The closers for Texas and Detroit, Neftali Feliz and Jose Valverde, saw to it that things were interesting, but in the end both of them successfully closed out wins against the powers of the AL East and put Tampa and New York respectively on the brink. The Rangers and Tigers can lock up trips to the ALCS today, while the Rays and Yanks hope to force decisive Game 5s on Thursday.
In the first half of the season when Derek Jeter was in his terrible slump that had a lot of us quite reasonably convinced that The Captain was at the end of the line, last night was the game that rattled around the back of your mind. Would he step up and deliver the one heartbreaking hit in October. And as the Yanks trailed the Tigers 5-4 with two men on in the ninth, everything was set for a classic Jeter cue shot to right to tie the game. This time he struck out. Jeter is still having a good series, with two hits last night, but the Tigers have kept the A-Rod/Teixiera combo in the middle under wraps and that’s why they’ve won the last two.
Detroit found the unsung hero in Ramon Santiago who had two big hits, along with Delmon Young who hit what proved to be the game-winning home run in the seventh. As for the heralded Sabathia-Verlander pitching battle, the Yankee ace didn’t have his good stuff, but managed to battle his way through 5.1 IP and prevent Detroit from blowing the game open. Verlander was dominant, but the Yanks made the most of the couple narrow windows they did hit him and turned those into four runs. I would imagine both aces will be available for relief duty if a Game 5 on Thursday is in our future.
Another veteran with renown for hitting in the clutch is Tampa’s Johnny Damon and when he faced Texas lefty Mike Gonzalez in the eighth with two on in a 4-3 game, I was convinced were about to watch an 11-pitch at-bat where Damon eventually gutted the Rangers’ hearts with game-tying base hit. Like Jeter though, Damon struck out and Texas held on. While Mike Napoli hit the two-run shot that put Texas on the board in the seventh for the first time and Tampa’s Desmond Jennings hit two longballs, one thing that stands out is that Josh Hamilton came through where Evan Longoria did not. Hamilton had two hits, including a two-out two-RBI single in the seventh that followed Napoli’s hit and opened Texas’ lead to 4-1. Longoria struck out three times. And as good as David Price was yesterday, throwing six shutout innings before everything got away in the seventh, he’s now lost three straight postseason starts to Texas, while Ranger counterpart Colby Lewis has now won four straight in the American League playoffs over two years.
A grand slam of baseball is on tap today and it starts at 2 PM ET where Texas tries to clinch. They sent Matt Harrison, while Tampa lets the season ride on Jeremy Hellickson. Then at 5 PM ET the pivotal third game of St. Louis-Philadelphia goes down with Cole Hamels against Jaime Garcia, a game that’s got to have a lot of folks in Philly on edge. At 8:30 is the Detroit-New York, as Yankee fans hope A.J. Burnett can extend their season. Before they succumb to despair, remember that Rick Porcello is pitching for Detroit, so even if A.J. implodes, the Yankee bats could save them. Those three games are on TBS and then TNT picks up the action from Arizona at 9:30 ET when the Brewers visit the Diamondbacks, with Milwaukee looking to close it out with a sweep. We could know three of the teams who will play for the pennants starting this weekend by the wee hours of the morning out East.
Check back tonight for some football talk, as we look at Wisconsin’s national title chances and the upside down NFC East where the Redskins are flying while the Eagles founder.