. It’s not the ump’s fault, fellas, it’s your own.

Twilight of the Long Ball Gods

The Yankee offense continued its run of futility today and it cost them another game as they were shutout, 3-0. That’s the main story though there are a few subplots worth mentioning. First, Hiroki Kuroda was terrific, giving up three runs (should have been just one) in 7.2 innings, five hits, no walks and 11 strikeouts. Working on three days rest for the first time in his major league career, he was a stud. Second, is that there were so many empty seats at the Stadium today you’d think this was Atlanta in the late ’90’s. It’s as if Yankee fans showed their displeasure by staying away or that since Derek Jeter wasn’t going to be there, neither were they.

The other, more enraging part of the game was a blown call buy Jeff Nelson in the eighth inning that would have kept the score 1-0. Omar Infante overran second base on a base hit to right field, Nick Swisher threw the ball to Robinson Cano who applied the tag.

Instead of ending the inning, the Tigers took advantage of the umpire’s gaffe and tacked on two runs. Joe Girardi got himself run arguing the call and spent most of his post-game press conference talking about instant replay (while Nick Swisher bellyached about the Bleacher Creatures). Nelson told reporters, “The hand did not get in before the tag.The call was incorrect…I had the tag late and the hand going into the bag before the tag on the chest.”

“I think the umpire got confused ’cause he saw my hand, something with my hand made him think I was safe,” Infante said.

When asked if he he out, Infante said, “Of course.”

Two critical calls go against the Yankees in the first two games and yet while they give us something to pin our anger on, it’s not what cost them either game. The Yankees didn’t win today because they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a fucking boat. Four hits all game and none for Robinson Cano, their best player who is in a horrid drought-0-for-his-last 26. ‘

Shit, even if they could hit that doesn’t mean it’d result into runs crossing the plate.

“We’ve been through stretches like this all year,” Alex Rodriguez said. “It has been a very volatile stock market for us this year. You just hope you take a day off and come back with a lot of energy and turn it around…It may start with a change of scenery. I think getting a day of rest tomorrow, take a deep breath, everybody come out and not try to do too much, let the river flow a little bit. We’ve been used to this type of hostile environment and having our backs against the wall, but I’ll tell you what, our heads are not going to go down.”

The fair weather, front running dilettantes have already bailed on this team as evidenced by all the empty seats today.

As irritated as we may be, however, round these parts we stick with our team through it all. And yeah, Verlander vs. Hughes in Game Three seems like Doom on a Platter. But stranger things have happened. Like the 1996 Whirled Serious, as Matt B pointed out last night in a text last night.

Regardless of the slumps and the loss of Jeter and the overall mishegoss we love our boys. And if we don’t always love ’em, we won’t stop rooting them on. They aren’t done yet, no matter how poorly they are hitting, and they are still one of the the final four teams playing.

Could be worse. Could be raining.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America; Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports]

Return of the Infamous Bomb Squad

Yeah, things look grim. But you know what? The Yanks are winning today. Hiroki will be good enough, they’ll score a mess of runs, win one for the Jeppier, and leave New York with the series tied.

Ichiro Suzuki LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez DH
Russell Martin C
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson CF
Nick Swisher RF
Jayson Nix SS

Never mind last night: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Bad Moon Rising

For the Yankees, Game One of the ALCS, went from regrettable, to unbelievable, to unforgettable in the worst way.

In the first inning the Yankees loaded the bases against Doug Fister and Alex Rodriguez hit a hard ground ball that was speared by Jhonny Peralta who threw to second just in time to get the force out to end the inning. For Rodriguez, it was more bad luck. Then in the second, Robinson Cano came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. He hit a line drive up the middle that knocked off Fister’s hand and went high in the air. Peralta fielded it with one hand, threw to first and Cano was called out though the replays showed that he was safe. Right, bad luck.

The Tigers scored a couple of runs against Andy Pettitte in the top of the sixth and in the bottom of the inning Mark Teixeira reached on a single and moved to third on a double by Raul Ibanez. Rodriguez took a curve for a strike, fouled off a fastball that was his pitch to hit and then hacked at a curve ball out of the strike zone for the first out. Nick Swisher laid off a tough curve on a 2-2 pitch and eventually walked. But Curtis Granderson whiffed on three pitches and so did Russell Martin.

