Results tagged ‘ Jose Valverde ’

Tigers push Yanks to 0-3 precipice in ALCS

Jose Valverde was not around to give the Yankees a helping hand Tuesday night in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series as he did in Game 1 when they came back from a 4-0 deficit to push it into extra innings.

The margin was half that this time, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland instead stayed with his starter, and who could blame him when the starter was Justin Verlander? After eight innings of getting nothing off the reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner other than two singles by Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees actually chased Verlander from the game but could not shove it into extras against lefthander Phil Coke, who gave up a couple of two-out singles before ending the game with a dazzling 3-2 slider to strike out Raul Ibanez.

Cut Ibanez some slack. He cannot do it all, even though it seems that he must. The Yanks are the last place they want to be – down, three games to none to the Tigers in the ALCS. Only once in the history of best-of-seven postseason baseball has a club overcome that deficit. The Yankees do not need to be reminded about that. They were on the other side of that equation in 2004 when the Red Sox ran off four straight victories to get to the World Series where they won four more in a row to end the Curse of the Bambino.

Although it must pain the Yankees to rely on something the Red Sox did for inspiration, that is the dilemma they find themselves in now. Having ace CC Sabathia on the mound for Game 4 Wednesday night is a plus, but, frankly, to this point pitching has not been the Yanks’ problem. They have a staff ERA of 3.10, which should not result in a record of 0-3.

Despite the ninth-inning rally Tuesday night, the Yankees’ offense remains anemic. Their only run in Game 3 came on a leadoff homer in the ninth off Verlander by Eduardo Nunez, who was not even on the Yankees’ original roster for the ALCS. He was added when Derek Jeter had to be removed because of a left ankle fracture sustained in the final inning of Game 1.

Nunez’s homer ended a scoreless streak of 20 innings for the Yankees, who have scored in only two of 30 innings in this series and have not had the lead in any one of them. They are hitting a collective .182 with a .291 slugging percentage in the ALCS.

A single by Mark Teixeira in a gritty at-bat and an opposite-field knock by Robinson Cano to halt a hitless string of 29 at-bats, the longest in franchise history in postseason play, kicked the Yankees in gear with two down in the ninth, but it was awfully late. Ibanez did not have another miracle in his bat.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi altered his lineup somewhat, but the results except for Nunez were not all that favorable. Brett Gardner, who played left field and batted leadoff, was 0-for-4 at the plate and failed to get a ball out of the infield. Eric Chavez, who started at third base over Alex Rodriguez, was 0-for-3 and made an error that led to an unearned run that was the difference in the game.

A-Rod was not only benched but also buried on it. He was not even called on to bat as a pinch hitter against the left-handed Coke. Girardi reasoned that had he summoned Rodriguez to hit for Ibanez the Tigers would have countered with righthander Joaquin Benoit. The manager preferred the Ibanez-vs.-Coke matchup than Rodriguez-vs.-Benoit.

That may not have been vintage Verlander out there, but the Yankees did no real damage against him. He had only three strikeouts but did not walk anyone. Verlander may have fallen out of his rhythm in the lengthy fourth and fifth innings when the Yankees made several pitching changes, but he did not cave in.

And still, due in large part to outstanding ensemble work by five relievers, the Yankees were in the game. Verlander would have been pitching with a more comfortable margin had the Tigers not stranded 10 base runners – six in scoring position – over the first six innings. It was another example of Yankees pitchers doing their jobs and Yankees hitters not doing theirs.

For all the success in the Yankees’ storied history of 27 World Series titles and 40 AL pennants, the ALCS loss in 2004 remains a deep wound that would finally be healed if they could pull the same trick. The task begins with Game 4. They should not think of anything else but that until a victory leads to Game 5…and Game 6…and Game 7. Lord knows the Yanks know it is possible.

Yanks must continue on without the Captain

The one sight no Yankees fan ever wants to see was the one remaining from Saturday night’s ALCS Game 1 loss to the Tigers. Derek Jeter was assisted off the field by manager Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue. It was not difficult to determine which loss was greater.

The Yanks’ extra-inning magic this postseason hit a snag as Detroit atoned for blowing a 4-0, ninth ninth-inning lead by winning, 6-4, in the 12th. That was also the inning when Jeter fell to the ground in pain while fielding a ground ball that became an infield single for Jhonny Peralta.

