Results tagged ‘ American League Championship Series ’

Pettitte bows out in style

What a way for Andy Pettitte to end his major-league career. The lefthander gave Yankees fans one more brilliant performance before a crowd of 37,199 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, some 20 miles from his hometown of Deer Park, Texas. Pettitte completed his 18-season career with a complete game, his first in seven years.

The 2-1 victory over the Astros brought Pettitte’s season record to 11-11, which means that he never had a losing record, the first pitcher to do so in a career of 15 years or more. Andy had one other .500 season – 2008 when he was 14-14 – otherwise it was nothing but winning campaigns.

“It’s a shame you have to grow old,” Pettitte said immediately after the game.

Yes, it happens to all players, even his teammate, Mariano Rivera, who is also finally stepping away from the game at season’s end. Pettitte hated walking away from the game so much once before that he came back out of retirement to pitch another two years for the Yankees.

andy
(New York Daily News photo)

The finish was a momentous way to go out. It reminded me of how it all began. The day I arrived at what was the last spring training camp the Yankees had at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1995, then manager Buck Showalter drove up to me in a golf cart on the sidelines of the main field and said, “Hop in; I want you to see someone.”

He drove to me to one of the back fields where two pitchers were warming up. I have long forgotten who one of them was, but the one I remember was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t as cut as he would later become; he still had some love handles, but one pitch after the other sunk with stinging action.

Showalter, who grew up in the Florida panhandle and attended Mississippi State University, had an affinity for Southern players. Still does, probably, so I said to him, “Okay, which is it? Louisiana or Arkansas?”

“Texas,” Buck said. “You can’t quote me on this, but this guy might win 15 games for us this year.”

“Pretty tall order for a rookie,” I said.

Showalter missed on his prediction. Pettitte won 12 games, not 15, but he helped stabilize a rotation snagged by an injury to Jimmy Key, who finished second to David Cone, then with the Royals, in the previous year’s American League Cy Young Award race, and was a key ingredient in the Yankees’ reaching post-season play for the first time in 15 years, as the newfangled wild card.

Pettitte’s victory total was second on the staff only to another former Cy Young Award winner, Jack McDowell, who was 15-10. Pettitte’s 12-9 record and 4.17 ERA was not overwhelming, but it was good enough for him to finish third in the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award voting behind winner Marty Cordova of the Twins and runner-up Garret Anderson of the Angels, a couple of outfielders.

The lefthander started Game 2 of the Division Series against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium and was not involved in the decision, a 7-5 Yankees victory on a two-run home run in the 15th inning by Jim Leyritz that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series before they went 0-for-Seattle.

With Showalter gone after turning down a two-year contract offer from George Steinbrenner, Pettitte had to prove himself all over again to a new manager, Joe Torre, in 1996. It wasn’t easy, either. Torre at first thought the deeply-religious Pettitte was a bit soft. Yet start after start, Pettitte kept the Yankees in games and ended up winning 21 of them and becoming a Cy Young Award candidate, although he finished second in the voting to the Blue Jays’ Pat Hentgen.

Pettitte never came closer to winning that award, but even better he won over Torre with 8 1/3 gutty innings of shutout ball in Game 5 of the World Series at Atlanta in the last game played at Fulton County Stadium, a 1-0 Yankees victory that put them up 3-2 and in position to take the Series two nights later, which they did. From that point on, Torre never questioned Pettitte’s toughness again.

Pettitte pitched that night with the authority he showed during his 21-8 regular season as well as Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Baltimore that clinched the Yankees’ first World Series appearance in 15 years. The key inning for Pettitte in Game of the ’96 Series was the sixth when he got himself in and out of trouble.

He gave up singles to opposing pitcher John Smoltz and center field Marquis Grissom, whose fourth-inning error accounted for the game’s only run. Pettitte pounced on a sacrifice attempt by Mark Lemke and forced Smoltz at third base, which prompted Braves manager Bobby Cox to say later, “He was a cat on that bunt; it took a lot of guts to throw that ball to third base.”

