October 2011

Empty feeling on a night Yanks come up empty

And so it all came down to the guy who boasted after the Tigers took a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-5 American League Division Series that it would not return to New York. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Jose Valverde put his money where his big mouth was and remained spotless in save situations.

Valverde is a real three-ring-circus act as a closer constantly walking the high wire with none of the cool effectiveness of Mariano Rivera. He had Detroit in the AL Championship Series before this series was over, and the Yankees hoped they could make him pay for his putting the cart in front of the horse.

Facing the taunts of those in a record crowd of 50,960 at Yankee Stadium Thursday night, Valverde navigated himself through the ninth inning against three of the Yankees’ best hitters. The closer who converted all 49 of his save opportunities in the regular season made it 2-for-2 in the ALDS by sending Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez back to the bench, as it turned out for good in 2011.

One of the ironies in how the season ended for the Yankees in the 3-2 loss was that the fault lay more with the hitters than the pitchers. The Yankees were an offensive juggernaut for most of the season, and they did have 10 hits in Game 5, but only two came in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position, neither of which produced a run.

The Yankees stranded 11 base runners – six in scoring position – and left the bases loaded twice. The killer inning as the seventh when infield hits by Derek Jeter and Cano surrounding a single by Granderson filled the bags with one out for Rodriguez, who had a huge chance to overcome an injury-riddled regular season and atone for a dismal postseason.

Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit, who had to remove a huge bandage on his face that covered a big cut on his left cheek, seemed distracted in trying to protect a 3-1 Detroit lead. The inning was getting away from the Tigers and moving in the Yankees’ direction.

A-Rod didn’t have to be a big hero. All he had to was make contact, get a fly ball deep enough or even a ground ball slow enough to stay out of a double play and get a runner home. Instead, he swung through a 2-2 changeup – a pretty gutty pitch when you think of it – for the second out.

The Yanks got to 3-2 when Benoit walked Mark Teixeira to force in a run, but Benoit struck out Nick Swisher, and you could feel the air suck out of the Stadium. With two out in the eighth, Brett Gardner, who had a splendid series, gave the Yankees hope with a two-out single to left off a two-strike fastball. Jeter brought the crowd to its feet with a drive that right fielder Don Kelly caught right in front of the wall.

That was as close as the Yankees got. The ninth was all Valverde, who struck out A-Rod for the final out.

Another irony is that CC Sabathia, the ace in the hole who made the first relief appearance of his major league career, gave up the run that proved the difference on a two-out single in the fifth by Victor Martinez, who used to be his catcher in Cleveland years ago. Sabathia and five relievers were used by Girardi, who felt forced to pull Ivan Nova after two innings because of stiffness in his right forearm.

Nova gave up successive home runs to Kelly, who started the game at second base, and Delmon Young (No. 3 of the ALDS) in the first inning, but it was the way the ball came out of Nova’s hand in the second inning that disturbed Girardi. Nova overcame a leadoff double that inning but was replaced by Phil Hughes at the start of the third. Sabathia’s run was the only one allowed in seven innings by Nova’s successors.

“Our pitchers threw as well as they could all year,” Girardi said. “They pitched their hearts out. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Pitching, particularly the rotation, was supposed to be the Yankees’ Achilles heel, but the staff was fourth in the AL in ERA and the bullpen was first. The Yankees batted a decent .260 and outscored Detroit, 28-17, in the ALDS, but their situational hitting left something to be desired — .229 with runners in scoring position. Their victories were in 9-3 and 10-1 blowouts. Their losses were in two 1-run games and one 2-run game.

Jorge Posada, who just might have played in his last game for the Yankees, was their leading hitter in the series with a .429 average. Gardner hit .412 with 5 RBI, but other than Cano (.318) no other Yankees player batted above .300. It was a particularly rough series for Rodriguez and Teixeira, who were a combined 5-for-36 (.139) with 2 extra-base hits (both doubles by Tex) and 4 RBI.

Posada could not contain his emotions after the game and excused himself from a crowd of reporters with tears covering his face. Girardi also choked up when speaking of Posada.

“What he went through this year and what he gave us in the postseason, I don’t think there’s a prouder moment I have had of Jorgie,” Girardi said. “You can go back to when he came up in ’96, how proud of him I was when he caught the perfect game [by David Wells in 1998] and all the championships that he has won. The heart that he showed during the series; that’s why Jorgie has been a great player.”

