YANKEES 4, TIGERS 3
The New York Yankees might have arrived in Detroit to face a red-hot Tigers team but the Tigers certainly did not count on having to face an equally red-hot Eric Chavez.
Chavez, who entered the game hitting .538 in the series, followed Mark Teixeira’s game-tying home run with one out in the eighth inning off Joaquin Benoit with a game-winning solo blast of his own as New York turned what was a 3-2 deficit into a victory that tied the four-game series with Detroit.
There was no one happier about the result than manager Joe Girardi, who was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning after the Tigers took the lead 3-2 on a controversial call by third-base umpire Tim Welke.
Clay Rapada (3-0) retired the two batters he faced in relief of starter Hiroki Kuroda in the seventh inning to earn the victory. Rafael Soriano got the final out of the eighth and had to complete a Houdini act in the ninth to escape a jam with runners at first and third with no outs to record his 27th save.
For the Tigers, the game was bitter disappointment but for the Yankees its was blessed vindication.
Kuroda and the Yankees were sailing in the bottom of the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead on the strength of a two-out RBI double by Raul Ibanez and an RBI single by Ichiro Suzuki off Tigers starter Doug Fister in the second inning.
However, Jhonny Peralta led off the frame with a double to the wall in center-field and Alex Avila followed it by smacking a 3-2 fastball into the seats in right-field to tie up the game. Later that same inning, with two out and Quintin Berry on first, Andy Dirks lofted an opposite-field dying quail down the left-field line that landed on the chalk and rolled into foul territory.
As the ball hit the grass, Welke clearly raised both arms to indicate the ball was foul. But he then reversed the call and pointed the ball was fair with his right arm. Ibanez running into foul territory from left-field then allowed the ball to get past him for a double and Berry scored the tie-breaking run.
Girardi immediately disputed Welke’s call, claiming the original call affected Ibanez’s play on the ball and allowed a run to score. Girardi wanted lodge a formal protest of the game but was told by crew chief Bob Davidson that a protest could not be made on a judgment call. Welke later ejected Girardi and Girardi left the field at Comerica Park raising both arms and pointing right and then left to mock Welke’s incorrect call to the delight of the crowd.
The game remained 3-2 until Benoit was summoned to pitch the eighth for the Tigers.
With one out, Benoit fell behind in the count to Teixeira 2-0 and his next pitch came right down the middle. Teixeira launched it so fast that if you blinked you would have missed it landing just over the wall along the right-field line for his 21st home run of the season.
Before the Tigers fans among the 40,490 in attendance had a chance to restart their hearts, Chavez broke them by connecting on Benoit’s next offering with a lined shot to the opposite field in left for his 12th home run of the season and his second of the series.
Of the last 12 hits Benoit (1 -3) has given up this season, 10 have been home runs.
The Yankees then turned the game over to the bullpen. David Phelps pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning and Soriano ended the eighth by surviving a long blast to right by Peralta that Suzuki chased down in right.
In the ninth, Avila opened the frame with a carbon-copy of Dirks’ dying quail double in the fifth. Welke clearly signaled this ball fair and Ibanez had no trouble picking it up. Gerald Laird was sent in to pinch-run for Avila.
Omar Infante then lined the next pitch for a single to right to advance Laird to third.
But Soriano retired Ramon Santiago on a soft line drive to Robinson Cano at second, Berry popped up weakly to Derek Jeter in shallow left and Dirks finally managed to run out of magic fairy dust and flied out to shallow center to end the contest.
The Yankees’ victory, combined with a loss by the Baltimore Orioles, extended the Yankees’ lead in the American League East to 5 1/2 games. Their record is now 65-46. The Tigers fell to 60-52.
- As I wrote yesterday, Alex who? Chavez has done more than made up for the loss of Alex Rodriguez in the lineup with both his bat and Gold Glove. Chavez finished the series 9-for-16 (.563) with two home runs, two doubles, six runs scored and five RBIs. Ironically, Girardi was going rest Chavez on Thursday but Chavez convinced Girardi he was fine to play. So Chavez was inserted into the lineup. Smart move, Joe.
- Teixeira’s home run was his first since July 28 against the Red Sox. After going 0-for-4 in the series opener, Teixeira was 5-for-12 (.417) and drove in three runs in the next three games. Teixeira leads the team in RBIs with 75 and he is third on the team in home runs behind Cano and Granderson.
- After having his 12-game hitting streak stopped by the Justin Verlander in the opener, Suzuki was 4-for-12 (.333), including two hits on Thursday, and he drove in four runs in the last three games.