No bad luck this time, just the brand of offensive offense we’ve gotten used to around these parts. All three outs were made on undisciplined at bats.

And so we Yankee fans spent the next few innings cursing and muttering and what difference did it make when Delmon Young hit a seed for a line drive home run or when the Tigers added another one to make it 4-0?

Emily and I watched this misery in the living room of our friends’ apartment in midtown. They’ve got kids and were fading fast in the eighth so we excused ourselves and got in the car by the time the Yanks came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. As we made our way from the east side to the west side–no, taking the FDR uptown when there is a game on–I just hoped the game could continue for as long as possible.

So it was John Sterling that guided us west and I gave a solemn fist pump when he told us that Ichiro hit a two run home run. Cano was next and he worked the count full–please, get on base, Robbie–but struck out. One last out and Teixeira came up as we crossed over Sixth Avenue. He quickly fell behind 0-2 but worked the count full and then drew a walk.

Ibanez. Sterling asked if we could possibly demand more from him? “Sure, we can,” I said. And on the 0-1 pitch, I turned off 9th Ave onto 43rd Street when Sterling went into his “It is high…” call. We held our breath and waited to see if Ibanez hit a pop up to the right fielder or if he in fact hit one out. Sterling’s call was just apprehensive enough to make those few seconds feel like hours. But when it was done, and the home run was verified, I couldn’t even scream. I held my breath and clutched the wheel.

But he’d done it again. And the score was tied.

Rafael Soriano got the Tigers out in the tenth and we watched the rest from home.  Saw the Yankees fail to bring home a runner on second with one out in the bottom of the inning, Russell Martin swinging for Jupiter on a 2-0 pitch and every ensuing pitch after that before he flew out. Derek Jeter unable to do the job after him. Ichiro led off with a single one inning later but Cano–0-6–couldn’t do dick and neither could Teixeira or Ibanez.

The trouble here was that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder loomed in the twelfth. Sure enough, Dave Phelps walked Cabrera who advanced to second on a ground out by Fielder. And then Young lined a ball to right and Nick Swisher, who has specialized in rolling around the ground like a stuck pig for two games–except maybe in the sixth on Young’s blooper–missed the ball. He rolled and tumbled but he whiffed on the ball, a play that must be made. Cabrera grinned all the way home and the Tigers had a lead that they would not relinquish. Maybe Swisher lost the ball in the lights or maybe he made a horrible mistake.

Then things got worse. A ground ball up the middle by Peralta and Derek Jeter stumbled after it. He gloved it but fell over and flipped the ball to Cano. Then Jeter yelled and then he didn’t get up. That doesn’t happen to Jeter. It was hard to see what happened on the replays but his left leg got caught underneath him and he appeared to roll his left ankle. Next thing you know, he’s being helped off the field by Joe Girardi and the trainer, applying no pressure to his left leg.

The Stadium was silent.

Didn’t matter that Phelps botched a ground ball that led to another run or that the Yanks went meekly in the bottom of the inning and lost the game. Here’s the news: Jeter’s ankle is fractured and he’s done for the series. The early word says he’ll recover in three months.

A frustrating night turned thrilling ended with a dispiriting conclusion.

Oy Veh.

Tigers 6, Yanks 4.

[Photo Credit: Touchn2btouched]

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

 

It will be cold tonight in the Bronx. I’ll be out most of the evening and won’t be around the game thread but hope to be back before the end of the game.

Here’s the lineup:

Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Sukuki LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez DH
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Swisher RF
Curtis Granderson CF
Russell Martin C

Never mind 2006, never mind 2011: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Bryan Sargent]

Enter Da Stage

From Chad Jennings here’s the roster (Eppley added, Nunez dropped):

PITCHERS
CC Sabathia
Andy Pettitte
Hiroki Kuroda
Phil Hughes
Rafael Soriano
Dave Robertson
Boone Logan
Joba Chamberlain
Clay Rapada
Cody Eppley
David Phelps
Derek Lowe

CATCHERS
Russell Martin
Chris Stewart

INFIELDERS
Mark Teixeira
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Eric Chavez
Jayson Nix