The only hit that produced a run for the Yankees in the finale was Cano’s second home run and ninth RBI of the ALDS off Tigers starter Doug Fister, who made up for his Game 1 loss with five innings of 1-run, 5-hit pitching.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland kept his promise to keep Justin Verlander out of the game and has him fresh to start Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday night at Arlington, Texas, the place the Yankees had hoped to visit and take revenge for being eliminated by the Rangers last year.

“It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room,” Girardi said. “It hurts.”

Everybody on short leash in Game 5

Just as in Detroit in Game 4 of the American League Division Series when A.J Burnett loaded the bases with three walks, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not hesitate in making a call to the bullpen when Ivan Nova was wavering early on in Game 5.

The Tigers struck for back-to-back home runs (by Don Kelly and Delmon Young) in the first inning for the first time in their postseason history. When Magglio Ordonez led off the second with a double, Phil Hughes began warming up for the Yankees. While Hughes answered the call to the pen, Nova answered the wakeup call by getting out of the inning without any damage with two groundouts and a strikeout.

That’s the beauty of winner-take-all games in the postseason be they Game 5 in the ALDS or Game 7 in the Championship Series and World Series. Both teams have their backs to the wall and must pull out all stops. There can be no worrying about saving anyone for the next game. You’ve got to get to the next game first.

Sure enough, Girardi brought in Hughes at the start of the third inning. Considering how Nova had worked out of difficulty in the second, the move seemed premature. Obviously, the manager saw something lacking in Nova’s stuff and made the switch to Hughes, who when used in relief can just air it out.

Hughes’ fastball was clocked at 94 mph as he chalked up two quick strikeouts. Delmon Young, who has been a tough out in this series (3 home runs), got a long single on a drive off the right field wall, but Hughes got the Tigers’ most dangerous hitter, Miguel Cabrera, to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

Doug Fister, who was battered by the Yankees in Game 1, was proving a tougher customer this time out. The righthander mixed speeds well on his fastball and added a cutter with late life. His breaking stuff was less effective, but he was keeping the Yankees off balance.

You remember all that stuff about Burnett being on a short leash in Game 4? Well, every pitcher on the Yankees had the short rope in Game 5. After Hughes gave up a single with one out in the fourth, Girardi summoned Boone Logan, who gave up a hit before retiring Jhonny Peralta on a fly to right and striking out Ramon Santiago.

At that point, CC Sabathia began throwing in the bullpen – very interesting.

Nova 2nd rookie to start do-or-die playoff game

Ivan Nova’s victory in Game 1 of the American League Division Series was technically a relief appearance because of the rain suspension, so Thursday night he was becoming only the second rookie to start a winner-take-all postseason game.

The only other was Phillies righthander Marty Bystrom in Game 5 of the 1980 National League Championship Series at Houston. Bystrom was not involved in the decision, an 8-7, 10-inning Philadelphia victory. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed 2 runs (1 earned), 7 hits and 2 walks with 1 strikeout in 5 1/3 innings.

Frankly, Yankees manager Joe Girardi would take that from Nova, who held the Tigers to 2 runs and 4 hits with 4 walks and 5 strikeouts in Game 1, a 9-3 Yankees rout. Their bullpen is pretty fresh all things considered, thanks to the length they got from A.J. Burnett in Game 4 at Detroit.

Girardi also has the option of using CC Sabathia out of the pen against a left-handed batter who likely would not have seen him since most of the Tigers’ lefty hitters were in platoon situations. I would also not be surprised if Joe used either David Robertson or Mariano Rivera and perhaps even both to pitch two innings.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland remained adamant that Game 3 winner Justin Verlander, the AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player candidate, will not pitch in Game 5. Yankees fans may think that is a ruse, but I believe him. Verlander did his job, and Leyland doesn’t want to tax his ace who was still throwing 100 miles per hour in the eighth inning Tuesday night.

Besides, the Tigers have Game 2 winner Max Sherzer, who shut out the Yankees for six-plus innings at Yankee Stadium, available as a long man should Game 1 loser Doug Fister falter. That is not chopped liver.

The Yankees were playing a winner-take-all ALDS Game 5 for the seventh time and the first since they lost to the Angels in 2005. It was the Yanks’ ninth deciding game in the best-of-5 format, also including the AL Championship Series of 1976 and ’77, both against the Royals.

Thursday night was the Yankees’ fourth Game 5 in a best-of-5 series at home. They had won the previous three: 1976 ALCS against the Royals, 1981 ALDS against the Brewers and 2001 ALDS against the Athletics. Overall, the Bombers are 5-3 in Game 5 of best-of-5 series and 11-10 all time in winner-take-all games, including 6-7 in Game 7s. They are 8-6 in ALDS games when facing elimination.

