In perhaps the most unanticipated turn of events in a year full of them, with the Yankees’ season on the line A.J. Burnett pitched better than anyone could have reasonably expected, going 5 2/3 innings and giving up just one run to the Detroit Tigers, leading the Yankees to a 10-1 blowout victory, picking up his first postseason win since Game 2 of the 2009 World Series and forcing a winner-takes-all Game 5 showdown for the Yankees and Tigers back in the Bronx on Thursday night to decide who gets to meet the Rangers in the 2011 American League Championship Series.
After the Yankees went down against Rick Porcello 1-2-3 in the top of the first, things started about as horribly as one could’ve dreaded for Burnett in the bottom half, as he walked the unwalkable Austin Jackson to lead the inning off, got two quick outs, but then intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera and walked Victor Martinez to load the bases. Don Kelly came to the plate with the bases juiced and ripped a 1-0 fastball to center field that Curtis Granderson initially got a bad read on but leapt backwards for and made an amazing, possibly game-saving catch. It was one of two utterly absurd defensive plays Curtis made in the game, the second coming to end the 6th, as Jhonny Peralta immediately jumped all over a Rafael Soriano offering, hitting a tailing fly out to left-center that Granderson covered a ridiculous amount of distance to get to and make a full-body extension in what may have been the Yankees’ most jaw-droppingly awesome defensive play of the season (see photo above).
The Yankees got on the board first in the 3rd, as a Derek Jeter double — which wound up being the biggest WPA play of the game — plated a Jorge Posada hit-by-pitch and Russell Martin single to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Still, it was way early and didn’t feel like anywhere near enough with Burnett on the hill. Sure enough, an inning later Victor Martinez led off with a solo blast to right, halving the Bombers’ lead. But to A.J.’s credit, he didn’t fall apart, pitching around a one-out Jhonny Peralta double and striking Alex Avila and Wilson Betemit out swinging — two of his three Ks on the night.
The Yankees picked up two huge insurance runs in the fifth on a Curtis Granderson (who would almost certainly be the MVP of this series if there was such an honor for the DS) RBI double — knocking in Brett Gardner, who picked up two more hits and is now hitting .385 on the series — and an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. Alex hit the sac fly on an 0-2 two-seamer, and it represented his third RBI of the series without a hit.
Alex finally got in the hit column in the Yankees’ blow-it-open 8th inning, as he and fellow ALDS slumpers Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher each picked up singles to start the frame against old friend Phil Coke. The Detroit bullpen completely collapsed thereafter, as an Al Alburquerque balk to Jesus Montero — getting his first career postseason at-bat pinch-hitting for Jorge Posada — forced the Yankees’ fifth run in, and Montero subsequently picked up his first career postseason hit and RBI with a single past Betemit. A Gardner single, Daniel Schlereth wild pitch and Robinson Cano single later, and the Yankees wound up putting a six spot on the board to blow the game open and jump out to a commanding 10-1 lead.
Oh, remember that Peralta double in the fifth? That ended up being the Tigers’ final baserunner of the night, as the Yankee bullpen of Rafael Soriano, Phil Hughes (throwing 95mph!) and Boone Logan collaborated for 3 1/3 perfect innings.
While finding a nit on a 10-1 game is ludicrous, one curiosity I feel compelled to point out is that the Yankees’ bizarre home run drought at Comerica continued, and they now have just one home run in their last 10 games at Detroit. That has to be the team’s lowest total by far in a “last-10-game” sample of every road ballpark in the AL. Of the Yankees’ 14 hits, only three went for extra bases, and the Yankees have now gone 18 innings without hitting a home run. I think it’s safe to say the Bombers are due for some taters come Thursday.
For as tense as this game was through the first five innings, ultimately it couldn’t have gone any better for the Yankees. But perhaps the best aspect of the season-saving win was that it finally put the 2006 ALDS Redux to bed, as this time the Yankees managed to win a postseason game at Comerica Park and force the series to go the distance. The last time the Yankees played a decisive Game 5 in the ALDS was 2005, but the Game 4 win that forced the fifth game in that series was at home, and the Yankees had to fly back to Anaheim only to see their season come to an end due in large part (-.226 WPA) to a miscommunication between center fielder Bubba Crosby and right fielder Gary Sheffield (shudder). My, how far the team’s outfield defense has come.
At this point, all bets are off as we get a Game 1 rematch of Ivan Nova against Doug Fister in Game 5 on Thursday, but if you’re a believer in things like momentum — and even if you’re not — it’s hard not to like the Yankees to finish the job heading back to Yankee Stadium, where they had the best home record in the AL.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees