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.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 1
YANKEES 9, TIGERS 3
When managers and coaches get together with their pitchers to discuss a game plan to how to attack the hitters on the New York Yankees they all say “Do not let Robinson Cano beat you.”
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the Tiger pitching staff got a close-up view on why they say that about Cano on Saturday night.
Cano absolutely crushed two doubles as well as a majestic grand slam homer and drove in a franchise-tying record of six RBIs in a postseason game to back the strong “relief” pitching of Ivan Nova as the Yankees took the fight out the Tigers for a Game 1 victory in their American League Division Series.
Nova (1-0), meanwhile, picked up for CC Sabathia in third inning and only allowed two hits and three walks before faltering in the ninth inning. The rookie 24-year-old right-hander came into the game having won 12 consecutive decisions and had not lost a game since June 3.
The Yankees and Tigers played to a 1-1 tie on Friday before the game was suspended after an hour and 17 minute rain delay. So Game 1 resumed in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium with nary a drop of precipitation but a brisk was blowing in from right and the temperature dipped into the mid-50s.
However, the weather did not deter 50,940 fans from showing up to watch the completion of Game 1, the largest crowd to ever see a game at Yankee Stadium, old or new.
It was Cano and the Yankees who struck first off the Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister, who in a sense was coming in relief of likely American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
With none on and two out in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right field off Fister. Cano followed with a deep line-drive to left-center that either hit off the top of the wall, caromed off a fan and fell back onto the field for a home run or a double that hit the top of the wall and just spun back into play to score Granderson.
Crew chief Gerry Davis immediately took his umpires into the replay room off the third-base dugout and came out shortly signaling Cano had indeed hit a double. Although the Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead, Fister and the Tigers felt they were lucky to have just allowed a run in that situation.
However, luck turned into unmitigated disaster for Fister in the sixth inning.
Mark Teixeira greeted Fister with a first-pitch, opposite field double to left. One out later, Fister appeared content to pitch around Posada by walking him on a 3-2 pitch well out of the strike zone. Russell Martin then dribbled a slow grounder to Jhonny Peralta at short and Peralta’s only play was to first to retire Martin.
Fister then went after Brett Gardner to end the inning.
He immediately jumped ahead on the count 0-2. Fister then opted for a curve to finish Gardner off. But, instead, Fister hung the pitch and Gardner squirted a roller to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and on into centerfield to score Teixeira and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
That proved to the key at-bat of the game because Derek Jeter followed with a single to right-center to advance Gardner to third. Jeter later stole second and Fister ended up losing Granderson by walking him to load the bases.
Leyland opted to make a move to the bullpen, where he had left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Al Alburquerque warming. Most managers in this situation would bring in the lefty to face the left-hand hitting Cano. But Leyland must have made a wrong turn at Alburqueque because he did the opposite.
On Alburquerque’s second offering, Cano uncoiled his familiar picture-perfect swing and connected solidly and decisively. Despite a brisk breeze blowing in from right, Cano’s drive cut through the wind to land in the second deck of the right-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ slight 4-1 lead had turned into a decisive 8-1 margin.
Alburquerque had the entered the game coming off a season in which he was 6-1 with a 1.97 ERA. he had allowed only three inherited runners to score all season and he had not allowed a home run in the major leagues. Cano took care of all of that with just one beautiful swing.
But the big loser in this Alburquerque mess was Fister (0-1).
Despite pitching well early and escaping trouble, he was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He came into the game with an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA since the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. He also had not allowed more than a run in his last 55 innings during the regular season. The Yankees ended string that with six runs in the sixth.
The Yankees added a run in the eighth off lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. And as with all the runs the Yankees scored in this game, it came with two outs.
Jeter stroked a single and that same guy Cano laced a double over the head of Jackson in center for a double that scored Jeter easily. That gave Cano his sixth RBI of the night to tie him with Bobby Richardson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui for the franchise record for RBIs in a postseason game.
Nova, meanwhile, was able to escape some trouble of his own with a little help from his defense.
After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Nova walked Alex Avila on a 3-2 pitch. Raburn followed with an opposite-field single to right. Peralta then laced a line-drive single that fell just in front of Granderson in center. Avila got a slow read on the ball and, as he headed for home, Jeter took the relay throw from Gramderson and fired home to Martin. Martin caught the ball in the right-hand hitters’ batters box just as Avila lunged into him.
Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Avila out and the Yankees kept a big run for the Tigers off the board.
To open the sixth, Nova walked the only Tiger hitter with speed in Austin Jackson. Leyland figured it was time to send Jackson to second to get something started for the Tigers with then down 2-1. Jackson broke for second on a 1-2 pitch to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez hit the ball right to Cano, who was covering second waiting for a throw to nab Jackson. Cano merely scooped the grounder, stepped on second, avoided Jackson’s slide and flipped to first to double up Ordonez.
Nick Swisher then laid out to catch a liner to right off the bat of Delmon Young to end the inning.
However, Nova was unable to escape the ninth.
With one out, Young lined a ball of Nova’s backside for an infield single. Miguel Cabrera coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Victor Martinez singled sharply to right to load the bases.
Manager Joe Girardi, hoping to avoid using Mariano Rivera, selected right-hander Luis Ayala instead. Ayala was coming off a rough outing against the Rays on Thursday in which Boone Logan and he had combined to give up six runs to the Rays in the eighth inning with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead. That led to the Rays’ eventual 8-7 victory in 12 innings to allow the Rays to make the playoffs.
For Yankee fans it was almost deja vu all over again.
Ayala induced Avila to hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed a run to score. But he compounded the problem by giving up a single to left by Raburn that scored another run and Peralta followed with a bloop single to center reloaded the bases. Girardi mercifully pulled the plug on Ayala and Rivera was forced to come in as Ayala was showered with a chorus of Bronx jeers – well-earned, too.
Rivera came in to face former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit. But if any Tiger fans had gone to the kitchen for a bag a chips, they would have missed Rivera blowing three pitches past Betemit for the final out to give the Yankees an important 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Verlander unable to pitch again until Game 3.
It is funny how in a regular season in which the Yankees were plagued by 22 rain delays and nine postponements that forced so many doubleheaders and lost off days and yet the rain that fell on Friday actually worked so greatly to the Yankees’ benefit on Saturday.
Rain, rain, don’t go away.