- Girardi switched Nick Swisher and Granderson in the batting order on Wednesday and it worked out great. Swisher reached base in five of six at-bats and Granderson was 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs. It did not work so well on Thursday. They combined to go 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. They were the only two Yankees starters who did not get a hit.
- Girardi elected to use Swisher as the designated hitter, which moved Suzuki from left-field to right and Ibanez was inserted into left. It’s too bad because there is a good chance Suzuki would have been able to play Dirks’ double without it getting past him. But Girardi does have to rest his veterans sometimes. It just seems the ball finds the replacements too often.
- Jeter singled to lead off the fifth inning and was started with a 3-2 count on Swisher. But Swisher fanned and Jeter stopped between first and second and was tagged out trying to get back to first. The Yankees had a boatload of runners caught stealing in this series.
The Yankees will take their balls and bats and head to Toronto to open a weekend series with the reeling Blue Jays.
Right-hander Freddy Garcia (5-5, 5.00 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees.Garcia allowed two runs over five innings on Sunday in a victory over the Seattle Mariners. He is 7-8 with a 6.02 ERA in 18 career starts against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Ricky Romero (8-8, 5.47 ERA). Romero surrendered just one run on three hits and four walks in seven innings on Sunday in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics. Romero is 3-5 with a 5.37 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, TIGERS 6
Sometimes you win games with clutch hits that are placed perfectly to score a run. Sometimes you win games with heroic catches to save games. Then there are times you just are patient enough to watch a young relief pitcher unravel in front of 41,200 fans at Yankee Stadium.
The latter happened to Tigers reliever Brayan Villarreal – with some help from catcher Alex Avila – on Friday and it cost him and his team a victory against the Yankees on Friday.
Villarreal (0-1) uncorked a pitch in the 10th inning that hit off the glove of Avila for a passed ball and allowed Derek Jeter to score the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees rallied to hand the Tigers their seventh loss in their last eight games.
The Yankees had just tied the game in the eighth inning off reliever Joaquin Benoit on a single by Alex Rodriguez, a single by Robinson Cano that advanced Rodriguez to third and a sac fly to deep center by Mark Teixeira.
Mariano Rivera (1-0) then needed only 11 pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the ninth to set the stage for the Yankees rally off the 24-year-old right-hander in the bottom of the inning.
After one out, Jeter drew a walk and he advanced to third on a Villarreal wild pitch on what was ball four to Curtis Granderson. Villarreal dug himself an even larger hole by throwing the first two pitches out of the strike zone to Rodriguez.
His third pitch also veered outside, hit off Avila’s glove and rolled to the wall behind home plate. Jeter started back to third initially but then raced home and knocked the ball out of Villarreal’s glove as he slid in safely with the winning run.
In what was thought would be a pitcher’s duel between reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova was anything but a duel as the game unfolded.
Nova surrendered six runs on 11 hits and three walks and struck out five in 5 /13 innings. However, because the Yankees rallied to tie the game after he left, Nova keeps alive his 15-game winning streak dating back to June 2011. He is just a game behind the team record set by Roger Clemens.
Verlander was victimized by a solo home run by Rodriguez in the fourth and a two-run blast by Russell Martin in the fifth. He ended up giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and struck out four in six innings.
Yankee Stadium remains the only A.L. park in which he has not won a game.
With the victory the Yankees improve to 11-8. The Tigers fall to 10-10.
- It was nice to see Rodriguez begin to swing the bat well for a change. He came into the contest hitting .221. But he was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in the game. He stroked an opposite-field single to drive in Granderson in the first inning to give the Yankees a short-lived 1-0 lead. In the fourth he hit career homer No. 633 to the bleachers in right-center to bring the Yankees to within a run at 3-2. He then just missed hitting a second home run to center off Verlander in the fifth that would have given the Yankees a 5-3 lead. He later started the eighth-inning rally with a leadoff single and scored the tying run.
- It was also nice to see Martin hit a two-run homer off Verlander that gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead after five innings. Martin is the only Yankee regular hitting under .200. He came into the game hitting .182 with one home run and four RBIs. With one swing he doubled his home run total and plated half of his previous RBI total.
- The bullpen, once again, saved the Yankees in a huge way. After Nova left in the fifth, Cory Wade, David Robertson and Rivera combined to shut out the Tigers on a hit, a walk and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings. Shaky starting pitching continues to put the bullpen to the test and they keep doing the job.
