Nova, Cano lead Yanks to Game One win

More than 24 hours after starting, Game One of the ALDS is officially in the books. The Yankees rode two of their best young homegrown players to a blowout win over the Tigers, giving them a one game to none lead in the best-of-five series.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Before The Rain

As you know, this game really started on Friday night. The Yankees and Tigers got just an inning and a half in before rain forced the game to be suspended until Saturday, throwing a wrench into everyone’s pitching plans. CC Sabathia struck out four in his two innings of work, the only blemish a Yankee Stadium special solo homer from Delmon Young. Justin Verlander walked two and allowed a run without letting a ball out of the infield in his inning. It’s a shame, it looked like CC was on and Verlander was struggling. Alas, the skies opened up and we’ll see these two aces in Game Three on Monday.

He hit that one to Alburquerque. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Have Yourself A Night, Robinson

Just before the playoffs, the Yankees decided to switch up their lineup just a little bit, installing Robinson Cano as the number three hitter against righties while Mark Teixiera slid down to fifth. One game into the playoffs, the move has been a smashing success.

The score was still tied at one in the bottom of the fifth, and Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter combined for two quick outs. Two outs is the perfect time for a go-ahead rally, so Curtis Granderson did the honors of singling to right to extend the inning. Doug Fister, who we’ll talk about in a little while, caught just enough of the plate with a 1-1 fastball, and Cano smashed it out to left. I thought it was gone off the bat, but the ball hit off the table top of the left field wall and bounced back into the field of play. Umpires reviewed the play and (correctly) ruled it a double, but Granderson scored from first anyway. Cano had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and he wasn’t close to being done.

Just one inning later, the Yankees really had something cooking. Gardner singled in a pair of runs after Tex doubled (to the opposite field!), Jorge Posada walked, and Russell Martin moved them up with a ground ball. Jeter singled to put runners on the corners, stole second uncontested to put men at second and third, then Granderson drew a walk to load the bases. That was the end of Fister’s day, and in came strikeout machine Al Alburquerque. Alburquerque misses a ton of bats with his slider, but Cano doesn’t miss many sliders when they hang up in the zone. Robbie hit a no-doubt grand slam into the second deck to right, blowing the game open and giving the Yankees a nice seven-run cushion. In 43.1 regular season innings, Alburquerque allowed zero homeruns. That changed two pitches into his postseason career.

Cano added another run-scoring double in the eighth, stretching the lead to 9-1 and allowing him to finish the day 3-for-5 with two doubles and the salami. It was the Yankees first postseason grand slam since Ricky Ledee victimized Rod Beck of the Red Sox in Game Four of the 1999 ALCS. Cano’s six runs driven in are a new Yankees LDS record, and the most by someone wearing pinstripes since Hideki Matsui went off on the Phillies in Game Six of the 2009 World Series. I think he’ll be just fine hitting third, just fine.

Super Duper Nova

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

It technically wasn’t a start, but who cares? Ivan Nova was absolute money in “relief” of Sabathia, taking the ball to start the third inning and leading the Yankees right to the ninth. He ran into one real jam in the fifth (more on that in a bit), but otherwise did not allow more than one runner on base in an inning until things were all but decided in the ninth. New York’s number two starter struck out five and it seemed like every one came in a big spot, and he got six other outs on the ground.

The two runs Nova allowed came when he was out of the game, otherwise known as garbage time. A Delmon line drive to the foot in the ninth seemed to slow him a bit, but there’s no shame in that. Nova came up huge against a pitcher that came into the game with much more hype, and he’s the reason the Yankees have a one-game lead in the series right now. Cano’s contributions were obviously huge, but Nova really carried the team on his back.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

This Ain’t The AL Central, Doug

The Yankees are now 3-0 in the three games they faced Verlander this year, but this isn’t about him. It’s about the job the Yankees did against Fister, who the MSM would have liked you to believe was second coming of Roy Halladay because of his September performance. He allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, but then retired eleven men in the row. The Yankees showed no mercy the second and third time thought the order; seven of the next ten men they sent to the plate reached base. Fister’s final line was six runs on seven hits and two walks in just 4.2 IP, the first time he allowed more than two runs in an outing since August 14th, his third start as a Tigers. It’s almost like facing seven AL Central teams in your last eight regular season outings can skew your performance.