X-rays revealed a fractured left ankle, which knocks the game’s greatest postseason player from the postseason. It is a crushing blow for the Yankees, who had stirring moments Saturday night, all in the ninth inning when two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez (yes, that man again) off Tigers closer Jose Valverde evaporated a 4-0 deficit.

Jeter’s left foot has presented problems for several weeks. He has been playing with a bone bruise since mid-September, fouled a ball off another portion of the foot during the ALDS. Now this. There was no talk of surgery yet, but the prognosis with or without an operation is a three-month recovering period.

“Jeet has always been as tough a player as I’ve ever seen,” Girardi said. “And you know what he showed was toughness. I mean, even when we went to the field, and I was going to carry him in, he said, “No, do not carry me.’ He is going to play through injuries and everything. And you can see the disappointment in his face.”

Girardi had a flashback to when Mariano Rivera collapsed on the warning track in Kansas City back in May while shagging a fly ball that resulted in a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament that ended his season.

“It brought me back there,” Girardi said. “Oh, boy, if he is not getting up, something’s wrong. We have seen what he played through in the last month and a half and the pain he has been in and how he found a way to get it done. Just like Mo said, we have to move on. Some people left us for dead when Mo went down, and here we are in the ALCS. I’m said for him because I know how much he loves to play and play in these type of situations, but he would tell us, “Let’s go!”

How the Yankees will go remains to be seen. They will activate Eduardo Nunez to take Jeter’s ALCS roster spot, but Girardi did not say whether Nunez or Jayson Nix will play shortstop. It is likely that Suzuki would inherit the leadoff spot, but that is only speculation. Not to belittle the ability of Nunez or Nix, neither is anywhere near comparable to Jeter. Even when Mo got hurt, the Yankees could turn to someone like Rafael Soriano, who led the league in saves one year.

The truth is, there is simply no way to replace Derek Jeter. The Yankees will just have to figure out a way to overcome this loss the rest of the way.

Raul does it again in Yanks’ assault on Valverde

What I looked forward to the least in this American League Championship Series was having to watch Tigers closer Jose Valverde at work. This guy is torture. He takes forever to throw the ball and goes through all sorts of gyrations on the mound after saving a game. So it was deliriously delightful for me to watch the Yankees beat up on him in the ninth inning as he failed to protect a 4-0 lead in Game 1.

The Yankees looked absolutely dreadful for eight innings, leaving 11 runners on base, including the bases loaded three times. Pathetically anemic were the Yankees. But just as the Athletics had mounted a comeback against Valverde during the AL Division Series, the Yankees awoke from their offensive slumber and got even on a pair of two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez.

Russell Martin began the rally with a single. He took second on defensive indifference before Derek Jeter struck out. Suzuki got his first career postseason home run by pulling a low liner into the right field stands. Such homers are often known as rally killers because they clear the bases with a deficit still facing the team at bat. And when Robinson Cano struck out on high gas and Mark Teixeira fell behind 0-2 in the count, the Yankees appeared doomed.

I was thinking my usual thoughts about Teixeira in those situations – why not bunt when the defense is in an over-shift to the right side leaving most of the left side vulnerable? Even if Tex had hit a home run, it would not have tied the score. The Yankees needed a base runner at that time, and the Tigers were essentially conceding him first base.

Of course, once the count got to 0-2 that thought had to go out the window. Teixeira did the next best thing – he worked out a walk, which gave Ibanez, this year’s postseason batting hero for the Yankees, an opportunity to create more drama. And he came through again by driving a splitter that stayed up over the right field fence that brought the Yankees all the way back.

Yanks’ late rally falls short

Phil Hughes was working on a terrific streak of retiring batters hitting with runners in scoring position before Miguel Cabrera’s two-run double in the fifth inning knocked him out of Tuesday night’s game.

Opponents were hitless in 23 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position against Hughes over his past five starts. The Tigers’ two runs off Hughes in the fourth inning were on a home run by Cabrera and a double by Jhonny Peralta that scored Brennan Boesch from first base. The 22nd straight out Hughes got with a runner in scoring position was Alex Avila on a grounder to first that stranded Peralta.

All that ended in the fifth as Hughes struggled with a lofty pitch count. Singles by Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson gave the Tigers runners on first and third. Hughes made it 23 straight batters retired with runners in scoring position when Omar Infante lined out to shortstop Derek Jeter. But Cabrera followed with a liner into the left-field corner for a two-run double and a 4-2 Detroit lead.