OUTFIELDERS
Curtis Granderson
Nick Swisher
Ichiro Suzuki
Raul Ibanez
Brett Gardner

And the schedule:

Tonight

ALCS Game 1
Tigers at Yankees
8:07 p.m., TBS

Sunday

ALCS Game 2
Tigers at Yankees
4:07 p.m., TBS

NLCS Game 1
Cardinals at Giants
8:15 p.m., FOX

Monday

NLCS Game 2
Cardinals at Giants
8:07 p.m., FOX

Tuesday

ALCS Game 3
Yankees at Tigers
8:07 p.m., TBS

Wednesday

NLCS Game 3
Giants at Cardinals
4:07 p.m., FOX

ALCS Game 4
Yankees at Tigers
8:07 p.m., TBS

Thursday

ALCS Game 5
Yankees at Tigers
4:07 p.m., TBS

NLCS Game 4
Giants at Cardinals
8:07 p.m., FOX

Friday

NLCS Game 5
Giants at Cardinals
8:07 p.m., FOX

Saturday

ALCS Game 6
Tigers at Yankees
8:07 p.m., TBS

Sunday

NLCS Game 6
Cardinals at Giants
4:45 p.m., FOX *

ALCS Game 7
Tigers at Yankees
8:15 p.m., TBS

Monday

NLCS Game 7
SF @ WSH or STL @ SF
8:07 p.m., FOX

* If ALCS is complete, then NLCS Game 6 will shift to 7:45 p.m. (ET).

[Photo Credit: David Rachman]

Thunder-in, Shakin’ the Concrete

The Orioles are dead. The reason I know this is I saw them lose with my own eyes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have believed it.

They pursued the Yankees all summer long, took the ALDS to five games and in the eighth inning had the bases loaded with one out, down by a couple of runs. Right there biting at the Yankees’ heels because where else would they be? But tonight, CC Sabathia delivered arguably his finest performance as a Yankee. He not only got out of the jam in the eighth but he returned in the ninth and finished the game as the Yanks beat the Orioles 3-1 to advance to the ALCS.

The game began essentially where it left off last night and for the first four-and-a-half innings it was like watching Groundhog’s Day. No hits, no runs.

Then Mark Teixeira led off the bottom of the fifth with a single over the shift into right field. With first baseman Mark Reynolds playing behind him, Teixeira took a walking lead and then sprinted to second and made it safely. Raul Ibanez fouled off a few pitches and then singled Teixeira home. The next inning, Derek Jeter walked with one out and scored all the way from first on a double off the bottom of the right center field wall by Ichiro. And then in the seventh, Curtis Granderson finally got a pitch in the strike zone that he could handle, pounding it into the seats in right field for a home run.

That gave Sabathia a healthy 3-0 lead and he cruised through the Orioles lineup. The only bad moment–and it was a hold-your-breath-tight spot–came in the sixth when Nate McClouth launched a 3-2 pitch high into the right field seats. It went over the foul pole and was ruled foul. The Orioles protested, the umps huddled, and the replays showed that the ball was in fact foul. However, one replay, with an extreme close up of the pole, showed that the ball could have scraped the pole. You can see the ball slightly change directions as it passed the yellow stick. But it wasn’t clear enough to overturn the call and the umps upheld their original call. McClouth whiffed on the next pitch and before you knew it, Ichiro had given the Yanks a two-run cushion.

Sabathia worked easily through the seventh and then came his bend-but-don’t-break eighth. Matt Wieters singled to start the inning and Manny Machado followed with a walk. Mark Reynolds worked the count even, missed a fastball that got too much of the plate (fouling it off), and then whiffed on a breaking ball. Had a pitch, missed the pitch.

But Lew Ford hit a ground ball through the left side for a base hit–watching the replay it was as if someone yelled “Timber” as Jeter dove after it. I thought Brett Gardner, who’d just entered the game as a defensive replacement, had a play at the plate on the slow-footed Wieters but instead threw to third base in order to prevent the runners from advancing.

Robert Andino, another scrapper, hit a slow chopper toward third. Sabathia hopped after it, fielded and then hesitated for a moment, looking at third base. But Chavez had gone after the ball too and wasn’t near the bag. The play was to first, but Sabathia threw to second instead. Too late. His mistake loaded the bases.