- Nova entered the top of the sixth with a 4-3 lead and promptly gave it right back to the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta opened the frame with a single to left and Ryan Raburn followed with a single to right-center. Austin Jackson, who was 4-for-5 on the night, then smacked a two-run double to the wall to score Peralta and Raburn. After one out, Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally and Boone Logan was summoned to retire Cecil Fielder. But Fielder slapped his second opposite-field RBi single to left and the Yankees fell into a 6-4 hole. Nova was very lucky the Yankees rallied to tie the game up and later won it.
- I have said this before and it bears repeating: Raul Ibanez has no business playing the outfield at age 39. That became obvious in the second inning when Brad Eldred, who was just called up from Triple-A Toledo on Friday, followed a leadoff walk to Don Kelly with a pop fly to left that Ibanez played into a triple that scored Kelly and tie the game a 1-1. It is situations like this that make the Yankees appreciate the Gold Glove-quality defense they receive from Brett Gardner.
- Logan was one member of the bullpen who did not enjoy a good night. He was called upon in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, trailing the game 5-4. Logan had to face Fielder and Kelly, a pair of lefties. Fielder singled in a run and Logan walked Kelly on a 3-2 pitch. He exited the game without retiring either lefty.
Manager Joe Girardi was ejected from the game in the bottom of the seventh inning by home-plate umpire Joe West after Martin was rung up a 1-2 Octavio Dotel pitch that replays showed was clearly outside. Girardi was not upset the pitch was called a strike. What really upset him was that a number of similar outside corner pitches from the Yankees’ pitchers were NOT called strikes. This has been an ongoing problem with West throughout his entire career. Because he has been in the game so long, West believes in his heart that those fans in the stands who fork out $150 a ticket come to see him call balls and strikes. Should you even get the thought into your head about questioning his ever-changing strike zone, he runs you out of the game with a hair-trigger temper. But I loved what the gutless fat slob did after Girardi showed him that the third strike Martin took was in the left-handed batter’s box. While Girardi’s back was turned and he was heading back to the dugout West said something. That is what cowards do when they know they are wrong. Thanks, Bud Selig, for giving us baseball fans the umpiring equivalent of Napoleon. Heck, Joe, try umpiring with your right hand tucked in your shirt. You stink! You need to retire now. The act, like you, is getting old.
The Tigers played the game without starting left fielder Delmon Young, who was arrested early Friday morning by New York City police for an alleged assault of man in front of a downtown hotel. He will be charged with aggravated harassment and it could be escalated to a hate crime, according to a police spokesman. Young remains in custody and he is awaiting arraignment. A detective told the Detroit Free Press that some “anti-Semetic remarks” were made during the incident. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle this considering they never punished Cabrera, their best player, for a pair of DUI charges. . . . Jeter had his 15-game hitting streak stopped on Friday. Though he was 0-for-4 starting the ninth, Jeter drew a walk and later scored the game-winning run. That is how good it has been going for Jeter. He helps win the game without getting a hit. . . . Andy Pettitte will make his next scheduled start for Double-A Trenton on Monday against the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine. Pettitte, 39, is expected to throw 90 to 95 pitches. Pettitte is on track to return to the major leagues in mid-May.
The three-game series with the Tigers continues on Saturday.
For fans planning to attend the game, I suggest you arrive early enough to see Freddy Garcia start the game for the Yankees. You may not see him for long after that. Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) has not pitched six innings in any of his previous three starts and only lasted 1 2/3 innings against Boston last Saturday. Fortunately, the Yankees rallied from a 9-0 deficit and beat up on Bosox 15-9. He is 18-8 with a 3.88 ERA against the Tigers over the past 10 seasons.
The Tigers will counter with rookie left-hander Drew Smyly (0-0, 1.13 ERA), who has allowed two runs or less in his first three starts. He held the Rangers to one run on five hits and two walks on Sunday but ended up with his third no-decision. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES PREVIEW
DETROT TIGERS (95-67) vs. NEW YORK YANKEES (97-65)
The 2011 Yankees lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname. They hit more bombs than any team in baseball. But, they also led the major leagues in stolen bases. That is a tough combination to beat because it has happened so rarely. That is why the Tigers have to be worried. You shut down the longball and the Yankees steal bases and score runs on base hits. You shut down the running game and sooner or later someone will hit a home run.The Yankees boast two American League MVP candidates in Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. They also have the third-best home run hitter in the league in Mark Teixeira. You add Alex Rodriguez, wounded or not, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada and you have a veteran lineup that is used to making starters work and not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Then you have table-setters like Granderson, Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner, who can get on base and create havoc on the basepaths with their feet.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are a reflection of their two best hitters: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They are not a speed team at all. They play station-to-station baseball and look for the extra-base hit or home run. Cabrera hit .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. Martinez, the DH, hit .330 with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs. They set the tone for the Tigers’ offense. In addition, they have rookie catcher Alex Avila and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who combined for 40 home runs and 168 RBIs. The Tigers even added former Ray and Twin outfielder Delmon Young to the mix. What speed there is lies with leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, who stole 22 bases. No one else is even in double figures. Manager Jim Leyland plays platoons at the other three spots to match up against opposing pitchers. This is very similar to the offenses of the Minnesota Twins the Yankees have destroyed in recent playoff series.