That was all for Hughes, who toiled for 102 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. It was the briefest outing for Phil since he also went 4 1/3 innings June 20 at Yankee Stadium in a 10-5 loss to the Braves. He had previous success at Comerica Park (3-1 with a 1.93 ERA in four career starts), but not this time. Hughes did not walk a batter and struck out three but gave up eight hits.

Cabrera has been a thorn in the Yankees’ side over the years. In 38 career games against the Yanks, Cabrera is batting .370 with 10 doubles, one triple, 15 home runs and 37 RBI in 138 at-bats. This year, the Detroit third baseman is batting .355 with four doubles, five home runs and 11 RBI in 31 at-bats against the Yankees.

The Yankees came close to taking Hughes off the hook with a ninth-inning rally that eventually fell short as the Tigers held on for a 6-5 victory, their sixth in a row. The Yankees’ second loss in two nights at Detroit was their 12th in the past 18 games and eighth straight loss in one-run games.

It would have been a very satisfying finish if the Yankees had completed the comeback. There is no more annoying situation to watch in baseball than Jose Valverde closing out a game. He is the anti-Mariano Rivera, taking forever to deliver the ball and going through all sorts of gyrations. Why it is that umpires let him get away with all that stuff is beyond me to comprehend.

So to see him have to sweat through what should have been a cookie of a save was a pleasure. The key at-bat was a nine-pitch duel won by Raul Ibanez, who walked with two out to push Eric Chavez, who had singled with one out, into scoring position and bringing the potential tying run to the plate.

Ichiro Suzuki, whose run-scoring double in the seventh was his first hit with a runner in scoring position since joining the Yankees, got another clutch hit with a single to center to score Chavez. Russell Martin ripped a double to the wall in left to score Ibanez and make it a one-run game.

Third base coach Rob Thompson did the smart thing to stop Ichiro at third because left fielder Quintin Berry got to the ball quickly and returned it to the infield swiftly. Five years ago, a coach might have sent Ichiro but not now. Curtis Granderson had a chance to put the Yankees ahead but popped out and is now 0-for-10 in the series against his former team.

An eight-inning run the Tigers scored off Joba Chamberlain proved vital. It came on a two-out single by Dirks, Detroit’s 9-hole hitter who had three hits and two RBI.

The Yankees had 11 hits, but only one in 12 at-bats from the first third of the order – Granderson, Jeter (who got the hit) and Robinson Cano. Nick Swisher had two doubles and a single. Chavez, moved up to the 5-hole after a three-hit game Monday night, had two more hits, including his 11th home run. Suzuki had his first multi-hit game for the Yankees.

When Yanks don’t homer, they don’t win

For a while there Saturday night at Detroit, it appeared that the Yankees would win a game this year without hitting a home run. In fact, it was the element of base running that seemed to be in the Yankees’ favor. In the end, though, their lack of coming up with hits in critical situations had them looking at their 12th winless homerless game.

I know you are tired of reading this (no more than I am tired of writing it), but the Yankees’ troubles with runners in scoring position and with the bases loaded continued in the 4-3 loss. They left 12 runners on base – nine in scoring position. Nick Swisher’s two-out, RBI single in the eighth inning was the Yankees’ only hit in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position, which dropped their season average in clutch situations to .222.

In the ninth inning, Jose Valverde blew a save opportunity and seemed to be handing the Yanks the game in a bizarre performance. Valverde threw 29 pitches, only 13 of which were in the strike zone. He walked two batters, hit two and was lucky to get away with yielding only one run on a bases-loaded walk to Mark Teixeira. The Yankees were 0-for-2 with the bases loaded that inning and are now 9-for-57 (.158) in those spots for the season.

The Yankees used their legs to score. Robinson Cano alertly took third base on a single to center by Teixeira in the sixth and was able to score on an infield out by birthday boy Raul Ibanez, who turned 40. Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel bobbled a pepper shot by Ibanez in the eighth that cost him a shot at the lead runner as Teixeira went to second with two out. Swisher’s hit followed to tie the score.

Meanwhile, the Tigers hurt themselves on the bases. Prince Fielder, on second base with none out in the third inning, failed to advance to third on a grounder to his left and ended up getting stranded. Miguel Cabrera, also on second with none out an inning later, was thrown out at third foolishly trying to advance on a ball in the dirt that Yanks catcher Russell Martin retrieved quickly.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland probably absolved Cabrera since the third baseman hit two titanic home runs to center field, one off Hiroki Kuroda in the fourth and another off Cory Wade in the eighth. The closest the Yankees got to a home run was an opposite-field drive by Teixeira in the fourth that was gloved over the wall by left fielder Don Kelly.