Yanks’ team effort gets ALDS back to Stadium

The Yankees couldn’t have asked for a better way to stay alive in the American League Division Series and get back to New York for the deciding game Thursday night. The 10-1 victory over the Tigers Tuesday night that squared the series at two games apiece was truly a team effort.

They got a big monkey off their back by winning a possible elimination postseason game for the first time since Game 5 of the ALDS in 2001 against Oakland. Their offense broke out with an attack featuring double digits in hits and runs, and they put on a defensive clinic in the field. The best part was that there were so many players who contributed.

Start with A.J. Burnett, who wasn’t even supposed to start in this series after a regular season in which he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. A rain-forced suspension of Game 1 meant that Yankees manager Joe Girardi needed a fourth starter and he went with Burnett, who made up for a lot of disappointment this year with 5 2/3 innings marred only by a Victor Martinez home run.

Oh, A.J. had his scary moments, mainly in the first inning when he walked three batters. He was saved by Curtis Granderson’s lunging grab of a drive by Don Kelly as the Tigers left the bases loaded. Giradi had Cory Wade warming in the bullpen and might have pulled Burnett’s right there if Kelly’s blast had gotten past Granderson.

The center fielder made another run-saving play in the sixth when it was still a close game at 4-1 with a diving catch in left-center to rob Jhonny Peralta of a potential extra-base hit that would have scored at least one run. The AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate also doubled in a run in the top of the fifth.

Granderson was part of an ensemble lineup that banged out 13 hits, none over the fence as the Yankees enjoyed a game of sustained offense. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira broke out of slumps with singles in the six-run eighth inning. Rodriguez, who was 0-for-12 before that, added a second hit that inning, which could be a sign he is ready to get hot. Nick Swisher also got a hit with a runner in scoring position for the first time in 29 career postseason at-bats.

Derek Jeter drove in two runs with a double that got the Yankees out in front in the third inning. Jorge Posada reached base by getting hit with a pitch and scored. Russell Martin singled twice and walked and scored two runs. Robinson Cano had two more RBI to raise his total in the series to eight. Jesus Montero came off the bench and got hits in his first two career postseason at-bats.

One night after giving up a game-winning home run, Rafael Soriano retired the four batters he faced, followed by Phil Hughes and Boone Logan each working a perfect inning as the bullpen set down the last 10 Detroit batters in order, six on strikeouts.

So the importance of the Yankees’ winning the home field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs will come into play Thursday night behind Ivan Nova, the Game 1 winner, against Doug Fister, the Game 1 loser, at Yankee Stadium, which is ready to rock the team into the AL Championship Series.

A.J. does his part

You must have heard the expression dozens of times over the past 24 hours that A.J. Burnett would be on a short leash as the starter for the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. No surprise there, of course, considering how erratic and unreliable Burnett has been the past two seasons.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave an indication of just how short that rope was Tuesday night by having Cory Wade warm up in the bullpen in the first inning. Burnett walked the bases loaded (one walk was intentional), which made the skipper nervous enough to be prepared for an early hook.

A.J. was visited on the mound by pitching coach Larry Rothschild but got an even bigger boost from center fielder Curtis Granderson, who made a sensational running catch of a drive by Don Kelly for the third out of the inning. That was the beginning of the Yankees’ support for their teammate.

They gave Burnett a 2-0 lead in the third on Derek Jeter’s double to center off Tigers starter Rick Porcello that scored Jorge Posada, who was hit by a pitch, and Russell Martin, who singled up the middle. Those were the first two RBI in the series for the Captain, who had come to bat with 14 runners on base before he knocked anyone in.

Jeter came up with two runners aboard again in the fifth and attempted a sacrifice, a good play since there were no outs. A remarkable play by third baseman Wilson Betemit ruined it all. He broke back to third on the bunt and had to reach across his body to glove Porcello’s throw that was to Betemit’s left and somehow he tagged the bag before Martin arrived with a head-first slide. Let’s hope Eduardo Nunez was paying attention. The rookie had problems several times in that situation when he filled in for Alex Rodriguez at third base.

Even though Jeter didn’t advance the runners, they came around to score anyway on a double by Curtis Granderson and a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez, who still does not have a hit in the series but has driven in three runs.

Burnett has a history of not shutting down opponents the inning after the Yankees score, and when Austin Jackson led off the fifth with a single it seemed a here-we-go-again moment. But the Yankees turned a double play behind A.J. on a grounder by Ramon Santiago, and Burnett got Delmon Young on a pepper shot to come away unscathed.