On Pettitte’s next pitch, Chipper Jones hit a one-hopper to the mound. Pettitte was a cat again, starting an inning-ending double play.

“Andy took the ball every five days, and if he had it his way, he’d get it more often than that,” Torre recalled. “What’s really unusual about him is that a lot of times pitchers are more consumed with themselves. Andy was probably the consummate team player, especially for a pitcher. He was so concerned not only about the day he pitched but he always had his arm around a young guy in between starts.

“He has been a huge favorite of mine because he’s such a standup guy, and he hasn’t changed from day one. He was a great teammate, and I think that’s why he won so many games. The guys that play behind him understand how intense he is, and it becomes contagious.

“I think the impact he had on the teams we had in the mid-to-late 1990’s was enormous even though he was never the guy in the spotlight. He liked the fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 guy even though I trusted him like a No. 1 guy. But he didn’t have an ego that dictated he needed all that attention.

“He did a great job of channeling his energy into competing, and he was about as consistent a performer as anybody in terms of getting your money’s worth. He glued our staff together. When you’re performing with the same people year-in and year-out, it’s always nice to have that security blanket. He was certainly that guy on the pitching staff.”

For other managers, the Astros’ Jimy Williams and Phil Garner and the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, Pettitte proved just as reliable in a career he brought to a halt this week.

That Game 5 of the 1996 World Series four nights after the Braves handed his head to him in Game 1 (seven runs, six hits in 2 1/3 innings) remains the centerpiece of Pettitte’s career, but there were plenty of other times when he gave the Yankees everything needed from a pitcher.

He was the Most Valuable Player of the 2001 ALCS when he won both his starts and held a Seattle team that had won 116 games during the regular season to four runs in 14 1/3 innings. Even in defeat, Pettitte could be magnificent, such as the Game 6 showdown with the Marlins’ Josh Beckett in the 2003 World Series, Andy’s last start for the Yankees before signing as a free agent with his hometown Houston club.

Three years later, Pettitte was back with the Yankees reunited with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and helped ring in the new Yankee Stadium by winning the clinching games of all three post-season series in 2009 as the team achieved its 27th championship. In 2010, he was a Cy Young Award candidate for half the season before a groin injury cost him at least a dozen starts. That sent him into his first retirement, but he was lured back in 2012. Pettitte dealt with health issues each of the past two seasons yet was no less competitive

“Andy was a great teammate and a wonderful guy,” Rivera said. “He was a fighter and all about winning, and he was respected by every person in the clubhouse.”

“It has been a pleasure to play with Andy for all these years,” Jeter said. “The Yankees have been fortunate to have him representing the organization both on and off the field. More importantly, it has been an honor to get to know him as a person, and I consider him family. I wish for nothing but happiness for him and his family, as I know how important they are to him.”

Of course, it didn’t take long for Hall of Fame talk about Pettitte to sprout. Let’s give it the five-year wait before getting serious about that. Pettitte has a lot going for him – a won-loss record more than 100 games over .500 at 256-153, a postseason-record 19 victories and winning five rings in eight World Series overall. He also has some things going against him – allowing more hits than innings pitched, a rather high ERA (3.85) and three more dangerous capital letters, HGH, which he admitted to using after his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report.

His path to Cooperstown won’t be smooth. Over the next few years, the ballot will contain the names of starting pitchers superior to him in terms of statistics – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, even Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina.

“I don’t think about the Hall of Fame unless I’m asked about it,” Pettitte said. “I feel blessed that people will bring my name into that conversation. Have I been a pitcher who dominated? Every game has been a grind for me. I’d continue to pitch if [the Hall of Fame] was a desire of mine. I wouldn’t have retired in the first place.”

The writers who vote will be talking about him for a while. But to Yankees fans, Pettitte will always be in their personal Halls of Fame for his competitiveness and remarkable consistency.

