Comebacks were the story of the day in the MLB playoffs yesterday. The Oakland A’s were three outs from going home before they rallied to beat Detroit. The New York Yankees trailed in the ninth inning, before making what will surely be one of the most celebrated pinch-hit decisions in baseball history and then winning a 12-inning game over Baltimore. And the San Francisco Giants won their second straight elimination game on the road and forced a decisive fifth game in Cincinnati.
We’ll run down all four games from yesterday, including St. Louis’ win over Washington, and look ahead to another quartet today…
Oakland 4 Detroit 3: The worst-case scenario for Detroit finally materialized. They played a good game for eight innings, getting a solid five-plus from Max Scherzer, got a home run from Prince Fielder and had chipped their way to a 3-1 lead in the ninth. They were things you could pick some nits over—a scoring opportunity in the fourth went by the boards when Jhonny Peralta hit into a double play and a Fielder error set up Oakland’s lone run to that point, but the Tigers were—for the third straight game—getting good starting pitching from guy not named Verlander—and just enough offense.
But the Detroit bullpen has been problematic all year and for a high-save closer, Jose Valverde flirts with danger way too often. On Wednesday night he quickly gave up a single to Josh Reddick and consecutive doubles to Josh Donaldson and Seth Smith, tying the game before an out was recorded. Then when Valverde got the brink of escaping, the Coco Crisp beats him with a walk-off single.
Crisp is hitting .222 for the series, but he seems in the middle of everything, from key hits to start games and now a season-saving hit to end one. Now the miracle A’s are one win away—sure, it’s against Verlander, but do they really believe they can lose?
NY Yanks 3 Baltimore 2 (12): There was one out in the ninth and Joe Girardi was apparently less than inspired by Alex Rodriguez’ .083 series batting average as the $30 Million Man strode to the plate. Girardi rolled the dice and pinch-hit for A-Rod, sending Raul Ibanez to the plate. Strategically the move was a no-brainer. A-Rod was slumping, his power had been down all year, Ibanez had the lefty-righty matchup against Baltimore closer Jim Johnson and Ibanez was more than capable of reaching the short rightfield porch to tie the game.
Still, the odds in any single situation favor the pitcher in baseball if only because of the numbers. Was Girardi going to lose A-Rod and subject both to a sea of questions for no gain? The sea of questions are going to be in A-Rod’s future, but no one else will care, because Ibanez not only delivered the unlikely home run to tie the game, he homered again in the 12th to win it.
Neither team produced any kind of consistent offensive threats—the Orioles got their runs on the long ball from Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado, while the Yankees other run came on a two-out triple from Derek Jeter early on.
The Captain again made his mark on a key game with this hit, along with catching Baltimore’s Nate McLouth off the base after the latter stole second in the first inning. It was part of a tough night for McLouth who had what might have been the game-winning hit in 10th, but his bullet line drive was snared by Jeter, who doubled Robert Andino off of second.
My intense distaste for the Yankees, combined with four recent years living in Baltimore have given me a strong passion in this series even if I’m not an Oriole fan per se. This game was a tough one to swallow, but there’s no denying Ibanez’ heroics fall into that unique baseball category we call “Iconic October Moments.”
San Francisco 8 Cincinnati 3: The loss of Johnny Cueto came to roost yesterday for the Cincinnati Reds. Cueto’s back spasms have forced him off the postseason roster, not to return unless his team makes the World Series and just days after winning the first two games of this series out west, Cincinnati suddenly looks unlikely to survive today’s finale at home.
Mike Leake got the start for the injured Cueto and had nothing, as Angel Pagan demonstrated with a long home run to start the game. Gregor Blanco homered in the fourth, and the Cincy bullpen couldn’t hold down the fort when the game was still a competitive 5-3 in the seventh. Pablo Sandoval delivered the last of his three hits, a monster shot to center off Jose Arredondo to break the game open and send the normally polite folks from Cincy into a round of boos.
Barry Zito struggled for San Francisco, having giving up two runs by the third and Bruce Bochy showed no hesitation in pulling him. Not only was Bochy facing elimination, but he had Tim Lincecum available in relief and the former Cy Young Award winner came up with a quality 4.1 IP/1 ER line that enabled the Giants to gradually take control of the game before eventually breaking it open.
