The Yankees had their chances. Despite loading the bases on two separate occasions, New York couldn’t get that clutch hit in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS, as the Detroit Tigers struck early and managed to hold off the Bronx Bombers to advance to the American League Championship Series.
New York finished with the best record in the American League (97 wins), but Detroit believed they were the better ballclub. Coming off a 12-game win streak in September, Detroit was the hottest team in baseball as they were the first to clinch a playoff berth. So when it was time to face the Yankees in the Bronx for Game 5 -there were no pregame jitters- the Tigers knew what they had to do- and they delivered. Rookie sensation Ivan Nova, the Game 1 winner who pitched scoreless ball well into the ninth inning, got the start for New York. Nova was brilliant in the opener, but faltered on the biggest start –and stage- of his career Thursday night. After striking out former Yankee Austin Jackson to lead off the game, Nova surrendered consecutive homeruns to Detroit’s third baseman Don Kelly and outfielder Delmon Young for an early 2-0 Tigers lead. It was the first back-to-back postseason homeruns in Tigers’ history and it was the third homer for Young this series. Nova lasted just 31 pitches and six outs for the Yankees, as he exited the decisive game early due to tightness in his right forearm. The rookie finished with three strikeouts, a hit and two runs.
Detroit starter Doug Fister played more like a closer in the first and second innings, allowing only two hits, a walk and striking out five. New York began to pressure the pitcher in the bottom of the fourth, as the Yankees loaded the bases with one out on a walk and two singles. But, Fister managed to escape the inning by popping out Russell Martin and Brett Gardner to strand the bases. In the third, Yankees manager Joe Girardi began to stitch together an assortment of relief pitchers from his bullpen that would buy time until Mariano Rivera checked in. Phil Hughes replaced Nova and was pulled after his 21st pitch, striking out three and allowing two hits in one and one-third innings. Hughes was relieved by Boone Logan in the fourth. Logan gave up a single to the Tigers’ Alex Avila and only lasted seven pitches and two outs before New York called upon their ace CC Sabathia in the fifth. It was the first time in Sabathia’s professional career that he entered a game as a reliever, and the decision to play him proved to do the Yanks more harm than good.
Jackson led off the fifth inning with a double to left. After CC struck out a pair of batters -including Young- Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked to pitch to Sabathia’s former Cleveland teammate Victor Martinez. The Tigers’ designated hitter hit an RBI single to center field that forced an error on Curtis Granderson, who bobbled the ball as he tried to make a quick pick up, as Jackson scored to extend the Tigers’ lead to 3-0. Before a sellout Yankee Stadium that drew a record crowd of 50,960, New York had its chances, but the Bronx Bombers went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-4 with bases loaded, stranding 10 runners.
Robinson Cano was the Yankees only offense on this day. Cano started a New York comeback when he hit solo homerun off of Fister in the fifth, to narrow the deficit to 3-1. Relievers Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson, and closer Rivera, combined to complete the game for the Yankees, and they were perfect over the final three and two-thirds innings. New York had another opportunity to take the lead in the seventh inning when they load the bases with one out. Tigers’ reliever Joaquin Benoit struck out Alex Rodriguez for two outs. Then, Yankees Captain Derek Jeter scored off a Mark Teixeira walk to make it a one run game (3-2), but Benoit followed up by striking out Nick Swisher to end the inning.
The eighth inning was another chance for the Yankees to take the lead, but when Gardner singled to left, Jeter’s attempt for a two-run homer fell short. Detroit closer Jose Valverde finished off the Yankees in the ninth, in a 1-2-3 inning, striking out A-Rod for the final out and ending New York fans hopes of that 28th World Series championship. It was Valverde second save of the series and by far Rodriguez worst postseason performance of his career, as he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, last night.
So, the Tigers advance to the next round to play the defending AL champions the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, starting Saturday in Arlington. Detroit ace Justin Verlander will get the start against Texas’ C.J. Wilson. This will be the Tigers’ first trip to the ALCS since 2006.
As the Yankees are left to ponder their postseason failures, sadly, Thursday night’s loss to the Tigers may have been the last time Yankee fans will see Jorge Posada in pinstripes. The 17-year veteran catcher-turned-designated hitter, who won five World Series titles with the Yankees, may look to retire as his time with the organization comes to an end. Although, New York heart wrenching loss to Detroit is a hard pill to swallow, a look back at the 2011 Yankee milestones -Jeter’s 3,000th hit and Rivera’s 603rd save, placing him as the all-time saves leader- should leave fans with many good memories for years to come.