The Rangers couldn’t have drawn it up any better. In the team’s previous 49 seasons, it had made the postseason only three times, and lost each series to the New York Yankees. After dispatching the Rays to win their first ALDS, the Rangers then exacted revenge on the hated Yankees, who had turned them away so often in the past. What’s more, the last out of the ALCS was a called third strike against Alex Rodriguez, the player who had come to symbolize the Rangers’ fall from contender to pretender in the previous decade. Even better, on the mound was Neftali Feliz, who along with Elvis Andrus was acquired in the trade of Mark Teixeira. While Andrus and Feliz jumped on top of the celebratory pile, Teixeira sat injured on the Yankees’ bench. Like good cowboys, the Rangers had tied up all the loose ends.
To say that the Rangers thoroughly outplayed the Yankees is a Texas-sized understatement. In fact, if not for a few curious pitching changes by Ron Washington in game one, the Rangers could have easily swept the series. And yet, the Yankees were still locked up in a 1-1 tie, only four innings from forcing a game seven.
Mismatch: ALCS Comparison
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Before the series started, I questioned Joe Girardi’s decision to have Phil Hughes start games two and six instead of the veteran Andy Pettitte, and tonight was exactly the reason why. Instead of heading into an elimination game with the battle tested Pettitte, the Yankees had to rely on the inexperienced Hughes, whose confidence had to be shaken after turning in one of the worst starts in ALCS history. From the first batter, Hughes exhibited the same lack of command that felled him in the second game. However, after giving up a first inning run, he settled down enough to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard over the next three innings, giving the Yankees a chance to see if they could finally figure out Colby Lewis, who kept the team hitless over the first four innings.
One of the biggest reasons why the Yankees offense struggled so much in the series was because Alex Rodriguez could never get started. So, when Arod led off the fifth inning with a booming double in the gap, there was reason for optimism. However, it was only fleeting. In fact, the way the Yankees tied the score in that inning turned out to mean more than the run itself.
After moving to third on a long fly ball from Lance Berkman, the Yankees finally got on the board when a HBP to Nick Swisher was incorrectly ruled a wild pitch. Normally, a more confident Yankees offense would have considered itself deprived of a base runner, but neither Swisher nor Girardi made a case for taking first base. In fact, it was the Rangers who vehemently protested the call. As things turned out, both sides were correct in their arguments because the Yankees really never threatened again.
After allowing an infield single to start the bottom of the fifth, Hughes retired the next two batters, but then faced the imposing figure of Josh Hamilton with a runner on third. Just like in game four, Girardi was faced with a starter at the end of his rope in a game-defining situation. Unfortunately, he also made the exact same mistakes. After once again resorting to an intentional walk, Girardi then left Hughes in for one batter too many (just as he did with AJ Burnett). Instead of immediately going to his best relievers, Girardi allowed Hughes to give up a two run double to Vladimir Guerrero before summoning the struggling David Robertson. Sure enough, Robertson surrendered a two run blast to Nelson Cruz and the horses were out of the barn. Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera did eventually finish off the final three innings by only allowing one run (on one hit), but by that point, it was too late.
The Yankees at bats over the final three innings were so poor, that it almost seemed as if they had already accepted their fate. Colby Lewis breezed through his final three innings, punctuating his performance by striking out the side in the eighth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the series, Lewis ended the ALCS at 2-0 with 1.98 ERA, and could just have easily earned the MVP award that went to Josh Hamilton.
The last batter faced by Lewis was Derek Jeter, who waved feebly through an outside fastball to end the night at 0-4. Although the ninth inning remained, Jeter’s weak swing served perfectly as both the symbolic end to the season as well as the signaling of the end of an era dominated by the Yankee Captain. Jeter is likely to remain with the team, but how the two sides come together, as well as the role he will play going forward, is sure to be the story of the offseason.
There will be plenty of time to conduct a post mortem on the 2010 Yankees and determine the best ways to move forward in 2011, but the immediate impression is kind of an empty one. There really is no shame in losing a postseason series, or even in failing to make it to October, but to me, 2010 will always be defined by the half-hearted, Machiavellian approach that the organization took in September. After the regular season played out, it was hard to reconnect in October, which could very well be what happened to the players as well. As a result, 2010 will instead be remembered more for who was lost off the field than any game that was won or lost on it, and perhaps that is most fitting.