To ride a horse is to ride the sky.
– Author Unknown
GAME 5 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 1
The New York Yankees entered the postseason with one unquestioned ace. The Baltimore Orioles entered the postseason saying that their best pitcher was the pitcher scheduled to pitch that day. Unfortunately for the Orioles, not having that one horse you can ride throughout the postseason proved to be the difference in this series.
CC Sabathia pitched his first career postseason complete game and he struck out a personal postseason best nine batters on Friday to lead New York to an ALDS-clinching victory in Game 5 over upstart Baltimore in front of a raucous paid crowd of 47,081 at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory, the American League East-champion Yankees will advance to the American League Championship Series and host the American League Central-champion Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Sabathia (2-0) gave up one run on four hits and two walks and threw 78 of his 121 pitches for strikes to run his ALDS record with the Yankees to 5-0 and he remains undefeated in his last eight postseason starts. In addition, he ran his career record against the Orioles, including his two postseason victories in the series, to 18-4.
The game unfolded as yet another pitchers’ duel between Sabathia and Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel (0-1), who also squared off in Game 1 of the series.
Both pitchers retired the first nine batters they faced until Nate McLouth slapped an opposite-field single to left off Sabathia to open the fourth inning.
Hammel, however, extended his perfect streak through four innings until Mark Teixeira opened the fifth with a single over the Orioles’ overshift into right-field. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to make the Orioles pay for not bothering to hold Teixeira on first base, as they have done through the entire series.
Teixeira stole second after swiping only two bases in the regular season and not stealing any in his career in postseason play. Teixeira then scored the first run of the game on a single up the middle by Game 3 hero Raul Ibanez.
Yankee fans got a bit of a pre-Halloween scare with two out in the sixth when McLouth hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled a foul ball. The Orioles protested the call but the umpires upheld the original call of foul after a brief video review indicated the ball clearly traveled in front of the foul pole as it landed in the second deck. Sabathia then struck out McLouth to end the inning.
Hammel ran into more problems in the sixth when he issued a one-out walk to Derek Jeter and Jeter scored a line-drive double off the 385-foot marker in right-center by Ichiro Suzuki.
Two batters later, Hammel was removed from the game by Orioles manager Buck Showalter after yielding two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees padded their lead in the seventh inning when Curtis Granderson, who entered Game 5 of the series 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts, blasted a solo home run down the line in right into the second deck off Orioles left-hander Troy Patton.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Sabathia began the eighth inning having pitched a dominant one-hitter and he issued a lone walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth inning.
But Yankee fans had to bite their nails when Sabathia gave up a leadoff single to Wieters and a walk to Manny Machado. After Sabathia fanned Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford slapped a single into left to score Wieters and break up Sabathia’s shutout.
Sabathia then induced Robert Andino to hit a weak comebacker to Sabathia’s right of the mound. However, Sabathia threw to second too late to get a sliding Ford in what was scored a single.
With the crowd nervous for the first time all afternoon, Sabathia wriggled out of the inning by striking out McLouth and getting J.J. Hardy on a slow hopper to Jeter at short.
With his ace having thrown 29 pitches in the eighth and 111 pitches overall, Girardi – who bravely elected to bench Alex Rodriguez for this game in favor of Eric Chavez – opted to have Sabathia finish out the contest.
Girardi was determined to ride his big horse to the end.
It took Sabathia only 11 pitches to get Adam Jones on a routine fly to center, Chris Davis on a swinging strikeout and Wieters on a comebacker to himself. Sabathia trotted three strides towards first base and easily flipped the ball to Teixeira to put the final nail in the coffin to the Orioles’ improbable playoff run.
Over the course of the season, the Yankees defeated the Orioles in 12 of 23 games and outscored them by four runs. In this series, they were 3-2 and outscored the Birds 16-10.
By virtue of having the best record in the American League, the Yankees will have home-field advantage in the best-of-seven ALCS. It will be the team’s 15th appearance in the championship series and their first since the 2010 season.
- Though the Yankees blew a chance to begin the ALCS with Sabathia on the mound when they lost Thursday, the ace left-hander bailed them out with a truly dominant outing. In his two games in the series, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA. He gave up just three runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out 16 in 17 2/3 innings. In what definitely was a pitchers’ series, Sabathia was clearly the Most Valuable Player.
- Ibanez came through with another crucial hit in the series to drive in the game’s first run. Though he only received nine at-bats in the series, Ibanez had four hits, including a game-tying and game-winning homer, and three RBIs. In benching, Rodriguez, who was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts, Ibanez was placed in the No. 5 spot in the order and he came through again.
- Granderson probably deserved to be benched as much as A-Rod, but he was 2-for-3 with a home run in the game. After a regular season in which Granderson led the team in home runs and RBIs, he was conspicuous in his struggles through the first four games of the series. Now he has something positive going for him leading up the ALCS.
I could mention the awful hitting of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Rodriguez and Granderson. But you can say the same about Jones, Wieters, Reynolds and Hardy of the Orioles. This was a pitchers’ series and both teams staffs held the other team down for long stretches. The difference was the Orioles did not have anyone who could match the brilliance of Sabathia.
It is not often that a three-time A.L. MVP and the highest-priced player on the payroll is benched for the deciding game of a postseason series, but Girardi informed Rodriguez via text message at about 1 p.m. EDT that he would not be starting Game 5. A-Rod replied, “I will be ready of you need me.” Rodriguez had been pinch-hit for in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series. He did not play in Game 5. Chavez played third batted and batted ninth. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain was unavailable for Friday’s game due to a swollen and bruised right elbow he sustained when he was struck by a piece of a shattered bat in the 12th inning of Thursday’s game. His status for the ALCS is unclear and he is listed as day-to-day.