A Yankees bullpen that has done yeoman’s work since the injuries to Mariano Rivera and David Robertson last month let this one get away. David Phelps gave up two singles and Boone Logan a sacrifice fly to Omir Santos that won it for Detroit the night before Justin Verlander will take the mound against Phil Hughes in the rubber game of the series.

A disturbing episode in Saturday night’s game was an exchange between Yankees manager Joe Girardi and plate umpire Bob Davidson. The skipper got the thumb right after Davidson tossed hitting coach Kevin Long for griping about a called strike to Curtis Granderson in the seventh. The Yankees’ brass seemed to have a point since replays indicated the pitch was low. It came in a critical at-bat with one out and runners on second and third and the Yankees trailing, 2-1. Granderson eventually struck out.

Girardi was ejected for the second time this season and 12th time as Yanks manager, so this was nothing new. However, I have rarely seen Girardi as ferocious as he was in the argument with Davidson, whose fuse seemed awfully short. It was decidedly a sign of frustration on Girardi’s part.

Saturday comeback falls short this time

When the Yankees fell behind to Detroit, 6-1, in the second inning Saturday, I thought back to the previous Saturday when they fell behind, 9-0, to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, a game in which they came back to win, 15-9. Could do they do something like that again?

Thanks to Tigers closer Jose Valverde, that human rain delay on the mound, the Yankees eventually made a game of it with three runs in the ninth inning before falling, 7-5. Those remaining in the Yankee Stadium crowd of 44,686 got one last chance to cheer when Eric Chavez lifted a fly ball to deep right field that died on the warning track.

As riveting as a comeback would have been for the Yankees, I must say it would have been an outright shame if Valverde had blown that game for rookie lefthander Drew Smyly, who earned his first major-league victory with six-plus crisp innings in which he allowed one run and two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. The Yankees were batting .292 against lefties before Saturday’s game but could not handle Smyly, who is the antithesis of Valverde in that he gets the ball back from the catcher and is ready to deliver the next pitch, a novel concept.

Nick Swisher opened the ninth with his second home run of the game and fifth of the season, a drive to left field. He had gotten the only hit off Smyly over the first six innings, a homer from the right side of the plate in the first. Nick’s 18th multi-homer game also marked the 11th time he has gone deep from both sides of the plate in the same game, tying him with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and Chili Davis for second place behind teammate Mark Teixeira, the record holder with 13.

Tex made the second out on a foul pop behind first base with Alex Rodriguez on second after a walk and defensive indifference. Curtis Granderson’s single to left on a two-strike pitch knocked in the second run of the inning, and Raul Ibanez got the Yanks to 7-5 with a double inside third. But Chavez couldn’t finish it off.

Granderson also homered in the seventh off lefthander Phil Coke. Since going hitless Opening Day, Grandy has reached base in 19 consecutive games. Derek Jeter also reached a milestone in the third inning with his 1,000th career walk.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was more preoccupied with Freddy Garcia’s dismal showing as he failed to get beyond the second inning for the second straight start and had his record fall to 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA.

“I didn’t have my pitches,” Garcia said after the game. “It is frustrating for me.”

For Girardi, too.

“I don’t see the crispness in his pitches,” the manager said. “It seems all his pitches are down a few ticks [in velocity]. This is not what we saw in spring training.”

Garcia struggled to get above 80 miles per hour on the radar gun and has no bite on his slider or split-fingered fastball. Girardi would not say whether Garcia will make his next start. David Phelps, who pitched three scoreless innings of relief, just may get a promotion to the rotation.

“He’s our long man in the bullpen,” Girardi said. “The long man is always a candidate to start.”

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.”

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.

A-Rod has role in winning rally

Sometimes it’s a scratch hit or a flare that can snap a player out of a slump and get him going on a hot streak. Maybe that’s what the chopper of an infield single in the ninth inning Monday night at Detroit was for Alex Rodriguez.

It has been tough sledding for A-Rod the past couple of weeks since he was sidelined briefly due to a strained left oblique. Rodriguez had five hits in 38 at-bats (.132) since the injury and had his batting average fall from .366 to .260 before his rally-extending single in the ninth that helped set up the tie-breaking hit by Nick Swisher.