Bernie will riff for Hall’s 75th anniversary next year

Longtime Yankees favorite and Latin Grammy Award-nominated recording artist Bernie Williams has joined the lineup of performers for next year’s celebration concert to honor the 75th anniversary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Williams played on four World Series championship teams for the Yankees and was the Most Valuable Player of their American League Championship Series triumph over the Orioles in 1996. The six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner is enjoying a post-baseball career as a guitarist and songwriter and has had two No. 1 singles on Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts.

Among the selections Williams will perform will be “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from his 2009 album, Moving Forward, with the world-renowned Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, which will serve as the house band for the 75th anniversary concert Aug. 2, 2014 at Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I am honored to be performing with the Boston Pops in celebrating the Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary next year,” Williams said. “The event will be a great celebration of baseball and music, so I hope you’ll plan to join us in Cooperstown next August.”

The concert will be produced by LGH19 Productions and will be part of a 12-month musical celebration that includes an ongoing silent auction to benefit the Hall of Fame. VIP tickets may be purchased on the official concert website – http://www.cooperstownconcert.com. Additional information may be found on http://www.bernie51.com.

Gardner honored as Yanks’ rep for union award

Brett Gardner has been named the Yankees’ winner of the Major League Players Association’s Heart and Hustle Award, which honors one player from each club who demonstrates a passion for baseball and best embodies the values, spirit, and tradition of the game. That certainly goes for Gardner, who also won the award in 2010.

A single winner from the 30 club winners will be named at the Legends for Youth Dinner Nov. 19 in Manhattan. Gardner received his Yankees award Friday night in a pregame ceremony from bench coach Tony Pena.

In recognition of the National Hockey League’s Stadium Series, which will include two outdoor, regular season games at Yankee Stadium (Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 12:30 p.m., Rangers at Devils; Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 7:30 p.m., Rangers at Islanders), ceremonial first pitches were thrown prior to Friday night’s game by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, Islanders center John Tavares and Devils defenseman Andy Greene.

The NHL held a press conference Thursday at the Stadium to discuss the Stadium Series. Among those attending were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr, Yankees president Randy Levine, Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost, Yankees executive director of non-baseball events Mark Holtzman, Devils president/chief executive officer/general manager Lou Lamoriello, Islanders general manager Garth Snow, Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, Devils players Bryce Salvador and Greene, Islanders players Tavares and Matt Moulson and Rangers players Ryan Callahan and Girardi.

In their most recent meeting against the Tigers April 7 at Detroit, the Yankees ended a six-game overall losing streak to them, including 0-4 in the 2012 American League Championship Series. The Yankees are 9-16 in all games (regular season and postseason) against Detroit since May 3, 2011. Last year, the Yankees were 6-4 against Detroit in the regular season with four games decided by one run.

The Yankees have won seven of their past nine regular-season home games against the Tigers since Aug. 17, 2010 and are 18-8 in their last 26 regular-season home games against Detroit since 2005 and 43-16 since the start of the 1998 season. They have lost just two of their past 18 home season series against Detroit since 1995. The Yankees were swept by Detroit in the 2012 ALCS, falling to 0-3 in all-time postseason series to the Tigers. The Yankees did not lead at any point in the series, which marked only the second such postseason series for the Yankees (also the 1963 World Series against the Dodgers). The Yanks lost Derek Jeter to a fractured left ankle in the 12th inning of Game 1.

Curtis Granderson, who started the game in left field and batting sixth for the Yankees, appeared in 674 career games with the Tigers from 2005-09 and batted .272 with 125 doubles, 57 triples, 102 home runs and 299 RBI in 2,579 at-bats. He is one of five players in Tigers franchise history to post double-digit totals in doubles, triples, homers and RBI in a single season, which he did in 2008 (26 doubles, 13 triples, 22 home runs, 66 RBI). The others were Bobby Veach, Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer and a player Detroit got in return in the three-team deal involving Granderson, Austin Jackson. . .Alex Rodriguez, who played his first game at the Stadium since coming off the disabled list, has a .337 (168-for-498) career batting average against the Tigers, his highest mark against any AL team. . .Mariano Rivera has converted 23 consecutive save opportunities against the Tigers since July 8, 1999.