He summoned up a mess of courage, struck out McClouth and then got JJ Hardy to hit a slow ground ball to short. Jeter charged in, fielded the ball, and then made an off balanced throw to first. It reached Teixeira in plenty of time for the third out. Jeter may not have much range but he didn’t botch the one right at him–and one he had to make a play on, it was no gimme–when the chips were down.

Sabathia came back out in the ninth, got Adam Jones to sky out to Gardner, struck out Chris Davis, and ended the game by getting Wieters to hit a harmless ground ball to the mound. Sabathia tossed the ball to Teixeira like he was tossing an egg at the county fair.

Final Score: Yanks 3, O’s 1.

CC is a Stud.

The Orioles were resilient and relentless. The Yankees, as fate had it, were a touch better, or luckier.

However you want to call it, the Bronx be happy.

Tomorrow gives the Tigers. Tonight gives relief, hugs, and love.

[Photo Credit: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images North America; Elsa/Getty Images North America]

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Dyin’ Time’s Here

It is cold in New York today and probably just as well that Game 5 of the ALDS begins in the late afternoon instead of tonight.

It’s down to CC and the bats, minus Alex Rodriguez:

Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Suzuki LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez DH
Nick Swisher RF
Curtis Granderson CF
Russell Martin C
Eric Chavez 3B

Never mind nuthin’ but today. Once more–with feeling:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Via: Running Amuck]

Torn and Frayed

I don’t feel much better this morning, you? Maybe some optimism will creep in as the day goes on–there’s CC to look forward to after all–but right now I’m cranky.

What you guys got?

[Picture by Bags]

Who Do I Have to F*** in This Town to Score a Run?

When we talk about 1968 in baseball we think of Bob Gibson and all those low earned run averages and what is called “The Year of the Pitcher.” But when he wrote about it at the time, Roger Angell dubbed that season “the Year of the Infield Pop Up” which just goes to show how perception changes.

The Yankees and Orioles have been at each all year long, splitting the regular season series, 9-9. The O’s chased the Yanks down in the second half, tied them for first but couldn’t get passed them. They beat the Rangers in the Wildcard game and then split the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore with the Yanks before getting hosed out of a win in Game 3. All the games have been close and apart from a mirage of scoring by the Yanks at the end of the first game, nobody has hit much.

So you could say that both offenses have been terrible—Alex Rodriguez has been hung in effigy in New York but he’s had company in futility, namely Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderon, and Nick Swisher. Baltimore has its own goats–Jones, Weiters, Thome. Or, you could say the pitching’s been sensational. Year of the pitcher or the infield pop-up? You decide.

More than anything we know the Yanks and O’s won’t let this thing go and so they played a game of reduction in Game 4, and brought horrible offense and stellar pitching into the 13th inning, tied at 1-1.

Despite some rocky moments from Phil Hughes and Joe Saunders, who looks like the barfly from Sex, Lies and Videotape

…nobody scored. Oh, there were some horseshit pitches, and hard hit balls foul. Nick Swisher hit two balls off the end of his bat that otherwise would have been dingers, Jayson Nix hit a few balls well, and the Orioles left a ton of runners on base, but no, there were no runs.

Alex Rodriguez walked in his first at bat, singled in his second, and then continued to look like crap–old, slow, beaten. The most painful moment came when the Yankees had runners on first and second in the eighth and nobody out. Robinson Cano grounded out weakly to second moving the runners over. Rodriguez whiffed and Swisher popped out.

The bullpens were both terrific and score remained tied 1-1 until the O’s manufactured a run in the top of the 13th. J. J. Hardy drove in the go-ahead run with a double to left of Dave Phelps. This, after Joba Chamberlain left the game an inning early when he was hit in his pitching elbow with the a broken bat (x-rays were negative).

That brought on the closer Jim Johnson to face Mark Teixeira, Cano, and, of course, looming as the potential final out, Rodriguez. He quickly got ahead of Teixeira, then the count evened at 2-2, Teixeira fouled off an outside fastball, a high fastball, and looked at a curve ball for a called strike three. Shades of Carlos Beltran in 2006.