EDGE: You have to give this to the Yankees because of their combination of power and speed. They did not lead the league in runs scored for nothing. Detroit’s station-to-station philosophy plays right into the Yankees’ hands. Teams that run on them have had more success.
The Yankees will open the playoffs with a three-man rotation of CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA). Sabathia is expected to pitch Game 4 no matter what happens and Nova will get the ball in Game 5. The Yankees are 8-1 in Sabathia’s postseason starts and Sabathia is 5-1 in those starts. Sabathia is 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA against the Tigers in his career. This season he was 0-1 with a no-decision victory on Opening Day and an ERA of 4.15. Nova will be making his first postseason appearances and starts in this series. He has not lost a decision since he lost to the Los Angels Angels on June 3. Since then he is 12-0 in his 16 starts. He has never started against the Tigers but he did make his major-league debut against them on May 13, 2010 with two innings of scoreless relief. Garcia earned his start because 16 of his 25 starts were quality starts. Garcia also has postseason experience. He won three games with the White Sox in 2005 to help lead them to a championship. Garcia is 18-8 with a 3.88 in his career against the Tigers. This season he was 0-1 in his only start against Detroit. He gave up four runs on 10 hits in seven innings on May 4 at Comerica Park.
The Tigers plan to start Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, in that order, to open the series. They have not announced a Game 4 starter, but Leyland has said Verlander will not pitch in that game. He will start Game 5, if necessary. Verlander (24-5, 2.70 ERA) is likely going to be a unanimous choice for the A.L. Cy Young Award and also a potential MVP. It was easily his best season. It was his first 20-game season and the first time he recorded a sub-3.00 ERA. He is 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA against the Yankees in his career. This season Verlander was 0-0 in his two starts against the Yankees and in both games the Yankees rallied late to win. Fister (11-13, 2.83 ERA) was a midseason acquisition from Seattle and he paid big dividends. He was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his 10 starts for the Tigers. He was 3-12 with the punchless Mariners. He is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees. He lost his only start against the Yankees this season on July 26 at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Mariners, giving up three runs in seven innings. Sabathia struck out 14 and won the game 4-1. Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 ERA) has very good stuff as his 207 strikeouts attest. But he has been hit hard, too. He has had success against the Yankees. He is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA. He was 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA this season. He won on April 3 in New York despite giving up six runs. The Tigers took advantage of Phil Hughes pitching with a weak shoulder. Om May 4 at Comerica Park, Scherzer shut out the Yankees over eight innings, fanning nine batters.
EDGE: The Tigers have an edge but it is not as big as you would think. Verlander has not beaten the Yankees this season and he really has struggled at Yankee Stadium. Game 1 is not a lock for the Tigers. Nova has been doubted all season and the Yankees have had success against Fister. The Tigers’ biggest edge may be Game 3 with Scherzer pitching. I will take Sabathia over anyone the Tigers can find to pitch against the Yankees in Game 4.
This was the best bullpen in baseball. They recorded the best ERA in baseball by a margin of a half-run. Think about that. The Yankees are more than just Mariano Rivera and his 602 career saves and his 44 saves and his 1.91 ERA at age 41. The Yankees lost key relievers like Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano to injuries early and found out just how great David Robertson was. Robertson led all major-league relievers in ERA with 1.08 and he struck out 100 batters in on;y 66 2/3 innings. He also made the A.L. All-Star team. Last season’s A.L. saves leader Soriano returned from right elbow inflammation and pitched very well down the stretch. He is content now to pitch the seventh inning. That means the Yankees have reduced the game to six innings. You get to their starters or you lose. The Yankees also have lefty Boone Logan (3.46 ERA) and right-handers Cory Wade (2.04 ERA) and Luis Ayala (2.08 ERA). The Yankees have also placed starters A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in the bullpen for this series. Hughes was the key setup man to Rivera in the 2009 championship season so he knows how to pitch quality relief.