After the Yankees were bounced out the 2011 ALDS in five games by the Tigers last season, the Yankees will be looking a measure of revenge in 2012. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Yankees will start left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-1, 3.86), who gave up three runs in seven innings of a tough-luck 3-2 loss to the Orioles in Game 2 on Monday. In 23 career starts against the Tigers, Pettitte is 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA. But he is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his seven starts at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Doug Fister (0-0, 2.57 ERA). Fister gave up two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings in Game 2 in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Fister is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA lifetime against the Yankees. Although Fister won the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees last season, he was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA against them in the series.
Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.
ALDS – GAME 5 PREVIEW
I don’t pretend to know everything about baseball but when it comes down to a crucial Game 5, I would much rather have a pitcher going who has not lost a game since June 3.
That is what the New York Yankees having going for them in their showdown with the Detroit Tigers at Yankees Stadium on Thursday night.
Ivan Nova, 24, was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA this season and he also won Game 1 of this series 9-3 with 6 1/3 innings of solid relief of CC Sabathia. His last loss came against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA on June 3. His last loss at Yankee Stadium came on May 12 to the Kansas City Royals.
Another thing in Nova’s favor is that he comes into the game without showing any sign of nerves. Nova also showed the Yankees something last season in his first major-league start last August.
In a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Nova surrendered a home run to Jose Bautista in the first inning. When Bautista came up for his second at-bat, Nova decked him with a fastball up and in. Bautista took exception and Nova challenged him to come out to the mound to do something about it.
The Yankees knew then they had a pitcher who was relaxed on the big stage and who also had a competitive nature.
Nova was very disappointed when the Yankees decided to send him to the minors when Phil Hughes returned from the disabled list in July. Nova, after all, was 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA. But the Yankees rotation was full of productive veterans like Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett. Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild just told him to go down to Triple-A, work his slider and force the Yankees to keep him on the roster when he returned.
Nova did all that and then some.
He returned to the Yankees on July 30 and won the second game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium and he did not lose in any of his last 10 starts. He was 8-0 with a 3.30 ERA.
The numbers merely reflected what Girardi and Rothschild could see: Nova was a far better pitcher then he was before. The biggest difference was his slider. Instead of just spinning up to the plate it was dropping sharply. Hitters were getting fooled and Nova finally had a pitch that could keep hitters off his 94-mile-per-hour fastball.
Here is a couple more facts that might sober Tiger fans. Nova, according to Girardi, did not have his best stuff on Saturday when he shut out the Tigers for 6 1/3 innings. (Luis Ayala allowed two of Nova’s runners to score after Nova was removed.) Nova has had an uncanny knack of being able to adjust when he does not have a his best stuff. That is very unusual for a rookie.
In addition, Nova over the span of his brief career had never surrendered a lead he has been given as a starter. How many pitchers can make that claim?
The Tigers, meanwhile, are touting 27-year-old Doug Fister, Nova’s mound opponent.
Fister was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA with the Seattle Mariners when he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Tigers. In the Motor City he has racked up an impressive 8-1 record with a 1.97 ERA, easily one of the best trades made this season.
However, before Fister went on that 8-1 streak, his last start was against the Yankees on July 26 in Yankee Stadium and he lost that game. His next appearance in the Bronx was on Saturday in relief of Justin Verlander in Game 1. He lost that game also.
The most telling part of that start on Saturday was Fister’s meltdown the third time through the batting order.
The first nine batters Fister faced were 2-for-9 (.222) with four strikeouts. The next nine batters were 3-for-9 (.333) and scored a run. Fister then faced only six more batters and four of them reached and the Yankees scored two more runs. He was removed from the game, Al Alburquerque came in to pitch to Robinson Cano with the bases loaded and we all know what happened after that.
Another point: Much has been made of the fact that the Yankees have not hit well in the series. I am not understanding what series those pundits are watching. The Yankees have outscored the Tigers 26-14 in the series. They are hitting .272 as a team. The Tigers are hitting .188.
The Tigers won two games in this series because Verlander and Scherzer pitched well and the Tigers held on to hold off late Yankee rallies. They will need a similar effort from Fister tonight. However, even if Fister does pitch better than he did on Saturday, the Tigers are going to have to wake up their bats against Nova.
I am not sure that is going to happen.
Another point lost on Tuesday night amid the parade of seven hits the Yankees collected in the eighth inning against the Tigers were that two of them came from Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was hitless in his first 12 at-bats with three walks and a sacrifice fly to deep center on Tuesday just before he put up those two hits.
If the Yankees were hitting well and scoring runs without Rodriguez contributing much, how will they do if he finds his power stroke tonight?
If Fister thinks he can feast off the bottom of the Yankees’ batting order to get outs, he better think again. No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner is 5-for-13 (.385) with five RBIs. In contrast, Tiger MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is hitting .250 with a home run and three RBIs. However, all of those hits and RBIs came in Game 2. He has been held hitless in the other three contests.
The Yankee crowd also will play a big part, too. There will likely be a record crowd on hand tonight and their noise and energy will very much impact the game. Yankees fans are so smart they know when not to interfere with a ball in play as they did in Game 1 on Robinson Cano’s double. They also can impact an umpire and how a game is called.
There is a reason the Yankees fought through a 162-game schedule and it was to get home-field advantage. This is it.
The Bronx will be rocking and loud tonight and I love the Yankees’ chances to advance to the American League Championship Series. They seem to have the Tiger by the tail.