Girardi let Burnett start the sixth, a questionable move considering Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, Detroit’s two most productive hitters, were the first two batters, but Burnett retired both on balls hit in the infield. After Kelly singled, Burnett was relieved by Rafael Soriano. One run in 5 2/3 innings for Burnett, find me a Yankees fan who would not settle for that.

Facing Verlander once proves bad enough for Yanks

I wrote after the Yankees’ Game 1 victory in the American League Division Series that the rain suspension may have worked in their favor. I based that on the fact that they would not have to face Justin Verlander more than once in the series. That is still a plus, but after losing Games 2 and 3, whatever edge I envisioned is long gone.

The Tigers have taken control of the series, and the Yankees are in a position of having to rely on the patently unreliable A.J. Burnett Tuesday night to get the ALDS back to Yankee Stadium for a possible Game 5 Thursday night. That Burnett, who was not going to be in the rotation in this series initially, gets this start is also due to Game 1 going into a second night. It is an opportunity for A.J. to turn around an erratic season.

Delmon Young’s second home run of the series, an opposite-field drive to right off a first-pitch cutter from Rafael Soriano in the seventh inning, was the difference in the 5-4 victory. It would have been terrific if the Yankees could have come back in the ninth against closer Jose Valverde, who had boasted after Detroit won Game 2 that the series was over and would not return to New York. Walks to Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner gave the Yanks hope, but Valverde closed it out by striking out Derek Jeter.

The hyped pairing of Verlander and CC Sabathia turned out pretty one-sided. Verlander spotted the Yankees two first-inning runs, but he pitched through the eighth, ringing 100 or more mph with his fastball occasionally and striking out 11 batters. Sabathia lasted one out into the sixth and was lucky to be only two runs behind considering he walked six (one intentionally).

Yankees manager Joe Girardi implied after the game that plate umpire Gerry Davis squeezed his pitcher somewhat, but Verlander didn’t seem to have trouble, so it sounded like sour grapes. In regular season play, Sabathia is 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA in games with Davis behind the plate, so there is certainly no bad history between them. CC was hurt not so much by the walks but by the unlikely hitting of 9-hole hitter Brandon Inge and platoon second baseman Ramon Santiago, who combined for four hits, two runs and two RBI.

The Yankees’ offense came from the top and bottom of the lineup. Verlander was touched for a single by Jeter and a triple by Curtis Granderson in the two-run first. The Yankees rallied with two outs in the seventh. After Posada, who is having a fine series, walked and Russell Martin was hit by a pitch, Gardner doubled to left-center off a 3-2 fastball that was clocked at 100 mph to tie the score.

As for the middle of the Yankees’ order, Verlander handled it adroitly. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher combined to go 0-for-14 with six strikeouts. A-Rod did drive in a run with an infield out and walked twice. These guys need to do some damage in Game 4 against Detroit’s Rick Porcello if the Yankees want to create a reason to play Thursday.

CC fails to match up against Verlander

The Yankees took an aggressive approach against American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander in the first inning, and it paid off for a 2-0 lead in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.

Derek Jeter went after the first pitch and singled through the middle. Curtis Granderson took the first pitch for a ball, then fouled off two pitches before driving a triple to left-center that scored Jeter. Detroit’s Comerica Park is a bit of a triples yard. There were 44 three-baggers hit there in the regular season. Only Denver’s Coors Field and Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium had more, 49 apiece. Playing at Comerica for the Tigers, Granderson led the AL in triples with 23 in 2007 and 13 in 2008. Curtis had 10 triples this year, third in the league.

Speaking of triples, the Elias Sports Bureau reports that Jorge Posada , who tripled in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, became only the second 40 year-old to triple in postseason play. The other was Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who was also 40 when he did for the Phillies in Game 5 of the 1983 World Series against the Orioles at Philadelphia.

Alex Rodriguez remained hitless in the series but made contact to get Granderson home with a groundout to third base. The two-run lead was a nice way to get CC Sabathia started, but the lefthander was not at the top of his game. The hope was that he could settle in at some point, but his difficulty in throwing strikes pushed his pitch count up so that he was one pitch shy of 100 in five innings.