It was just the kind of contribution A-Rod needed to feel a part of a Yankees victory, 5-3, that sent the Tigers to their seventh straight loss. Never one to take his at-bats into the field, Alex has been his usual superb self at third base. He has also been out for early hitting every day trying to find ways to work out of this recent slide.

Rodriguez said during the past homestand that he had become conscious of the oblique as he hit and in avoiding tweaking it again developed bad habits at the plate. His hit was on a high chopper that Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge failed to glove on a short hop and pushed Mark Teixeira, who had walked, to second base.

The single gave the Yankees renewed life in an inning that came close to ending before it began. Curtis Granderson, in his return to his former stomping grounds, led off the ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde with a walk in a 12-pitch at-bat in which the Yankees center fielder fouled off seven pitches.

Granderson further frustrated Valverde by stealing second base – almost. Grandy had it swiped, but he slid past the bag and was tagged out by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Teixeira’s four-pitch walk re-started the inning for the Yankees, and A-Rod’s hit kept the line moving.

Nick Swisher, batting in the 5-hole for injured Robinson Cano, unlocked a 3-3 score with a single to center. Texeira beat the throw to the plate from Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson as Rodriguez raced to third. A-Rod scored an insurance run on a passed ball by Alex Avila, who otherwise had a good night with a pair of opposite-field home runs off Bartolo Colon.

Colon continued the Yankees’ stretch of quality starting pitching despite squandering a 3-0 lead. He lasted seven innings, one more than opposing starter Justin Verlander, with an economic 97 pitches. Avila’s two homers were among seven hits off Colon, who did not walk a batter and struck out seven.

It was the third consecutive impressive start for the 2005 American League Cy Young Award winner who is on the comeback trail after missing all of the 2010 season. As a starter, Colon has a 2.49 ERA with 19 hits allowed, three walks and 20 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. He has become a major part of a rotation that over the past 14 games has pitched to a 2.54 ERA and a 7-2 record while the Yankees have gone 10-4.

Offense and roster dwindling

Man, it sure got quiet around here. The Yankees can’t seem to score, and now they are running out of players.

They avoided a second straight shutout because Tigers closer Jose Valverde walked the yard in the ninth inning and forced in the only run the Yankees have scored since Saturday. A sensational turn at second base by Carlos Guillen with Brett Gardner crashing into his left knee completed a double play on Derek Jeter to end a game that crawled along at 3 hours, 48 minutes.

The game didn’t lack for base runners. The Tigers stranded 12 and the Yankees 9. Detroit was only 1-for10 with runners in scoring position but scored three runs on two long balls, a two-run homer in the second by Ray Raburn and a solo shot by Miguel Cabrera (No. 28) in the ninth off Joba Chamberlain, who was scored upon for the first time in 10 outings.

The Yankees were hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position and are 11-for-72 (.153) in those situations over the past eight games. They are 6-9 in August and have fallen into a first-place tie in the American League East with the Rays, who upended the Rangers and Cliff Lee Monday night with a four-run eighth inning.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Yankees finished up the game with Francisco Cervelli playing third base. They were without Lance Berkman (sprained right ankle) from the start and along the way lost Alex Rodriguez (tight left calf) and Nick Swisher (bruised right bicep). The same might be said for starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, whose lifeless limb struggled to get fastballs anywhere near 90 mph and was lucky to have yielded merely two runs in his four laborious innings, his briefest start since May 1.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi got defensive after the game about Vazquez’s lack of velocity saying when he was winning games he was throwing 88 mph. Uh, not really. Vazquez in his winning starts was getting it up to 91 on a regular basis. The word being spread is that Javy is in a dead-arm period, which affects pitchers at some point during the season. Vazquez is 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA in his past four starts, but the Yankees managed to win two of them.

With the bats silent, the Yankees cannot afford to send a pitcher to the mound with worthless stuff. They may have to consider skipping Vazquez a start and going with Sergio Mitre, who pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief of Javy and allowed no runs and one hit.

Cervelli was pressed into duty at third base because Girardi needed Marcus Thames to pinch hit for Ramiro Pena, who had replaced A-Rod. Thames could have played third, of course, but we have seen that act before. How serious the injuries to A-Rod and Swish remain to be seen.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait to see Tuesday night’s lineup.

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