Cano lined the first pitch he saw to the left fielder and most Yankee fans were ready to throw in the towel. For a second straight night, Joe Girardi didn’t let Rodriguez hit against Johnson. This time, Eric Chavez took his place. Joe Girardi hoping–desperately–for some more magic. Chavez, looked a curve for strike, took a fastball high for a ball, fouled off a 95 mph heater, fouled off another fastball, took a curve outside, and lined a fastball to third base to end the game. No magic tonight.

What else could it have come down to for these two but Game 5? The season series is 11-11 and the winner will move on.

This is what it had to be.

Final Score: O’s 2, Yanks 1.

The Good News for Game 5? The Yanks have CC Sabathia on the hill. The bad news? Somebody in pinstripes is going to have to score some runs.

[Featured Image Via Stable]

All Together Now

It’s Phil Hughes vs. Joe Saunders. Someone is getting their tits lit tonight. Let’s hope it’s not Hughes. And if he falters early, Dave Phelps, and perhaps even Derek Lowe, could play big roles for the Yanks.

Derek Jeter DH
Ichiro Suzuki LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Swisher RF
Russell Martin C
Curtis Granderson CF
Jayson Nix SS

Never mind the emotion (the Win is the Thing): Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Staton Rabin/ National Geographic]

Somber News

Joe Girardi’s father, Jerry, died today. He was 81. Giardi is expected to manage tonight.

Joel Sherman first reported the news on Twitter.

[Photo Credit: Bob Luckey / Greenwich Time]

Second Batter Up Cause the First Got Served

Awesome Playoff Day Open Thread. Today, I’m rooting for the Reds, Nats, Yanks, and A’s.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Via: It’s a Long Season]

Raul-elujah

With two swings of the bat, Raul Ibanez won Game 3 of the ALDS for the Yankees 3-2. Joe Girardi, in one of the ballsiest managerial moves in Yankee history, asked Ibanez to pinch hit for currently lost-in-the-woods Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning. The Yankees trailed 2-1 at the time, there was one out, and the needle on the season was edging towards “disaster.”

Ibanez took a curve ball low and inside from Jim Johnson to start the at bat. The Oriole closer came back with his trademark sinker aiming low and away. The ball hung over the middle and Ibanez leaped on it. It was a lot like his homer to tie game 161 against the Red Sox, but struck even better than that.

There was a whole a lot of tense nothing after that until Ibanez led off the bottom of the twelfth against lefty Brian Matusz. Matusz had handled lefties Eric Chavez and Ichiro Suzuki with ease in the eleventh, giving them one decent pitch to hit early in the count and then driving them out of the strike zone. He tried the same trick on Ibanez, but Raul had target lock engaged and destroyed the 91 MPH fastball for the game-winner and possible season-saver.

Enough cannot be said of Ibanez, Girardi, Kuroda and Robertson. Ibanez will get, and deserves, every headline and accolade, but he wouldn’t have had a chance in the ninth if it wasn’t for Kuroda. Ditto the twelfth if it wasn’t for Robertson. And of course Joe Girardi, who never gets any credit and often takes a ton criticism, especially on the internet, chose the perfect time to pull the plug on his support for Alex Rodriguez. With Ibanez he gained the platoon advantage and the confidence advantage as the lefty slugger had just come through in a similar spot against a right-handed closer. If Girardi has lost Rodriguez for the rest of the series, so be it. I’d rather be up 2-1 without Arod than down 1-2 with him.

Going back to the pre-Ibanez portion of the game, Hiroki Kuroda was tremendous. A likable stalwart in a season full of uncertainty, he delivered a solid performance into the ninth inning. Kuroda cruised through his night on only 105 pitches and only allowed six base runners. Two solo homers to the bottom of the order were the only marks on his record. Yankee fans gave him the ovation he deserved as he left the game.

As good as Hiroki Kuroda was, Miguel Gonzalez was better. He went through the Yankees for seven innings with ease. He rung up eight Yanks, allowed almost no hard hit balls (were there any other than double and triple that plated the Yanks’ lone run?) and crucially walked no one. He was too tough.