Setback for Jeter, out at least til All-Star break

Forget about seeing Derek Jeter back with the Yankees next month. The club got disturbing news Thursday that the Captain suffered a setback in his recovery from off-season left ankle surgery and is now not expected to return to active duty until after the All-Star break in mid-July.

Jeter had been working out in the extended spring training camp at Tampa, Fla., taking batting practice and fielding ground balls. His workload was halted recently as apparently the shortstop was dealing with some discomfort. He last played in an extended spring game March 23. A CT scan of the area revealed the cause. Jeter has a small crack in the area of his left ankle.

The ailment is not serious enough to require another surgery, but a time frame of anywhere from four to eight weeks of rest is required. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said that Jeter needs the equivalent of a full spring training before he can return, and this situation pushes him back even further.

Jeter, 38, was scheduled to travel to Charlotte, N.C., Thursday to visit Dr. Robert Anderson, who performed the operation last October on the left ankle DJ fractured during the American League Championship Series against the Tigers.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he was pleased with the work Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix have done at shortstop in Jeter’s absence and indicated that help at the position from outside the organization is not expected. The Yankees are not the only club with an injured shortstop. The Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes will be sidelined for two months because of a sprained left ankle.

For those who thought that Jeter had a chance to chase Pete Rose’s career hits record, this latest development probably queers that for good. Not that Jeet was expected to make such a run. He continually avoided questions about challenging Rose’s all-time hits mark of 4,256. Jeter ranks 10th on the career list with 3,304 – 11 hits behind ninth-place Eddie Collins. Jeter would have to play at least five more seasons for any shot at catching Rose, an unlikely scenario for someone who turns 39 in two months.

Hal thanks fans for support in 2012

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued the following statement to fans following the team’s loss to Detroit in the American League Championship Series:

“I want to thank our passionate fans for their support this season. We fell short of our singular and constant goal, which is a World Series championship.

“However, I am proud of the accomplishments of this year’s team. We earned the best record in the American League and were one of the four teams to advance to the League Championship Series, despite having to overcome and fight through a series of long-term injuries to a number of our key players.

“Make no mistake, this was a bitter end to our year, and we fully intend to examine our season in its totality, assess all of our strengths and weaknesses and take the necessary steps needed to maintain our sole focus of winning the World Series in 2013. Great teams – and organizations – use disappointment as a motivation for future improvements and success. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we plan to do what’s necessary to return this franchise to the World Series.

“Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. My family – and our organization – has a long-standing commitment to provide all of our fans a championship-caliber team year after year.

“We may have fallen short, but we never feel sorry for ourselves and never make excuses. We already are beginning the process to find a way to win our 28th World Championship.

“I want to congratulate Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski, Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers. They certainly proved worthy of representing the American League in the World Series and are well deserving of this honor.”

Yanks go silently, like their bats

Not to be flippant about it, but the Yankees saved their worst for last. Their season ended with a thud Thursday as Detroit completed a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series with a convincing 8-1 victory. It marked the second consecutive season that the Tigers eliminated the Yankees from the postseason, becoming the first team to do that since the New York Giants in the World Series of 1921 and 1922. A year later, the Yankees won the first of their 27 championships, so maybe this will be a good omen.

Nothing feels good to the Yankees now. Getting swept in a postseason series is something the franchise is not used to. It had not happened to the Yankees since the 1980 ALCS when they lost in three games to the Royals back when the series was still a best-of-5. The Yankees had played 36 postseason series without getting swept before Thursday.

