I know I’ve seen this movie somewhere before. The Yankees are playing the Tigers in a five-game first-round playoff series. The Yankees win the first game in blowout fashion. Rain interferes with the schedule, changing Game 2 from a night game to a day game. The Yanks drop a close one at home in the second game — getting no-hit for five-plus innings — as the series shifts to Detroit. In Game 3, the Tigers’ starter has a masterful outing, and the Yankees find themselves one game away from elimination, with their least reliable starter set to take the hill to try to preserve the season.
I know I should walk out of the theater, but somehow I just can’t turn away from the inevitable trainwreck.
OK, so that’s a tad melodramatic, but holy heck was I hoping to never have to relive the 2006 ALDS ever again, and yet it’s recurring right before our very eyes.
The Yankees lost a tough one on Monday night by a score of 5-4, enabling the Tigers to take a commanding 2-1 lead in the 2011 ALDS, worsen Joe Girardi’s career ALDS record to 7-2 all time, and put the Yankees one loss away from their first ALDS series loss in four years. Including the regular season, the loss dropped the Yankees to 21-25 in one-run games in 2011. Additionally, while past results are in no way indicative of future performance, the Yankees now find themselves in a rather precarious hole, as teams that win an LDS Game 3 after splitting the first two games are 19-4 in those best-of-5 series.
Much will be made of home plate umpire Gerry Davis‘ strike zone — which truly was horrendous, as the Tigers received 12(!) called strikes out of the strike zone to the Yankees’ four, while the Yankees appeared to get squeezed on six strikes that were called balls to the Tigers’ one — but pitchers deal with inconsistent strike zones all season long, and it’s up to a pitcher to be able to make the appropriate adjustments. CC Sabathia certainly didn’t get any help from Davis, but six borderline calls shouldn’t be able to torpedo one’s outing, and Sabathia simply didn’t have it in a game his team sorely needed him to. Sabathia lasted just 5 1/3 innings — his second-shortest playoff start as a Yankee — striking out only three and allowing four runs on seven hits and six(!) walks. The six walks were more than he had in any regular season start this past season and his most since April 22, 2010 at Oakland.
Blowing a lead is something you just don’t see with Sabathia all that often — though he actually did it twice in his final six regular season starts — yet he was unable to hold the 2-0 lead the Yankees jumped out to against Detroit ace Justin Verlander in the first inning on a Derek Jeter single, Curtis Granderson triple and Alex Rodriguez‘s second RBI groundout of the series. Sabathia allowed Detroit to tie it in the third due in part to a leadoff double by number-nine hitter and proud owner of a 48 wRC+ in the 2011 regular season Brandon Inge and a single by light-hitting Ramon Santiago. Inge and Santiago teamed up again in the fifth for a single and double to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Following the completion of the 5th, CC had clearly labored to get through those five innings, and many expected Joe Girardi to go to his very well-rested bullpen for the 6th. Unfortunately Girardi had other ideas, and let Sabathia go out to start the 6th. A Don Kelly bunt single and Johnny Peralta double later and the Tigers doubled their lead.
Not that a two-run deficit was insurmountable. Even with Justin Verlander absolutely dealing — and make no mistake, even with what appeared to be a generous zone Verlander was absolutely ridiculous (check out this velocity chart!!!), routinely dialing it up to 100mph as late as the eighth inning, averaging 97mph on the heater, and getting a total of 18(!) swinging strikes out of his 120 pitches — the Yankees still managed to tie things up in the top of the 7th on an absolutely huge two-out, two-strike two-run Brett Gardner double. Who would’ve thought that Brett Gardner would — by far — have the best WPA among Yankees in this series? Verlander ultimately struck out 11 over eight innings of four-run ball, and it’s actually pretty amazing to think that the Yankees scored the four runs they did against Verlander given how overpowering he was in this game. Even Robinson Cano looked completely lost at the plate against Verlander.
Unfortunately the good feelings generated by Gardner’s unlikely hit didn’t even last half an inning, as Randy Levine’s $12 million reliever came on and gave up the go-ahead solo shot to Delmon Young of all people. A second before Rafael Soriano delivered his first pitch of the 7th, TBS’s John Smoltz mentioned something about being careful with Young as the entire world knows he’s the hacktastic-est hacker on earth, and sure enough, Soriano gave Delmon a cookie right down the middle on the very first pitch of the at-bat. It didn’t even look like it was going out off the bat — it was almost a carbon copy of both Young’s opposite field home run in Game 1 and Miguel Cabrera‘s oppo job in Game 2 — and yet there it went, clearing the fence.
The Yankees had two swings of their own in the 8th and 9th — one by Curtis Granderson and one by Russell Martin — that looked gone to me off the bat, and yet they died on the warning track in Don Kelly’s glove. For whatever reason the Yankees just cannot hit the ball out at Comerica, as they have two home runs in their last nine games at Detroit’s home ballpark going back to the beginning of 2010.
The Yankees once again threatened to make it interesting against Jose Valverde in the 9th, putting two baserunners on, but Derek Jeter struck out swinging in the ninth with at least one runner on for the second straight game, this time ending it. Derek’s had a strange series — though he he has four hits and four runs scored, he’s also left nine men on base over the last two games, and only has one hit with a man on base.
Additionally, perennial postseason whipping boys Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher continued to tarnish their reputations, with the former batting .091 in this series and the latter .182. And while many will point to Alex Rodriguez’s .000 batting average, he did manage to work a walk against Verlander and has also played some terrific third base. Oh, and RISP Fail has reared its ugly head again, as the Yankees have combined to go 1 for their last 12 with runners in scoring position. Of course, given how successfully Detroit has held the Yankees’ righthanded hitters at bay, I suppose that number isn’t terribly surprising.
And so the Yankees’ season is officially on the line, and only A.J. Burnett and some well-timed hits can save it. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Tigers are throwing a hurler who was almost as frustrating for their fans to watch this season as A.J. was, and so hopefully the Yankees can put an end to this waking nightmare that has been 2006 ALDS redux and get this series back to New York for a decisive Game 5.
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