Or maybe he was just pretty good and the Yankees met him halfway to awesome. I openly wonder if the Yankees would have had a more productive night if they just never swung the bat. For three straight games now, they’ve missed almost every cookie they’ve been served with foul balls and pop ups. And they’re so eager to do some damage that they’re expanding the zone in very counterproductive ways. Of the eleven times the Yanks struck out in this game, all were swinging whiffs, and the vast majority were on balls out of the strike zone. The Yankees were over aggressive, undisciplined and rendered utterly ineffective.

Derek Jeter picked up two more hits, though his RBI triple was a gift from Adam Jones. He’s one of the few Yankees who might get a hit at some point tomorrow night, so it’s bad news that he had to come out of the game with a leg injury. He smashed a foul ball off his toe and never looked comfortable after that. When he struck out in the eighth, he was barely able to gain his balance after each swing. Still put on a better at bat than anything Arod, Cano, Granderson or Teixeira could muster. Unless that foot has to be sawed off, Jeter’s playing tomorrow. If they amputate, downgrade him to probable.

But back to Raul Ibanez. He just hit a couple of the most important home runs in Yankee Postseason history. He’s on the list. From the color TV days, there’s Chambliss ’76, Dent ’78 (not Postseason but still), Jeter/Bernie ’96, Leyritz ’96, Justice ’00,  Tino/Brosius/Jeter ’01, Boone ’03, Arod ’09. Probably missing some, but that’s a pretty good start (Reggie and Matsui of course, but maybe that’s a slightly different list, and heck, put Ibanez on that one too with his two bombs tonight).

The lack of hitting in the Postseason always confounds me. I always think, “Why can’t this be the year where they just get hot and blast their way to the Series?” But it never works that way and I need to stop being surprised that Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez turn into the 1963 Dodgers as soon as the calendar flips to October. The difference this time, hopefully, is that the Yankees have the starters to support the offensive outage.

All three Yankee starters have worked into the eighth and two of them were still on the hill in the ninth! A timely hit in Game 2 and the Yanks would have just swept this thing. Phil Hughes gets the baton and it doesn’t matter who he faces. It’s gonna be Koufax, Drysdale, Alexander, Gibson and Schilling all wrapped into some Oriole schlub and Hughes will need to be his best to keep them in the game. The Yankees probably won’t hit, but they just might win.

 

Top Photo by Bill Kostroun/AP via ESPN

Other Photos by Alex Trautwig and Al Bello / Getty Images via ESPN

 

Act III: Stand Tall or Don’t Stand at All

 

Early for a game thread but what the hell?

There’s no lineup change for Alex Rodriguez and the Yanks but Eric Chavez is playing third and batting ninth.

Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Suzuki LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Curtis Granderson CF
Russell Martin C
Eric Chavez 3B

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Never mind those pesky boids: LET’S GO YANK-EES!

[Photo Credit: ari j. greenberg]

It Didn’t Have to Be This Way

Before we even get started, let me tell you one thing. I’m not going to complain about the Yankees’ lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, mainly because that’s like complaining that the sun is rising in the East. Even without that issue, there’s plenty to discuss here, and several issues to chew on, so let’s get at it…

Things couldn’t have started out better. Derek Jeter quieted the raucous Baltimore crowd with a line drive single to right center off rookie Wei-Yin Chen to lead off the game, and the suddenly dynamic Ichiro followed by reaching on a questionable error to set the Yankees up with two men on, no one out, and the heart of the lineup due.

The papers will be awash this morning with doomsday headlines about Alex Rodríguez and damning statistics on the ineptitude of the offense, but A-Rod came to bat in the first inning and laced an absolute seed just a few feet to the right of second base. The infield defense was pulled around to the left as it usually is for A-Rod, but even positioned close to the bag, second baseman Robert Andino only had time for a quick step and a dive. He snared the line drive, then flipped to second to double off Jeter. Had that ball been just two or three inches to the left, a run would’ve been in and a rally would’ve been rolling with the hottest hitter on the planet due up next.

