GAME 1: KEY MOMENT
When pitchers get into jams they have to think about how they are going to get out of them. Doug Fister of the Tigers was no different on Saturday as he pitched the sixth inning.
With the Yankees leading 2-1, Mark Teixeira had opened the frame with opposite-field double off the left-field wall. Fister’s job at that point was to retire Nick Swisher without allowing Teixiera to move up to third base.
Fister struck out Swisher looking on a two-seam fastball that hit the outside corner. One out. For Fister it was mission accomplished.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones then came to the mound to talk to Fister. With first base open, it would not be a bad idea to walk Posada and go after Russell Martin, who just so happened to lead the Yankees by hitting into 19 double plays this season. But Fister could try to induce Posada to hit a pitch out of the strike zone so he did not need to walk him intentionally.
Posada worked the count on Fister to 3-2. Fister then delivered a change-up to the outside corner and in the dirt. Posada hardly twitched and took first base.
“OK,” Fister must have said to himself, “I have Martin up and all I need is him to roll over on a two-seam fastball and I am out of this mess.”
Martin took the first two-seam fastball for a ball. But he did exactly what Fister wanted with the second two-seamer. He hit over it and it bounced to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. There was only one problem: Martin hit it so badly that it rolled slowly to Peralta and his only play was to throw to first to retire Martin.
Meanwhile, Teixeira reached third and Posada moved to second. But, Fister still feels it is OK.
“There are two outs and no runs have scored,” Fister thinks. “All I need to do is get the No. 9 hitter (Brett Gardner)”
Fister knows that Gardner is not a power hitter. He knows that Gardner has not hit well for Yankees of late. He also knows Gardner has struck 93 times this season, the fifth most on the Yankees.
Fister decides to go after Gardner aggressively, knowing if he walks him he brings up Derek Jeter with the bases loaded.
The 28-year-old right-hander uncoils and throws a four-seam fastball right at the top of the strike zone that home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo calls a strike. Fister then opts for a two-seamer away just in case Gardner swings. If Gardner swings it likely will be an infield grounder to third and he will be thrown out.
But Gardner holds the bat and watches the pitch fall right into catcher Alex Avila’s glove for called strike two.
Now Fister has not allowed a run, two are on but two are out and Gardner is in a big 0-2 hole. “This is great. Just one pitch and I am out of this and I will keep us in the game,” Fister thinks.
He gets the sign from Avila for a curveball. If it runs too high, it is just ball one. If it drops too low, same thing. If Gardner does not swing and it drops over the plate, its strike three and the inning is over.
However, a funny thing happened to all of Fister’s plans and all of his thinking and calculations about escaping this inning unscathed.
He hung the curveball.
It gets worse, too.
Gardner recognized the pitch and swung. Ball met bat and ball rolled through the Yankee Stadium infield grass past Fister and to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and rolled slowly to centerfielder Austin Jackson. But by the time Jackson reached the ball and threw it back in, Teixeira touched home and Posada came trotting in after him.
The Yankees had increased their lead to 4-1.
Fister stayed in the game and gave up a single to Jeter than moved Gardner to third. Curtis Granderson coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Fister was taken out of the game and replaced by Al Alburquerque with Robinson Cano coming up.
We all know how that worked out. Cano swings and the Yankees put up four more runs and go on to win the game 9-3.
But Gardner’s hit on a hanging 0-2 curve with two out and two on of Fister was the key play of Game 1.