Coming from behind has long been a Yankees’ hallmark. In the regular season, the team recorded a major’s best 48 comebacks, and then in the ALDS added two more for good measure. Overcoming a five run deficit with only three innings to play, well, that’s another matter altogether. In fact, in their history of 356 postseason games, the Yankees had come back from a deficit of at least five runs in only two (Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS and Game 4 of the 1996 World Series), and in each of those games the deficit was narrowed before the seventh inning.
Just as he did in the ALDS opener, C.C. Sabathia struggled with his command early in the ballgame. Sabathia’s inability to throw strikes and an inconsistent strike zone by homeplate umpire Jerry Davis conspired to set the Rangers up with a first and third rally only two batters into the game. By the end of the third batter, the Rangers would have a 3-0 lead, thanks to a laser homerun by Josh Hamilton, who deposited a hanging 0-2 slider over the wall in right.
The Yankees were lucky to escape the opening frame down only three runs because Sabathia never seemed to get it together. In fact, if not for a fortuitous bounce on a wild pitch with the bases loaded, Sabathia might not have made it out of the first inning. As things turned out, Sabathia’s “wild pitch” turned out to be his best of the inning when the ball ricocheted back to Jorge Posada. The Yankees’ catcher then underhand flipped the ball to a charging Sabathia, who made a sliding tag on the arm of Nelson Cruz to end the tumultuous inning.
Even though CJ Wilson seemed to be on his game from the first batter, the 3-0 deficit was far from daunting. Over the next few innings, Sabathia flirted with regaining his command and the Yankees mounted two first and second rallies, each of which came up short. Still, it seemed as if the Rangers had forfeited a chance to send the Yankees ace to an early shower and allowed the dangerous Bronx Bombers to remain at arm’s length. In the bottom of the fourth, however, they finally dropped the hammer.
After getting two outs in the fourth, Sabathia surrendered a single to Elvis Andrus and then a two run double to Michael Young before recovering to strikeout Hamilton to end the inning. Now down 5-0, the Yankees backs finally seemed to be against the wall, and the night of their big lefty was done after only four innings for the first time all season.
When the Yankees’ postseason roster was first announced, there was some consternation about the presence of both Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre. The counter to that angst went something like, “well, if either one is pitching in a game, it’s probably lost anyway”. Sure enough, after a scoreless fifth from the long lost Joba Chamberlain, Moseley entered the game in the sixth with the Yankees still trailing by five runs. Game over? Not quite.
Moseley’s two innings of work were nothing less than brilliant. Six batters were faced and four went down on strikes. In a close game, such a performance would have been much heralded, but in a lopsided contest, it seemed like garbage time window dressing, especially with Wilson still going strong. However, as the Yankees have proven countless times in October, things are not always as they seem.
Although there are several deserving candidates, for many, the race for the AL MVP has boiled down to Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano. In the bottom of the first, Hamilton made a compelling case for why he means so much to his team, but the later rounds were all Robinson Cano. The Yankees’ second baseman got the team on the board for the first time in the seventh, when he lined a Wilson changeup just inside the right field foul pole. The blast seemed innocent enough with the Rangers’ still holding a four run lead, especially after Wilson retired the next three batters with relative ease. The Yankees’ MVP would be heard from again, however, and by the end of his ext at bat, all innocence would be lost.
Speaking of innocence, that’s exactly how the eighth inning started. Brett Gardner rolled over on a pitch and hit what looked like a sure 3-1 ground out. Wilson was late covering the bag, however, and the speedy Gardner slid safely into first, sacrificing his hand to the spikes of the sprinting pitcher. Although just a single, the hustle play appeared to quickly shift the momentum. Seizing on the opportunity, Derek Jeter immediately slammed a double past Michael Young, who was inexplicably playing on the infield grass, and the Yankees deficit had now been cut to three.
In the buildup to the series, much had been written and said about Nolan Ryan’s philosophy of having his pitchers’ throw deeper into games. During the broadcast, Ron Darling made exactly that point. In reality, however, that has really been more of a myth, and never was that more evident than in how Ron Washington handled the rest of the eighth inning.
Even though Wilson had only thrown 104 pitches up until the Jeter double, Washington opted to play the dangerous game of bullpen roulette. Unfortunately for the Rangers’ manager, there was a bullet in every chamber. Darren Oliver was summoned first, but all he did was add fuel to the fire, walking both Swisher and Teixeira to load the bases. Next in was Darren O’Day, but his evening lasted only one pitch as Alex Rodriguez lined a bullet past Young to score two more runs. The assembly line then spit out Clay Rapada, but his night was just as short. After giving up a line drive up the middle to Cano on the first pitch, the Yankees had come all the way back to tie the game and sent Washington back to the mound for Derek Holland. Although Holland lasted longer than a pitch, the Yankees completed the comeback when Marcus Thames lined a soft single to left that plated Arod with the go ahead run. Five runs, five pitchers, one inning.
The obvious second guess of Washington was why he decided to lift Wilson with only 104 pitches. A seething Nolan Ryan, who was seated prominently in the stands, was probably asking that very same question. Having said that, the Rangers bullpen has been a strength, and both Oliver and O’Day have been a big part of that. What defies explanation, however, was the use of Rapada and Holland, even though the latter did pitch relatively well. In the postgame press conference, Washington explained that he had faith in his bullpen, but he ultimately placed it in the wrong relievers. Instead of using Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando, who combined to give up one run in 22 2/3 innings over the final month of the season, Washington went with the struggling O’Day (six runs in nine September innings) and untested Rapada (only nine innings in 2010). The Yankees certainly deserve credit for the comeback, but the bullpen management of Washington was a big help.
Key Rangers’ Relievers, September Performance
|Neftali Feliz||1||0||0.00||12||7||12 1/3||3||0||0||2||12|
|Alexi Ogando||1||0||0.87||14||0||10 1/3||10||1||0||1||7|
|Darren Oliver||0||0||1.86||10||0||9 2/3||10||2||1||1||6|
|Darren O’Day||2||0||5.79||11||0||9 1/3||8||6||4||2||9|
Now staked to a lead, Girardi went with his “eighth inning” guy, but the early returns looked as if they might be no better. Kerry Wood, who was wild in his last appearance in the ALDS, walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches and then fell behind David Murphy 2-1. Perhaps he was trying to steal, or get a good jump on the hit and run, but regardless, Kinsler left for second too soon and fell victim to a pickoff attempt. In their previous series against the Rays, the Rangers were lauded for their aggressive (and borderline reckless) base running, but with Wood about to unravel, that philosophy proved to be Wood’s salvation.
The Yankees squandered a chance to plate an insurance run in the ninth when Swisher followed another Jeter double with an ill advised bunt, but the Rangers returned the favor when they had Andrus give away an out with a sacrifice bunt in the bottom half of the inning. Of course, with Mariano Rivera on the mound, what choice did the Rangers have? Both Young and Hamilton had a crack at the tying run, but Rivera once again displayed the Yankees ultimate postseason advantage by recording a strikeout and weak grounder to end the game and preserve one of the greatest comebacks in the Yankees’ long post season history.
With the victory, the Yankees have now increased their postseason winning streak over the Rangers to a franchise record 10 games (one better than their streak over the just defeated Minnesota Twins). What’s more, the Rangers are no 0-7 in home playoff games. In other words, history seems to be working against Texas, which should only feed discussion of the psychological impact of yesterday’s turn of events. Of course, all of that is meaningless if the Rangers rebound to win game two. What is certain, however, is that the Rangers won’t feel safe again in this series until the final out is recorded.
Yankees vs. Rangers, Postseason History