It is not at all that difficult to analyze what went wrong for the Yankees. They simply did not hit. They scored in only three of the 39 innings of the series and only six runs total. They never had the lead for a single inning in the series, something that happened to them only once before, in the 1963 World Series when they were swept by the Dodgers.

Actually, the Yankees’ offense was pretty scarce throughout the postseason, but they were picked up by their pitching staff. The remarkable work of the rotation also ended Thursday as CC Sabathia, who got the Yanks into the ALCS with a complete-game triumph over the Orioles in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, came apart.

But what the Yankees needed more than a big game from CC Thursday was a big game from the lineup. Nick Swisher came up with his first run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position in this postseason with a double in the sixth inning, but that was it as the team that set a franchise record with 245 home runs this year continued to falter in the postseason. A team that averaged 1.5 home runs per game during the regular season had only seven home runs in nine postseason games.

Raul Ibanez supplied most of the muscle with three dramatic home runs, but the Yankees got no homers from their usual sluggers – Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It was not just a power outage, either. The Yankees’ team batting average was .157 in the ALCS and .188 overall in the postseason.

Ibanez’s heroics pinch hitting for Rodriguez in Game 4 of the ALDS unfortunately created a media circus around A-Rod, who had been rendered helpless against right-handed pitching in postseason play (0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts) and was benched in the final game of the ALDS and the last two games of the ALCS. Rodriguez has taken the blunt of the blame for the Yanks’ ouster, which is unfair.

He was part of the problem but by no means all of it. Eric Chavez, who replaced Rodriguez at third base, was hitless in 16 at-bats and made two costly errors in the ALCS. Curtis Granderson, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season, homered in Game 5 of the ALDS but was 0-for-11 in the ALCS. He had only two hits other than the home runs in 30 postseason at-bats and struck out 16 times. Swisher hit .167 with 10 strikeouts.

Then there was the strange case of Cano, who endured one of the cruelest postseasons for a New York player that brought to mind the struggles of Yankees right fielder Dave Winfield (1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series) and Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges (0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series).

Cano entered the postseason as the hottest hitter in baseball with a streak of nine multi-hit games in which he went 24-for-39, a .615 tear. The All-Star second baseman managed only three hits in 40 postseason at-bats (.075), including 1-for-18 (.056) against Detroit pitching. Cano went 29 at-bats without a hit over one stretch, the longest postseason drought in club history, which covers a lot of ground. This was the Yankees’ 51st postseason covering 73 series.

As it turned out, 2012 was a season in which the Yankees peaked too soon. They were running away with the AL East by mid-July with a double-digit lead and then had to fight and claw to finish in first place at season’s end. The same Baltimore team that hounded them in the regular season pushed them to the full five games of the ALDS. A talented Detroit staff headed by the game’s most talent pitcher, Justin Verlander, kept the Yankees’ bat silenced.

Now silence is all there is left of the Yankees’ season.

Yanks face 0-3 deficit for 4th time in postseason play

The Yankees trail in the American League Championship Series, 0-3, for the first time in 10 ALCS appearances since the advent of the best-of-7 format in 1985. It is the fourth time in 71 postseason series that the Yankees have trailed 0-3. The other times were all in the World Series, in 1922 against the Giants (which included a Game 2 tie), 1963 against the Dodgers and 1976 against the Reds. In each case, the Yankees lost in four games.

This is the fifth time in 27 ALCS under the best-of-7 drill that a team has taken a 3-0 lead in the series. The only team to rally from 0-3 to win the ALCS was the 2004 Red Sox against the Yankees. Each of the other three teams to go down 0-3 were swept in four games – 1988 Red Sox, by the Athletics; 1990 Red Sox, by the A’s; 2006 A’s, by the Tigers. . .In each of their six ALCS, the Tigers have won Game 3, with all six games coming at home: 3-0 against the A’s in 1972; 1-0 against the Royals in 1984; 7-6 against the Twins in 1987; 3-0 against the Athletics in 2006; 5-2 against the Rangers in 2011 and 2-1 against the Yankees in 2012. The Tigers have won five of their past six ALCS games in Detroit.