A.L. saves leader and resident 100% beef hot dog Jose Valverde heads up a pretty decent bullpen. Valverde did not blow a save this season, which is hanging up there like a tempting pinata for the Yankees in this series. The Tigers’ setup man is Joaquin Benoit , who was not as good as he was with the Rays in 2010 but he still had 47 holds. They also have rookie right-hander Al Alburquerque (6-1, 1.97 ERA). They have a pair of lefties in Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke. Both have ERAs over 4.00, however. The Tigers also will have underachieving righty Ryan Perry and reserve starters Rick Porcello and Brad Penny to use. This bullpen has some quality in it but it also has a soft underbelly that can be exploited by a team with a good offense like the Yankees.
EDGE: The Yankees clearly have the superior bullpen and it is a huge edge going into this series. The Yankees’ pen shortens the game to six innings and the Tigers merely get it to seven. That is a big difference when you are talking a short series like this. Look for the Yankees to attack pitchers like Perry and Schlereth in this series.
Due to injuries and manager Joe Girardi resting his payers down the stretch, the Yankee bench has played extensively this season. Infield reserve Eduardo Nunez started for Jeter and Rodriguez when they were hurt this season and hit very well. Nunez can play second, short or third. But he is an error waiting to happen as a fielder. Eric Chavez, 33, meanwhile is a former Gold Glove winner at third and he provides a veteran lefty power hitter off the bench. He also could start if Rodriguez is unable to play because of his thumb or knee injuries. Outfield reserve Andruw Jones is actually the platoon leftfielder against left-handed pitching and he can also DH and play rightfield. He provides power against lefties. Jorge Posada may be at the end of his career at age 40, but he still can hit from the left side, as he will in this series. Backup catcher Jesus Montero will likely not see any action as a catcher and will play a limited role since the Yankees do not want to pinch-hit him and lose Martin to injury. But when he gets his chance, Montero, 21, can be a valuable bat off the bench with his incredible power. He hit four home runs in 61 at-bats in September. The Yankees also chose to keep Chris Dickerson as outfield reserve. Dickerson will likely be a late-inning replacement for Nick Swisher in rightfield. He also provides another left-handed bat off the bench and he can be used as a pinch-runner late in a game.
The Tigers platoon a lot in the outfield and at the middle infield spots so their bench has been extensively as well. The reserves include backup catcher Omir Santos, veteran outfielder Magglio Ordonez, former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit and young outfielder Andy Dirks. Manager Jim Leyland is not afraid to use his bench and he is good at putting them in spots in which they succeed. There is not a whole lot of power or speed here. These guys, much like the Tiger starters, just try to get on and wait to be driven in.
EDGE: The Yankees have a much deeper bench. How many teams have two former Gold Glove winners and a former All-Star catcher on the bench? These players have also played a lot this season and are ready to go for the postseason. Where the Tigers bench lacks speed and power, the Yankees are loaded with it on their bench.
The Tigers won the season series 4-3 but these teams last played on May 5 in Detroit. That was an awful long time ago and both teams have improved some since then. The Tigers defeated the Yankees 3-0 in the ALDS in 2006 in which the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to St. Louis. Oddly, it was a soft-tossing left-hander named Kenny Rogers who gave the Yankees fits in Game 3. Garcia is a veteran soft-tossing right-hander scheduled to pitch in Game 3 for the Yankees. Could this be karma for the Tigers? The Yankee roster is full of veterans with lots of postseason experience. The Tigers have some older veterans but they also have a lot of young players, particularly pitchers, who have no postseason experience. That is something that could be in the Yankees’ favor. Jeter is also one of those players who makes plays that can turn a series. Who can forget “The Flip?” How about in 2009 when he took two outfield relays and cut down two Twins runners who had rounded the base too far? Watch what The Captain does in the series. It only takes one play to turn a series sometimes.
EDGE: The Yankees have a lot going for them in addition to home field. The Tigers will not back down but, ultimately, I do not think the Central Division is an equal or even close to the teams from the East. The Tigers have been hot, but who have they been playing except weak division rivals in September? That tends to make their record and their stats look inflated. The Yankees have a real edge here.
The Yankees will win this series in four games. The only game I see the Tigers having any edge is possibly Game 3 in Comerica Park with Scherzer facing Garcia. Sabathia has been money in the playoffs and I see him pitching well enough to give the Yankees victories in Game 1 and Game 4 – even if he is gone before the Yankees win it. There is just too much talent on this Yankee team even with a somewhat suspect Rodriguez due to his health.