The poor city of Cincinnati once watched San Francisco rally late and take a Super Bowl from them back in 1988, when Joe Montana led a last-minute drive. Now they’re watching it unfold in baseball, as the good right arm of Matt Cain is the opponent tomorrow.
St. Louis 8 Washington 0: Throughout the MLB Network broadcast of this game, Bob Costas and Jim Kaat noted that the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg would be a big deal if Washington couldn’t win this series. Because as discussed here at TheSportsNotebook, it’s not the top of the rotation where Washington would be hurt—they still had Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, even if the latter did not pitch well. But now when the series got late, they were going to Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler, while the Cardinals had Chris Carpenter in the bag.
The game went as might be expected. Jackson looked like a veteran pitcher that’s serviceable in the regular season, but overmatched by a good lineup in the postseason as St. Louis lit up their old teammate quickly, grabbing a 4-0 lead that was keyed by a three-run shot by rookie shortstop Pete Kozma. As a team St. Louis had fourteen hits, five of them for extra bases.
Carpenter had some problems early, and was in and out of trouble, but Washington never got to him, as the postseason master did it again, working 5.2 IP of shutout ball and turning it over to the bullpen. Now the St. Louis rotation goes back to the top, with Kyle Lohse getting the ball and the Nationals forced to rely on talented, but inconsistent Ross Detwiler.
THE THURSDAY QUARTET
We could know the League Championship Series participants by the end of tonight, and we’ll for sure know at least two of them, as another day of all-day baseball awaits…
*A TBS tripleheader starts at 1 PM EST with the winner-take-all Game 5 in Cincinnati. While San Francisco has Cain ready, the Reds have Mat Latos ready to start on full rest and Dusty Baker will have the option of using Bronson Arroyo on three day’s rest for some middle relief duty if Latos has trouble, or if the game goes extra innings. Conversely, San Francisco realistically burnt up Lincecum yesterday. While San Francisco has the starting pitching edge, there are some bullpen factors that can break Cincy’s way today.
Up next is St. Louis-Washington where it’s Lohse-Detwiler. The Cardinals have scored 20 runs in the last two games and I can’t think of a reason they shouldn’t win today. If Washington does survive, they can go to Gio Gonzalez for tomorrow’s finale in a rematch of his Game 1 duel with Adam Wainwright.
Then it’s Baltimore-New York. The Orioles have shown an admirable ability to bounce back from adversity all year, including the loss of their best on-base percentage hitter in Nick Markakis. I don’t think emotional fallout will be an issue here.
What the Birds have to be plainly concerned about is that New York has been able to hit their closer, beating Johnson for both of their games. And they need to get into the Yankee bullpen quicker—Hiroki Kuroda worked eight-plus last night and a Yankee deficiency—lack of depth in relief, is not being exploited.
At 9:30 PM ET, Turner Broadcasting Network takes the baton and we head out west for the Oakland-Detroit finale, with A.J. Griffin facing Justin Verlander.
One thing to note—the Yankees and Cardinals are baseball’s two most decorated franchises, both recent appearances, but they haven’t gone head-to-head since 1964. It looked like they were set to play in 2004 when New York was three outs away from the pennant and had Mariano Rivera on the mound, but then Boston rallied and won that game, plus three more in the most epic comeback of playoff history, and it was they who would face the Cardinals (this is another edition of my repeated efforts, as a Red Sox fan, to insert them into the postseason discussion this year even when the relevance is almost non-existent).
Anyway, the point of all this is that both teams seem to have their paths opening up. New York not only goes from facing elimination to having a game in hand, plus Sabathia in reserve, but they also know that even if Detroit wins tonight, Verlander is burned up until Game 3 of the ALCS.
On the National League side, St. Louis first benefits from the most bizarre interpretation of the infield fly rule in baseball history, then faces a team that voluntarily shut down its ace and now will either face one team whose ace is injured (Cincinnati) or another whose ace won’t be available until Game 3 of the NLCS (SF).
Both the Yankees and Cardinals have to pick up another win over the next two nights before they can think about LCS matchups, but the pathway to a historic World Series matchup is there.