Three double plays saved CC, who walked six batters (one intentionally) over five innings. He had no more than four walks in any one start this year. One of those double plays scored a run, in the third inning when the Tigers tied the score. Ramon Santiago, who singled in the other run that inning, put Detroit ahead, 3-2, in the fifth with a double. In both cases, Santiago drove home Brandon Inge, the 9-hole hitter who batted .197 this year and has had scant career success against Sabathia (.190 in 58 at-bats) but who doubled and singled off him the first two times up.

Even worse than Inge against Sabathia is Jhonny Peralta, who has one hit in 17 career at-bats (.059) in regular season play. Sabathia came out for the sixth and gave up a leadoff single to Don Kelly on a well-placed bunt. Peralta, who had grounded into a double back in the second, got a different kind of double this time, one off the wall that scored Kelly. CC was gone after Alex Avila sacrificed Peralta to third before having to face Inge a third time.

Verlander, meanwhile, just got stronger. Brett Gardner bunted for a single leading off the third but was erased on a double play. Verlander, whose fastball hit triple figures several times, struck out the side in the fifth and added two more punchouts in the sixth after Jeter had led off with a single.

Sabathia and Verlander, whose Game 1 start was suspended because of rain, were the first pitchers to start Games 1 and 3 of a postseason series since Kevin Brown for the Padres in the 1998 National League Division Series against the Astros. The previous time it occurred for an AL pitcher was Oakland’s Dave Stewart in the 1989 World Series against the Giants. There was a 12-day gap between Games 2 and 3 in that series because of an earthquake. Sabathia was the first Yankees pitcher to do it since Hall of Famer Whitey Ford lost Game 1 of the 1956 World Series at Brooklyn and came back on two days’ rest to win a complete game in Game 3 at the Stadium.

Grandy nominated for Hank Aaron Award

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will decide whether Curtis Granderson is the American League Most Valuable Player or not, but Yankees fans can have a big say about whether the center fielder should win the Hank Aaron Award as the AL’s top offensive player.

Granderson is the Yankees’ nominee for the award that was established in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record, a mark that now belongs to Barry Bonds. Log on to Yankees.com or MLB.com to register your vote.

For the second consecutive year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron himself will join fans in voting for the award. Aaron added new Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and another all-time great second baseman, Joe Morgan, to this year’s panel to join holdovers Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Robin Yount.

Granderson had a spectacular year for the Yankees, batting .262 and becoming the first player in major league history to get at least 40 home runs, 10 triples and 25 stolen bases in the same year. Curtis led the majors in runs (136), ranked second in home runs (41) and extra base hits (81) and third in RBI (119) and total bases (332). He was the first player this season to get to 100 runs and 100 RBI and did so in his first 126 games.

Yankees players who previously won the Hank Aaron Award were Derek Jeter in 2006 and 2009 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007. A-Rod also won two twice when he was with the Rangers, in 2001 and 2003. Andruw Jones, currently with the Yankees, was the National League winner in 2005 when he was with the Braves.

Winners of the 2011 Hank Aaron Award will be announced during the World Series. It would be terrific if Curtis could pick up the award while the Yanks were in the Series. It’s up to you, fans.

Yanks come close but can’t ‘close’ it out

One of the characteristics of the Yankees over the past two decades has been their ability to get to another team’s closer while other teams rarely get to their closer. While Mariano Rivera has set the major league record for saves and pitched as superlatively in postseason play, teammates have regularly roughed up his counterparts on the other side.

Jose Valverde was almost the latest victim Sunday night in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, a 5-3 Detroit victory that evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece.

The hard-throwing righthander was 49-for-49 in save opportunities during the regular season, but the Yankees had him on the ropes in the ninth inning. There was even an indication that the ghosts who used to roam the old Yankee Stadium have indeed made the trek to the north side of 161st Street in the Bronx.

The game looked like a lost cause for the Yankees when the Tigers pushed across a run in the top of the ninth on a two-out single by Don Kelly, a defensive substitute for right fielder Magglio Ordonez. That bolstered Detroit’s lead to 5-1, and out of the pen came Valverde, who pitched to a 2.24 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings in the regular season.

Nick Swisher woke up the crowd with a leadoff home run. Jorge Posada followed with a drive to left-center and plodded around a field muddy with late-inning rain showers for a triple. How unusual was that? Posada has only 10 triples in 6,092 career at-bats and had none in his previous 407 at-bats in postseason play.

Russell Martin worked a walk, and the joint was really jumping. Andruw Jones hit the ball hard to right, but Kelly made a fine running catch. Jones had to settle for a sacrifice fly, which made the score 5-3.