As it was, there were suddenly two outs and a man on first, A-Rod was still a dog, and the Yankees still couldn’t hit when it counted. It’s a game of inches, you know. But then Robinson Canó dug in and ripped a laser of his own off the base of the wall in right field. Always one to push the edge of the envelope, third base coach Robby Thompson windmilled Ichiro around third, but the relay throw from Andino appeared to have him dead to rights. But as Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters took the throw and lunged to make the tag, Ichiro took a right turn. He avoided the tag, but missed the plate by several feet, skittered counter clockwise around the dish, then leapt in the air like a cat to avoid Wieters’s second attempt before finally tagging the first base side of home plate. It was so much work it probably should’ve been worth two runs, but the score was only 1-0. Even so, it was a start.


This was Game 2, so naturally Andy Pettitte was on the mound for the Yankees, and naturally he was dominant early on. How good was he? He retired the first eight batters like this: fly out, ground out, backwards K, pop out, ground out, strikeout, fly out, ground out. He made a tough pitch to the ninth hitter, but it was too tough, as Andino broke his bat and lofted a base hit over second base. Then things got sticky.

Nate McLouth knocked a clean single to center, then J.J. Hardy walked on four pitches to load the bases for Chris Davis, a left-hander who had struggled against Pettitte in his career. After taking ball one, Davis poked a single to right to score two, and the Orioles suddenly had a 2-1 lead, just as they did in the third inning of Game 1. (An interesting note here: Nick Swisher actually came up with a good throw to third, one that Jeter could’ve cut off but chose instead to let go. He couldn’t have known this, but Hardy had rounded second a bit too aggressively, and had Jeter cut off that throw where he stood atop second base and then looked for the tag, Hardy would’ve been out before McLouth would’ve been able to score with the second run. No shortstop in his right mind would’ve cut that ball off, but it’s the type of play we’ve come to expect from Jeter in October. Not this time.)

And so the inning continued. Adam Jones bounced a grounder deep into the hole at short, forcing Jeter to range far to his right. Jeter and A-Rod, as well as Hardy running from second, probably all realized the only play would be at third. As a result, Hardy was digging hard for the bag and didn’t notice when the ball rolled just under Jeter’s glove. A-Rod was giving his best decoy at third, waiting for a throw that would never come, so Hardy also didn’t notice his third base coach furiously waving him in. He pulled up at third, much to Jeter’s amusement. Wieters popped up the first pitch he saw, and Hardy never scored. The inning was over.

The Yankee hitters, meanwhile, weren’t scoring, but they were making Chen work hard. It looked like that strategy might pay dividends in the top of the fourth when they loaded the bases with one out after Mark Teixeira singled, Russell Martin walked, and Curtis Granderson singled.

(Speaking of Granderson, TBS showed a revealing statistic during his first at bat. (And speaking of TBS, their coverage is bordering on unwatchable. Cal Ripken and John Smoltz have fallen into the trap that awaits most postseason announcers: they make a point and then react as if they’ve discovered penicillin. I watched large chunks of Game 1 with the mute button engaged. During Game 2, Ripken even tried to tell me that switch hitters used to regularly bat left-handed against Pettitte to counteract his power cutter, even though I’m fairly certain this never happened. That was Mo.) But back to Granderson. Peep this: When he puts one of the first two pitches in play, his batting average is .405, slugging percentage .767. After that the numbers drop to .190/.425. Ouch.)

But we were discussing the fourth inning, and the bases loaded buffet awaiting Eduardo Nuñez. He came to the plate needing just a quality out to tie the game, but imagine what a simple base hit would do. With his pitch count mounting, every fan in the park on edge, his entire home nation of Taiwan having called in sick to watch their countryman’s first playoff appearance, this was clearly a critical moment for Chen. A base hit would likely give the Yankees the lead and fill Chen’s head with doubt as the lineup turned over and Jeter, Ichiro, and A-Rod readied for their turns at bat. The game would open up, and the series would close.

But that’s not how it happened. Nuñez popped out, Jeter grounded to third, and the inning was over. Late Monday night Curt Schilling and John Kruk gushed about Chen’s game plan and execution, but I kept wondering if they had watched the same game I did, and I think Jeter’s reaction might’ve been similar. When he was asked about Chen after the game, the Captain was clearly suppressing a grin as he generously allowed, “He was hitting his spots.” It reminded me of an interview Kobe Bryant gave after the Lakers lost a tough playoff game to the Phoenix Suns. When asked if Raja Bell had given him some trouble, Kobe simply laughed. “Raja Bell? Raja Bell?” More laughter. “No.” Jeter was more diplomatic, but the message was the same.

