For the first time this year, a game gave me that little postseason-esque nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The Yankees and Tigers played an excitingly close game on Wednesday, close until the Bombers broke it open in the bottom of the eighth. New York won 5-1.
Changeup, Strike Three
Chris Capuano has had a knack for pulling gems out of nowhere throughout his career, and on the night when the Yankees needed a start like that, he gave them one. The wily veteran southpaw used changeup after changeup to hold the high-powered Tigers to one unearned run in 6.2 innings, striking out eight and walking one. He allowed just five hits and retired 20 of 25 batters at one point from the first through seventh innings. His night ended after 101 pitches and back-to-back two-out singles in that seventh inning.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus loaded his lineup with right-handed batters against the lefty Capuano — number nine hitter Ezequiel Carrera was the only lefty in the starting lineup — and that played right into his strength, the down and away changeup. He had the pitch working marvelously. PitchFX says Capuano threw 44 changeups out of those 101 pitches, including 33 for strikes and 11 for swings and misses. He doubled up on the pitch all night and at one point he even tripled up on the changeup to fan Nick Castellanos. Excellent outing by Capuano. What a nice surprise he’s been through three starts.
Justin Verlander retired the first eleven batters he faced before Jacoby Ellsbury singled to center with two outs in the fourth. The Yankees scored their first run an inning later, when Chase Headley ran into a meatball of a 2-2 changeup for a solo homer into the second deck in right. Everyone knew it was gone off the bat, including Verlander based on his reaction. The pitch was on a tee and it tied the game at one after some sloppy defense and a sacrifice fly gave the Tigers a quick 1-0 lead in the first.
The score remained 1-1 until the seventh inning, at which point the Yankees had only had four base-runners against Verlander. The big right-hander left a 1-2 fastball up in the zone to Brian McCann with one out in the inning, and that pitch landed just beyond the right-center wall for a solo homer into the Yankees bullpen. You can tell this isn’t the same Verlander of the last few years. That guy absolutely buried hitters with two strikes. This version gave up two two-strike homers in the span of three innings. McCann’s dinger gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead with six outs to go.
As good as Capuano was in this game, Adam Warren recorded by far the two biggest outs of the night. Really the three biggest when you consider he inherited a first-and-third situation from Capuano with two outs in the seventh, escaping with a ground ball. Warren got a quick first pitch ground out from Ian Kinsler to start the eighth, then he appeared to pitch around the ultra-dangerous Miguel Cabrera with one out. I don’t like that strategy — assuming he did pitch around him, of course — because all Miggy could do was tie the game there. Put him on and suddenly the go-ahead run is at the plate. Whatever.
Because I wrote about how good the infield defense has been since the trade deadline earlier on Wednesday, Stephen Drew managed to make two errors on one play to give the Tigers runners on the corners with one out. Victor Martinez hit a soft grounder into the shift, but Drew fumbled the scoop (first error) and rushed the throw (second error), which was wide of first base and wound up close to home plate. Cabrera alertly advanced from second to third once he realized the ball was by Mark Teixeira at first.
This was a problem. The Yankees had just taken the lead, and while Detroit’s two best hitters were on the bases and not coming to the plate, runners on the corners with one out is scary. Especially since Warren has been less than stellar the last few weeks for whatever reason. Fatigue, return to Earth, whatever. Warren fell behind in the count 3-0 to J.D. Martinez and suddenly things looked really bad. Then he reached back and threw three straight fastballs by Martinez for the strikeout. The PitchFX readings on those fastballs: 95.95 mph (foul), 97.35 mph (whiff), and 96.9 mph (whiff). Gas.
That was an obviously huge strikeout but the inning was not over. There was still one out to get and Warren was still wild. He again fell behind in the count 3-0, this time to Castellanos. Warren went 97.00 mph fastball (whiff), 89.22 mph slider (foul), 96.81 mph fastball (foul), 98.26 mph fastball (foul), and 89.40 mph slider (lazy fly to right) to get the final out of the inning. That 98.26 mph fastball was the fastest pitch Warren has ever thrown in the big leagues, again according to PitchFX. It was not at all easy, but hats off to Warren for his work in that eighth inning. One of the biggest innings of the season, hands down.
Some time around the fifth inning I said this was a classic “next team to homer wins” game, and technically I was right. The Yankees were nice enough to plate some insurance runs in the eighth though, with the big blow being McCann’s … weak grounder to first. The Bombers had the bases loaded with one out and a run already in when Andrew Romine’s throw to first on the 3-6-3 double play attempt sailed by first base and to the dugout fence. Teixeira chugged around from second on the play and slid in for the team’s fifth run of the night. He was initially ruled out but the call was overturned following Joe Girardi’s challenge. Teixeira’s pinkie got stepped on at the plate and he needed stitches. Props to Brett Gardner (single), Ellsbury (walk), Teixeira (run-scoring single), and Carlos Beltran (single) for their work earlier in the inning. Scoring those three insurance runs was huge.
David Robertson was all warmed up and ready to pitch the ninth until the three-run bottom of the eighth. David Huff recorded the last three outs without incident instead. He threw all of nine pitches and Derek Jeter made a great jumping catch to rob Bryan Holaday of a line drive single. With all due respect to Huff, Capuano and Warren were clearly the pitching stars of the night. The rest of the overtaxed bullpen got a much-needed day to rest.
Headley (homer and single) was the only Yankee with multiple hits, though Ellsbury (single and walk) and Teixeira (single and walk) both reached base twice as well. McCann hit his homer while Gardner, Jeter, and Beltran singled. Drew and Martin Prado went a combined 0-for-6 from the 8-9 spots in the order. The Yankees may not be scoring a whole lot, but this lineup definitely feels more dangerous than what they were trotting out there not too long ago.
The Yankees ended their streak of consecutive games decided by two or fewer runs at 16, the third longest such streak in history. They were two shy of tying the all-time record set by the Twins in 1968. Or maybe it was 1948. I forget. They showed the graphic on YES and I didn’t take note of the year.
Last, but certainly not least, the Yankees just won two of three games against the last three AL Cy Young award winners. The one loss was a very winnable game as well. If nothing else, that’s something to brag about.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The box score and video highlights are at MLB.com. Some other stats are at FanGraphs and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Blue Jays beat the Orioles, so the Yankees are now five games back in the AL East and one game back of the second wildcard spot. FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 22.9%. I don’t know if they’ll get a chance to play in October, but I’ll sign up for another 50 games just like this one. These last few games have been very entertaining.
The Yankees and Tigers wrap up this four-game series on Thursday afternoon. Yes, an afternoon game. Shane Greene will get the ball against New Jersey’s own Rick Porcello. RAB Tickets can get in the door if you want to spend the afternoon at the ballpark.