For the first time in two seasons, the Yankees played in a true must win game on Wednesday afternoon. There was no wiggle room, it was win or go home with the Rangers leading the best-of-seven ALCS three games to one. Thankfully they were able to put the season in the hands of ace CC Sabathia, who delivered six classic grind-it-out innings, putting his team in a position to seal the all important win.
Biggest Hit: Little League
When you’re struggling, sometimes it takes a comedy of errors to help score some runs. The problem was that until Game Five, the Rangers were playing sound if not downright spectacular defense as a team, so the Yanks weren’t getting any breaks at all. That all changed in this game, which is exactly what they needed to get themselves back in the series.
Jorge Posada had already driven in the first run of the game (more on that in a sec) in the second inning and stood on first base with Lance Berkman parked 90 feet ahead of him. There was just one out in the inning when Curtis Granderson stepped to the plate, the only Yankee other than Robbie Cano to do much of anything offensively in the series. C.J. Wilson went after him with a fastball (called strike) and then a curveball (ball) before going back to the heater, which Grandy flipped into shallow right for a single. Berkman scored and Posada chugged around second towards third.
Jeff Francoeur was in right and handled the ball, firing towards third to get the slow Posada. The throw beat him to the bag easily, by about ten feet, but it was a little high and Michael Young missed the catch. The ball hit the rail in front of the Ranger dugout, and Jorge rounded third and headed home. Wilson grabbed the ball in foul territory and flipped it home, and again the throw had Posada beat by a good ten feet. Except it was too high, clearly over the leaping Matt Treanor. Georgie should have been thrown out at two different bases on the play, but he instead crossed the plate with the team’s third run of the inning and game. The WPA swing on this sucker was +.138, the single biggest play of the game.
Honorable Mention: Jorge Starts The Scoring
It’s no secret that the Yanks have had trouble scoring in the series, pushing just five runs across in Games Two through Four. They had also developed the nasty habit of allowing the other team to score first, so when Posada grounded a 2-0 fastball through the left side of the infield to drive in Alex Rodriguez for the first run of the game, it was a huge relief to everyone watching at home. It was just a measly one run lead in the second inning, and the team scored more on Granderson’s play one batter later, but holy cow was that big. It all started right here.
Biggest Out: Moreland Looks At Strike Three
I’m taking the subjective route this time, because the WPA scores are stupid. Apparently the most important defensive play of the game for the Yanks was Michael Young’s double play in the first inning (-.074 WPA). Pfft, yeah right.
Instead, I’m going to fast forward a few innings to the sixth, when the Yanks held a big enough but not really all that comfortable 6-2 lead. Sabathia was over the century mark in terms of pitches and starting to labor, and Texas had already scored a run when Matt Treanor hit a weak grounder with the bases loaded and one out. Mitch Moreland, who has proven to be a real pain in the ass at the bottom of the order, had a chance to bring his team to within two with a single.
Moreland had fouled off four of six pitches before singling in the fifth inning, and he went right back to the work in the sixth. CC started him away with a slider for a swing-and-a-miss before missing with a fastball to even the count. That’s when we went heavy with the offspeed stuff. The next three pitches were two sliders and a fastball that Moreland fouled off, then he took a fastball out of the zone for a ball before fouling off yet another slider. Sabathia was at 111 pitches and walking the tight rope, but he broke off yet another slider. This one was inside by design, freezing Moreland as it broke back over the plate for strike three. The threat was over, the lead was intact, and Mariano Rivera was that much closer to becoming a factor.
Honorable Mention: MVP GIDP
The Rangers had a chance to get back in the game in the fifth inning as well, after Moreland and Michael Young followed up Treanor’s solo homerun with a single. Josh Hamilton came to the plate with an opportunity made a 5-1 deficit a 5-4 deficit with one swing of the bat. Sabathia didn’t just cave and give him a fastball, he instead started him with two straight sliders for a 1-1 count. The third pitch was probably a little bit of a mistake, a 95 mph heater elevated in the zone, but thankfully the likely AL MVP hit on top of the baseball, grounding it to second for the inning ending double play.
CC Grinds It Out
Two runs in six innings of work is a fine end result, but Sabathia certainly had to work for it. He gave up eleven hits, nine of which were singles, but he didn’t walk anyone. Texas fouled off 24 of those 112 pitches, and they put at least one batter on base in each of CC’s innings. To paraphrase Ron Washington after the game, Sabathia bended but did not break. Yep, bended.
It wasn’t a traditional ace-like performance in that it was eight innings of three hit ball or something like that, but this is the kind of game that separates the great from the very good. CC dealt with adversity every single inning, whether it be baserunners or bad command or both, but he found a way to make big pitches when he needed to and preserved the lead his teammates gave him. It was a big game by the big man in a big spot, and it was exactly what the Yankees needed.
Robbie Cano had been a one man wrecking crew for the first four games of the series, hitting the team’s only three homers. The problem is that he was the only one doing much of anything at the plate, but obviously that all changed in Game Five. Two of his teammates joined in on the long ball action, with Nick Swisher whacking on a solo shot in the third and Curtis Granderson doing the same in the eighth. Swish’s was traditional big fly down the leftfield line, but Grandy’s was a laser beam, a line drive that couldn’t have been more than 30 or 35 feet off the ground as it zoomed into the rightfield stands.
Not to be outdone, Cano hit his fourth homer of the series immediately after Swish for back-to-back jacks. It was good to see the Bronx Bombers get back to doing what they do.
Elvis Andrus is rapidly becoming one of my most hated players. The guy’s luck is unreal, with two more infield singles in this game, including one that stopped rolling literally on the foul line. Needless to say, I certainly enjoyed watching Kerry Wood pick him off second in the seventh inning.
Speaking of Wood, how about the work that guy did? Andrus’ infield single was the only baserunner he allowed in two innings, when he struck out three on 28 pitches (21 strikes). Mo was available for up to seven outs if needed, but Wood made sure he wasn’t by doing a phenomenal job of bridging the gap between CC and Sandman. Can’t say enough for how important that was given the bullpen’s recent struggles.
Scary moment for Berkman in the fourth inning; he slipped and fell flat on his back on the warning track chasing after an Ian Kinsler pop-up. He somehow didn’t hit his head, but he knocked the wind out of himself and said he was sore from his neck to his butt. Puma stayed in the game (and switched from rubber to metal spikes) and even produced a little with the bat from the right side, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a sac fly.
As for the rest of the offense, Derek Jeter reached base twice (single, walk) in five plate appearances, coaxing 25 pitches out of the Rangers’ staff. Swish walked in addition to the homer while Grandy picked up two more hits besides his big fly. One of those two was a double deep into the leftfield corner off a lefthander, something he never ever would have been able to do three months ago. Even his outs are loud these days. A-Rod doubled (ground rule style) and walked twice, and Posada had a double in addition to the RBI single in the second. All told, everyone except Brett Gardner reached base, and everyone except Gardner and Marcus Thames (who walked intentionally) reached base at least twice. They needed a game like this.
WPA Graph & Box Score
Day off on Thursday, then Game Six on Friday will feature Phil Hughes against Colby Lewis. The Yankees are playing with house money now. No one expects them to win the series, so the pressure’s all on Texas. Make sure you enjoy the games, it’s nice to be the team no one expects anything out of for once.