Tigers Game 3 starter Justin Verlander ran his consecutive postseason shutout innings streak to 23 before he allowed a run in the ninth inning of Game 3 on the home run by Eduardo Nunez. It was the first home run Verlander yielded in the ninth inning of his career, postseason included. Nunez was the 85th batter the Verlander has faced in the ninth inning in his career. The Yankees did not score in 20 straight innings before Nunez’s homer. They were also shut out in 20 straight innings in the 2000 postseason against the Athletics (ALDS) and Mariners (ALCS).

Robinson Cano ended his streak of hitless at-bats at 29 with a two-out single in the ninth inning. It was the longest postseason hitless stretch in franchise history. The MLB record is 42 straight hitless at-bats by Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. . . Eric Chavez has started the 2012 postseason without a hit in 14 at-bats, which ties the longest streak by a Yankees player at the start of a postseason. Graig Nettles began the 1981 postseason with 14 hitless at-bats. The major-league record for hitless at-bats at the start of a postseason is 22 by the Cardinals’ Dal Maxvill in the 1968 World Series against the Tigers.

Alex Rodriguez, who was on the bench in Game 3, was not the only player with 600 or more career home runs to sit out a postseason game for which he was eligible. There were three others – Ken Griffey Jr. (Game 2 of the 2008 ALDS for the White Sox against the Rays), Willie Mays (Games 1 through 4 of the 1973 NLCS for the Mets against the Reds and Games 4 through 7 of the 1973 World Series for the Mets against the A’s) and Jim Thome (Games 1 and 5 of the 2012 ALDS for the Orioles against the Yankees). Babe Ruth played in all four games of the 1932 World Series for the Yankees against the Cubs, the only postseason series of his career that came after he hit his 600th home run. Barry Bonds played in all 17 of the Giants’ postseason games in 2002 and all four Giants’ postseason games in 2003, the only two postseasons to come after his 600th homer. Henry Aaron and Sammy Sosa did not play on teams that advanced to postseason play following their 600th home runs.

Through eight postseason games this year, the Yankees are batting .200 in 290 at-bats. The previous low-water mark for the Yankees’ first eight postseason games was .207 in the 1921 World Series against the Giants, which was then a best-of-9. Only two Yankees teams have finished a postseason with lower batting averages, the World Series clubs of 1962 (.199 in a 7-game victory over the Giants) and 1963 (.171 in a 4-game loss to the Dodgers). . .Through eight postseason games, the Yankees’ team ERA is 2.25, which would be the 10th-best for a single postseason in franchise history. It is the lowest mark since the team’s 1.60 ERA in the Yanks’ 5-game World Series victory over the Reds in 1961.

Miguel Cabrera’s fifth-inning double extended his LCS hitting streak to 16 games, dating to the 2003 National League Championship Series for the Marlins, breaking the previous mark of 15 straight LCS games with hits by Pete Rose and Manny Ramirez. . . Cabrera has reached base safely in all 19 career postseason games with the Tigers. His streak set a franchise record, passing the 18-game mark of Hank Greenberg from Oct. 3, 1934 to Oct. 4, 1945. During the 19-game streak, Cabrera is batting .303 with seven doubles, four home runs, 13 RBI, 10 runs scored, 16 walks and one hit batter in 66 at-bats. Only one player in history began his postseason career with a single team with a longer streak of reaching base – Boog Powell, who reached base in his first 25 postseason games with the Orioles from 1966-71. Cabrera has failed to reach base in two of his 36 career postseason games with the Marlins and Tigers.

