The New York Yankees got a good outing from Andy Pettite. The Detroit Tigers got a disastrous showing from Jose Valverde out of the bullpen. That should have added up to a Yankee win, but instead Detroit wins a 6-4 game in 12 innings, Derek Jeter is done for the year and media types in New York are already talking about a Tiger sweep. Let’s start by saying that’s getting a little carried away and review Game 1 of the American League Championship Series last night in the Bronx…
*The Yankee problems with hitting with men on base continue in a big way. Three times in the first six innings, New York loaded the bases and three times they came up empty. Alex Rodriguez was one of the culprits, and he was later pinch-hit for again. Curtis Granderson was a big culprit, striking out when a ball in play would have scored a run. Granderson again failed to deliver with two outs and a man aboard in the eighth.
*Both starting pitchers were sharp. Pettite, as mentioned, was solid working into the seventh and giving up just two runs. Doug Fister was even better for Detroit, also going into the seventh and leaving with a 2-0 lead that turned into a 4-zip cushion.
*It was after the 2009 season that New York traded three players to Detroit to get Granderson. The big piece was Austin Jackson. The Tiger centerfielder had two hits and a fantastic running catch in the eighth. Another piece was lefty reliever Phil Coke who got three key outs after Fister’s departure. Undoubtedly that doesn’t help New York fans appreciate Granderson’s struggles at all.
*Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder didn’t leave their marks all over this game, but they did combine to go 3-for-10 with two walks. For the short term, I’m sure the Yankees will live with that, so long as this duo doesn’t beat them deep. For the long-term, the fact the Detroit stars keep in the flow of the offense increases their chances of doing just that.
*In that same light, Mark Teixeira continues to quietly pepper singles and draw walks in the MLB playoffs. He singled and walked twice last night. Again, New York isn’t paying him $20 million a year to set the table, but as long as he continues to swing the bat well you have to respect that some of these balls might start be driven in the air.
*Now let’s get to Jose Valverde. In the bottom of the ninth Detroit led 4-0 and was in complete control of the game. Valverde promptly gave up a two-run shot to Ichiro Suzuki—who had a four-hit night, and then with two outs the incredible postseason story of Raul Ibanez continued. He hit a game-tying two-run shot that seemed to make an eventual Yankee victory all but certain.
This is more than just the second blown save for Valverde. It’s the second straight catastrophic meltdown, following Game 4 of the Division Series against Oakland. And it’s more than just another clutch home run for Raul Ibanez—between last night and his heroics against Baltimore, Ibanez is the best run of big-game hitting since David Ortiz did it for Boston in 2004.
*But a ninth-inning that seemed destined to be a part of Yankee lore ended up in the worst possible way—yes, New York loses the game as David Phelps fails in his second straight postseason outing (he also lost a 13-inning marathon against Baltimore in Game 4). But Jeter broke his ankle and his done for the year. There’s not a lot to say about the implications other than the obvious—this is really bad for New York. In addition to Jeter’s October reputation there’s also the reality he was one of the few New York hitters actually producing this postseason.
*So is it all set up for a Detroit sweep, as ESPN.com’s Wallace Matthews indicates? New York pitches Hiroki Kuroda in Game 2 late this afternoon and he’s going on short rest. Then it’s Justin Verlander for Detroit in Game 3. And if the Tigers get up 3-0, who knows how the Yankees react, even with C.C. Sabathia on the mound. I think that’s really pushing it.
The biggest reason is Valverde. He’s a complete disaster right now for Detroit and Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning isn’t much better—Benoit only escaped because of two very loud outs, including Jackson’s defensive masterpiece. The two are so bad that if New York trails by a run after seven innings they should feel like they’re in the lead.
Detroit is certainly in control, having gotten one of the two non-Verlander wins they’ll need. The loss of Jeter can’t be overstated, but for the short-term that might be a motivational lift for other players. Maybe Jeter’s injury will go down in Detroit sports lore the way Magic Johnson’s pulled hamstring set the stage for the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals. But for now, the Tigers’ shakiness at the end of games mean taking nothing for granted.