Valverde struck out Derek Jeter on a 95-mph fastball. Then with Curtis Granderson batting, one of those ghosts that Jeter always used to talk about coming out in the late innings of games at the Stadium may have been at work. The game appeared over when Granderson hit a foul ball near the Tigers’ third base dugout. Catcher Alex Avila slipped on the wet dirt as the rain was falling, and the ball fell free. No play, official scorer Howie Karpin rightfully ruled.

But it continued the at-bat for Granderson, who walked. That brought up Robinson Cano, who had driven in six runs in Game 1. There was drama aplenty with each pitch as Cano fouled off three straight mid-90s fastballs before hitting a hard grounder to second base for the final out.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland admitted after the game that he actually considered walking Cano intentionally, which would have loaded the bases for Alex Rodriguez, who is having a brutal series (0-for-8, 1 walk).

“You know what; I thought about it,” Leyland told reporters. “But the other guy [Rodriguez] has been known for the dramatics, and I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in, something like that would happen, a ground ball, a ball slips I just couldn’t do it. Hit a ball in the infield, you get him over there and somebody throws it away, the game is tied. But it did cross my mind.”

That shows how much respect there is in the game now for Cano. The last time these teams met in the ALDS five years ago, Leyland called the Yankees, “Murderers Row plus Cano,” which he meant as a compliment to the second baseman who was off a .342 regular season in his second year in the big leagues but was batting seventh or eighth in the order. Now Cano is a 3-hole hitter who has a three-time Manager of the Year thinking about walking him to face a guy who has hit 629 career home runs.

Miguel Cabrera played the Cano role for the Tigers with a home run, two singles and three RBI, which was plenty of support for starter Max Scherzer, who held the Yankees to two hits in six-plus innings. The Yankees made a last stand against the Tigers’ closer, but not even a shove from one of the ghosts, be it the Babe, Lou, Joe D. or the Mick could create a different ending.

Andy back to Stadium for the postseason

Andy Pettitte made another postseason start Sunday – sort of. The all-time leader in postseason starts with 42 ran to the mound before Game 2 of the American League Division Series wearing a blue sweat suit and threw out the ceremonial first pitch, a strike to his old battery mate, Jorge Posada, who was in the lineup as the designated hitter. Jorgie’s catching duties now are relegated to pregame activities. He handled the chores before Game 1 as well with Mariano Rivera.

Andy’s wife, Laura, also did a nice job singing the National Anthem.

Following Andy to the hill was Freddy Garcia for Game 2 as the long-debated third starter. Who would follow CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation for the playoffs was a subject of debate around the Yankees for months. Sabathia and Nova both pitched in Game 1 because rain Friday night caused the game to be suspended and resumed Saturday night.

Yankees fans would probably have been elated if told they would get five innings from Garcia and allow only two runs over that period. That is what they got. After Miguel Cabrera homered off a 2-0 pitch to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead, Garcia gave up no runs and one hit over the next four innings. Freddy even pitched decently in the sixth, but a rare error by Derek Jeter began a Detroit rally.

Jeter had made the key fielding play in Game 1, taking a throw from center fielder Curtis Granderson and relaying the ball to the plate to get Alex Avila trying to score in the fifth inning. Avila did not slide, which sort of helped matters. It was a 1-1 game at that point, so the play was huge. It got obscured when the Yankees scored six runs the next inning to pull away.

Here’s a funny thing about that play. Granderson was not thinking about a play at the plate when he threw the ball in. He got the ball to the infield as quickly as he could because he wanted to keep the double play in order. Jhonny Peralta’s hit was of the dying quail variety, and Curtis didn’t want him to get beyond first base. Avila had to hold up to see if the ball would fall, which Jeter noticed so when he got Granderson’s relay he did not hesitate and threw home for what at the time was a vital out.

That is what makes Jeter such a great shortstop despite all the crap you may read about with all these boutique fielding statistics that are no more revealing than fielding percentage. The Captain is human, however, and therefore capable of making mistakes. DJ’s errors are usually on throws, which was the case in the sixth as leadoff hitter Austin Jackson reached first base.

The Tigers began sitting on Garcia’s off-speed stuff, which had been effective for five innings. Magglio Ordonez singled on a splitter that stayed up. Cabrera singled home a run off a changeup and Victor Martinez did likewise off a curve before Boone Logan came in to stop the bleeding with two strikeouts.

The 4-0 spread looked pretty secure in the hard-throwing right arm of Max Scherzer, who took a no-hitter into the sixth. Robinson Cano broke the string by dunking a one-out single to left off a 97-mph fastball. Scherzer gave up only one other hit.

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