Delmon Young has five home runs over consecutive postseason series against the Yankees – the 2011 ALDS and 2012 ALCS. Young is one of only five players with a combined five home runs in consecutive postseason series against the Yankees. Duke Snider did it three times (4 HR in 1952 World Series, 1 HR in 1953 World Series, 4 HR in 1955 World Series, 1 HR in 1956 World Series). The others are George Brett (3 HR in 1978 ALCS, 2 HR in 1980 ALCS), Juan Gonzalez (5 HR in 1996 ALDS, 0 HR in 1998 ALDS) and David Ortiz (2 HR in 2003 ALCS, 3 HR in 2004 ALCS). Chase Utley (2008 World Series) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1995 ALDS) each hit five home runs in one postseason against the Yankees, but they have not faced the Yankees again in the postseason.

Yankees fans have their own debate

Hours before the Presidential debate at Hofstra, Yankees fans had plenty to debate about the team’s lineup for American League Championship Series Game 3 at Detroit’s Comerica Park. No Alex Rodriguez. No Nick Swisher. Eduardo Nunez is playing shortstop. Where do we begin?

Well, the starting point is that the Yankees are down 0-2 in the series with no Derek Jeter, the next three games (they hope; it could be only two) in the other club’s yard and the reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner on the mound Tuesday night. How’s that for backs against the wall?

Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided that the lack of production from A-Rod and Swish in the postseason needed to be replaced by something different. Brett Gardner, who has had three at-bats since April, was inserted in left field and the leadoff spot with Ichiro Suzuki moving to right field and batting second.

Gardner joins Ichiro and Curtis Granderson to give the Yankees their swiftest outfield, which is important at spacious Comerica and a fly-ball pitcher, Phil Hughes, starting for them. Despite hitting two home runs during the regular season off Verlander, Rodriguez has been struggling big-time right-handing pitching in the postseason, which has resulted in Girardi lifting him for pinch hitters twice and benching him in the final game of the AL Division Series.

Using Eric Chavez at third base allows Girardi to get another left-handed batter, Raul Ibanez, the postseason batting star for the Yankees, in the lineup as the designated hitter. Nunez at short is definitely a gamble. He is a liability on defense, but the Yankees need a boost in offense (they were held scoreless in 21 of 22 innings in the first two games).

Let’s face it; the whole lineup is a gamble. When you are in the situation the Yankees are, rolling the dice is all that is left.

Brett reflective in congratulating Jeter

Derek Jeter continues to pass Hall of Famers as he climbs up the all-time hits list. The Captain’s leadoff single Sunday at Oakland was career hit No. 3,155 as he jumped past George Brett to take over 14th place.

Brett issued a statement, which was not only congratulatory and appreciate of Jeter’s standing but also somewhat somberly reflective of his own.

“I’m always kind of bummed out when guys pass you because you had your own place in the records book for a while, and I had that one there for a while,” he said. “But a guy like Derek comes around and passes you, really, I think it all depends on the type of person that did it. I have the upmost respect for him.

“I’ve only met him one time, very briefly, but for a guy to play as long as he has in New York, and I’ve never heard one bad thing said about the guy, he’s definitely a team player, he’s a clutch player. He has been the backbone of this organization for a long, long time and when a guy like that passes you, I’d like to shake his hand and look him in the eye and say congratulations.”

That is a major compliment from Brett, whose heyday with the Royals was back in the 1970s and ‘80s when they were as fierce a rival of the Yankees as the Red Sox in any era. They faced each other in four of five American League Championship Series from 1976-80 with the Yanks taking the pennant three times.

I have come to know George very well from our time together at the annual induction weekend at Cooperstown, and I know his feelings about Jeter and his close pal, Jorge Posada, are genuine. At the same time, there was a sense from Brett that falling down that list is tough to take. I think we can all understand that.

I remember when I covered mostly National League ball in the 1980s, and it seemed that Pete Rose was breaking one of Stan Musial’s records every year. Musial was always gracious in his comments about Rose, yet there was a tinge of remorse when Rose replaced “The Man” as the player with the most hits in NL history.