What can’t be denied, however, was that Chen made it into the seventh inning, which is probably more than the Orioles had hoped for. Now trailing 3-1, the Yankees mounted a rally as Nuñez poked a ball into short right center and hustled it into a double, then came home on a Jeter single to cut the lead back to one at 3-2. After Ichiro forced Jeter at second and Darren O’Day came in to strike out A-Rod for the second day in a row, Buck Showalter chose to bring in Brian Matusz to walk the HHOTP and face Swisher with two outs and the tying run on second. I’m guessing Showalter wasn’t worried. Swisher entered that at bat with a 1 for 33 career postseason mark with runners in scoring position, and a career 1 for 19 against Matusz. Predictably, he popped out to left.

And then came the eighth inning, perhaps the most frustrating frame of the night for me. Teixeira led off with a rocket that looked ticketed for the left field corner and a sure double. But McLouth hustled over to cut it off, and the hobbling Teixeira was forced to stay at first. Here’s how the rest of the inning should’ve played out: Brett Gardner pinch runs for Teixeira and remains in the game in left field; Ichiro moves to right field; Swisher comes in to play first. Gardner steals second (because if he doesn’t, why exactly is he on the post season roster?), then Martin can either bunt him over or take a shot to right field. Assuming this works, Granderson needs only produce a fly ball to tie the game.

But Joe Girardi wasn’t interested in any of that, so he let Teixeira sit at first base as Martin and Granderson struck out and Nuñez popped out. The game wasn’t over, but it certainly felt like it. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson worked the ninth inning and smartly set down Jeter, Ichiro, and A-Rod in order, leaving Canó in the on-deck circle.

You have to admit, it was a nice way for 2012’s final game at Camden Yards to end. Orioles 3, Yankees 2.

[Photo Credits: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images (1); Patrick Semansky/AP Photo (2&3); Nick Wass/AP Photo (4)]

Act Two

Tonight gives that ol’ Yankee Game 2 stand-by, Andy Pettitte.

YANKS

Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Suzuki LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Russell Martin C
Curtis Granderson CF
Eduardo Nunez DH

ORIOLES

Nate McLouth LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Chris Davis RF
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 1B
Jim Thome DH
Manny Machado 3B
Robert Andino 2B

 

 

Never mind the one-game lead: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by Heather Landis; drawing by Larry Roibal]

Rock Steady

Over at ESPN, here’s Jeff MacGregor on Derek Jeter:

Jeter is our sphinx, as fixed and inscrutable as those marble lions in front of the New York Public Library.

Eighteen seasons, 3,304 hits. Who knows how many starlets. Captain Intangibles in the City of the Damned. To reasonable people from anywhere else, New York is crazy, a bughouse — an asylum, a hive, a slice of 99-cent pizza falling on a pair of $1,600 shoes. It’s bike messengers and violinists, grime and Champagne. It’s a Babel, a bad dream, a siren, a grinding of the teeth. It’s that smell. It’s horse carts and nightclubs and town cars and bridges. It’s Trump and Jay-Z, The Times and the Post, three-card monte and the stock exchange. It’s a Korean bodega in a Greek neighborhood run by 4 guys from Yemen. It’s what America used to be before focus groups got hold of it.

But New York makes sense to New Yorkers. Our cops and firefighters all look and sound like cops and firefighters, and the daily parade up and down the avenue of our actors and junkies and account executives is straight out of central casting. The ballplayers all look like ballplayers and first among them is Derek Jeter. As much a part of the mind’s skyline as the Flatiron or the Waldorf; as much a part of the tri-state subconscious as every car commercial they’ve ever bounced off your skull. Even if you hate baseball, he’s as permanent an impermanence as most New Yorkers can imagine.

The only question is for how long?

[Photo Credit: Bags]

Let’s Get This Party Started Right (Right On)

Let Dem Playoffs Begin.

Braves-Cards are the early game. Rangers-O’s are the late one.

We’ll be watching.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Credit: TS Flynn via It’s a Long Season]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver