I wrote about the similarities between the ALDS and the ALCS in this afternoon’s game thread, and those similarities continued today. The Yankees won both Game Ones thanks to CC Sabathia’s dominance, then prevailed in extras in both Game Twos thanks to Alex Rodriguez’s homerun heroics. Game Three against the Angels played out similar to Game Three against the Twins, in that the Yanks relied on the long ball and the work of their pitching staff to stay in the game.
The game started off about as well the Yankees could have asked it too. Jered Weaver’s first two pitches to leadoff hitter Derek Jeter were off the plate away, but the third was a 2-0 fastball right in the Captain’s wheelhouse. Jeter pulled the ball into the leftfield seats – something we don’t see him do often – for a quick 1-0 lead. Hideki Matsui started off the second with nine-pitch at-bat resulting in a single to right, and Jorge Posada followed that up with a six-pitch walk. Robbie Cano, not exactly a guy with a nose for RBI spots, bounced a double play ball but beat out the throw. Nick Swisher followed by flying out to left, but not deep enough to score the run. Melky Cabrera grounded out weakly to second to end the threat. An eerily similar rally played out in the fourth, when the 7-8-9 hitters again couldn’t bring Matsui and/or Posada in with no out. Weaver was at 79 pitches after just four innings, but he did a good job wiggling out of jams.
Yankee pitchers were able to avoid the long ball in their first five playoff games, but Pettitte wasn’t able to extend the streak this afternoon. After the amazing Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon chipped in solo homers to give the Yanks a three run lead, Howie Kendrick took Pettitte deep in the fifth to cut the Yanks lead to two. Just an inning later Vlad Guerrero broke out of his postseason slump in a big way, drilling Andy’s two-strike pitch deep into left, almost to the exact same spot Kendrick hit his. The problem with Vladdy’s homer is that Bobby Abreu picked up his first hit of a series two batters earlier, so it was a two-run shot that tied the game at three.
Andy’s final line was damn close to what I predicted in this afternoon’s chat, seven hits and three runs in six and third innings of work. He’s wasn’t great, allowing at least one hit in every full inning he pitched, but on most nights it would have been good enough to win. Pettitte gave way to Joba Chamberlain, who was greeted rather rudely when Kendrick launched his first pitch off the right field wall for a triple. Two pitches later the Angels had the lead on a Maicer Izturis sac fly. Joba would go on to give up a double to Erick Aybar, but Damaso Marte came in to retire Chone Figgins on one pitch to kill the rally.
Like they’ve done so many times this postseason, the Yankees came right back and answered immediately after the opponent scored. Matsui worked his second walk of the game to leadoff the eighth, and was immediately replaced by pinch runner Brett Gardner. Unlike Game Two, when Gardner pinch ran but never did the running part, he took off for second but was gunned down on a pitch out. Posada picked up Gardner by homering to dead center – the Yanks fourth jack of the game – to knot the game up at four. Another battle of the bullpens was in place, and any Yankee fan would take it.
After Marte reached his pitch count of one, Phil Coke came in to face Abreu, the first of two questionable pitching moves. Abreu doubled to dead center but the Yanks caught a break when he got too greedy and was caught wandering too far off second. The Yanks caught another break in a postseason that has been full of them, however they never seemed to be able to get that big hit in this game.
The score remained tied into the 10th, when Phil Hughes, entering his second full inning of work, served up a leadoff double to backup catcher Jeff Mathis and was immediately lifted for the Hammer of God. Erick Aybar attempted to give himself up to move the runner to third, but Mo fielded the ball and flung it towards third to get the lead runner, except the ball ended up in left. Instead of a runner on third with one out, the Angels had runners on the corner with zero away.
Every Yankee fan feels comfortable when Mariano is on the mound, but I admit I had already accepted this game as a loss at this point. Instead, Mo did exactly what he does best – he bailed the Yankees out. Figgins grounded the first, and Tex touched the bag for the first out after looking the runner back to third. After an intentional walk to Abreu to load the bases and put the force at any base, Torii Hunter dug himself into a hole and tapped another grounder to first. Tex fielded and threw home for the force, although no return throw was made and the Angels still had the bases juiced for Vlad, who homered earlier.
At this point, I had shifted from accepting defeat to holding out hope that somehow Mo could escape the jam. His first pitch to Vlad was inside for a ball, and the second was fouled off for strike one. The third pitch, a nasty cutter down and away, was grounded weakly to Tex, who scooped it up and raced to the bag for the third out. The Yanks had a second lease on life, but it would be short lived.
With the score still tied in the 11th, Girardi turned to David Robertson, who made quick work of Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales. On a night when he already replace a lefty specialist who had thrown all of one pitch with another lefty specialist, Girardi got cute and took out K-Rob in favor of Al Aceves. Inevitably, Kendrick picked up a hit anyway, and two pitches later Mathis lined a double into the gap for the win. The Yanks lost for the first time this postseason, on a pitching move that was never necessary in the first place.
In the end, the Yankees inability to hit with runners in scoring position was every bit the goat as Girardi’s overmanaging. They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position as a team, and the bottom three hitters in the order were a particularly dreadful 0-for-7. They had chances in the 2nd, 4th, and 8th innings, but didn’t bring anyone home. That said, the game of baseball just isn’t as hard as Joe Girardi makes it.
The Yankees still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, and are still sending CC Sabathia to the mound tomorrow. Things could certainly be worse.