Stan took his time giving his thoughts that night and said to writers, “I know records are meant to be broken, guys, but I must admit that I really liked this one.”

Nice start for Andy but not a nice finish

Now think for a moment if any pitcher other than Andy Pettitte came off the mound with one out in the seventh inning and the Yankees trailing, 4-1, would a standing ovation be warranted?

Of course not, but that was the kind of day Sunday was for Pettitte, who made his first start for the Bombers since Game 3 of the 2010 American League Championship Series against the Rangers and supplied a serviceable if less than spectacular 6 1/3-inning performance against a somewhat placid Seattle lineup.

From the moment he went out to the bullpen to warm up for his Mother’s Day start to his name being announced in the lineup to his trot to the mound to begin the game, Pettitte was the recipient of loud cheers from the Yankee Stadium crowd of 41,631. Clearly, Yankees fans were delighted to see the lefthander back in pinstripes 19 months after his most recent major-league appearance.

“I appreciate the fans,” Pettitte said. “They have been great to me, but I just want to do my job. I was frustrated because I feel I let the game get out of hand.”

Andy was a big embarrassed by the reception as he departed the game. He waved to the crowd before he walked down the dugout steps, but in his mind he had been a disappointment in not helping the Yankees win.

Had the day continued its fairy-tale theme, Pettitte would have come away with a victory. But two-run home runs by Justin Smoak in the fourth inning and Casper Wells in the sixth would results in an ‘L’ behind Andy’s name in the boxscore as the Mariners avoided being swept with a 6-2 victory.

Pettitte did accomplish what manager Joe Girardi had hoped to see.

“I hope he doesn’t try to do too much,” Girardi had said before the game. “You worry about a guy in his situation overthrowing the ball and being up in the zone. I would like to get six innings out of him.”

Girardi got that and a bit more from Pettitte, whose final pitch was his 94th of the afternoon. He gave up seven hits and three walks, threw a wild pitch and had two strikeouts. Vintage Pettitte it was not, but considering his age (39) and the lengthy layoff the outing was encouraging.

“His pitches were sharp; he located well,” Girardi said. “It looked like he didn’t miss a beat.”

Pettitte was rougher on himself in assessing the outing, but that was also in character. Andy has not stopped wearing the hair shirt when it comes to accepting blame.

“The guys got me back in the game and I give up a two-run home run,” Pettitte said. “I got careless with a few pitches.”

He was referring to the sixth inning. The Yankees had closed to 5-1 in the fifth but blew a golden opportunity for a big inning (bases loaded, none out) when after Russell Martin walked with one out to force in a run Derek Jeter grounded into an inning-ending double play, one of three twin killings that came to the aid of Kevin Millwood, 37, something of an ancient Mariner himself who won for the first time this season in five decisions.

Seattle quickly pushed the score to 4-1 on a single by Dustin Ackley and the homer by Wells the very next inning.

“I wasn’t able to locate my four-seamer inside to right-handed hitters,” Pettitte said. “Because of that, my cutter wasn’t as effective. My command was off, and I made some mental mistakes.”

Andy did not get much support from his teammates. The Yankees were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position. They stranded the bases loaded in the eighth when Seattle manager Eric Wedge used four relievers to get through the inning after foolishly (I thought) removing Millwood. Nick Swisher was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff double in the ninth into a triple to wound a potential rally.

Now the question is how Pettitte will feel after this start. If he holds to form, there should be no setbacks that would prevent him from taking his regular turn Friday night when the Yankees come back to the Stadium after the four-game trip this week to Baltimore and Toronto.

“It was exactly what I thought it would be,” Pettitte said of his first game back from retirement. “I felt great. I felt like I never left. It was not as emotional as I thought it was going to be. I did get a little tired in the seventh, but I can’t believe how comfortable it was for me. I won’t be able to say if this [comeback] was a success or not until October.”

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