Cano was obviously the highlight on offense, but this was a total team effort. Gardner’s two-run single in the fifth (in an 0-2 count, no less) was big because it gave the Yankees some breathing room before Cano broke it open. Granderson reached base three times in five plate appearances (the single and two walks), and he saw a total of 30 pitches. That’s huge. Jeter had a pair of hits, and the five through nine hitters all had one hit. Teixeira and Posada added walks. Alex Rodriguez was the only Yankees not to reach base, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and the RBI groundout on Friday.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Underrated moment sure to be forgotten because of the blowout: Alex Avila getting thrown out at the plate fifth inning. Nova started to show some kinks in the armor that inning, allowing a walk and two straight singles. Avila chugged around third on the second single, but Jeter’s relay throw from Granderson to home was picture perfect. Martin had plenty of time to apply the tag, the second out of what would be a scoreless inning. If that run scores, all of a sudden the Tigers are up one with men on the corners and just one out. Who knows what happens then.

Gotta mention Posada’s latest stupid baserunning blunder. The Yankees had runners on second and third with no outs against Fister in the second inning, and for whatever reason, Posada broke for home on Gardner’s ground ball to third. He got hung up on the bases and was tagged out. The out completely changed the inning, because instead of second and third with one out, it was first and second with one out. Yes, Fister balked the runners over, but Derek Jeter was already behind in the count by then. Didn’t come back to hurt, but good grief.

In my series preview, I said that the only way to contain the great Miguel Cabrera was by keeping runners off base in front of him. Miggy went 0-for-3 with a walk, but more importantly, he came to the plate just once with men on base, and that wasn’t until the game was all but decided in the ninth inning. Cano, his three-hole hitter counterpart, had runners on base in four of his five plate appearances. Story of the game right there.

Unfortunately, Mariano Rivera was pressed into action when Luis Ayala couldn’t record the final two outs of the game after Nova exited. He only threw three pitches (a strikeout, of course), but these two clubs will play three games in the next three days. Wasting some of those bullets with a six-run lead, even if the bases were loaded, is not inconsequential*.

* Just be clear, I’m not complaining about Mo being used, just that Ayala was so awful that Rivera had to be used. This one’s on Luis.

With 50,940 fans in attendance, this was the largest paid attendance in New Yankee Stadium history, regular season or playoffs. I’m guessing the suspension had something to do with that, I’m sure a few people hit up the secondary market Saturday morning.

Box Score & WPA Graph

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats.

Up Next

Sunday was supposed to be an off day, but these two teams will play Game Two of the series because of the rain. That one starts at 3:07pm ET, and will feature Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer.

ALDS Game One: Tigers @ Yankees

Let’s try this again. Last night’s game was suspended due to rain that was apparently heavier than expected, so the two teams will pick up right where they left off. The score is tied at one through an inning and a half, and Jorge Posada is scheduled to lead off the bottom of the second inning. CC Sabathia allowed a solo homer to Delmon Young and struck out four in his two innings while Justin Verlander walked two and allowed a run on a ground out in his only inning.

The lineups below are the same ones as last night since this is just a continuation of that game. That hurts the Tigers somewhat because they loaded their lineup with right-handed bats against Sabathia, but now get the right-handed Ivan Nova. Here’s the problem though: it’s supposed to rain again tonight. MLB has already said they will not play a doubleheader in the postseason, and if they have to suspend the game again, they would simply push everything back a day and forfeit Wednesday’s off day, if need be. What a mess.

Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Magglio Ordonez,  RF
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Alex Avila, C
Ryan Raburn, 2B
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Brandon Inge, 3B

Doug Fister, SP RP

New York Yankees
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP RP

The game is scheduled to restart at 8:37pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on TBS and listen on either WCBS 880 or ESPN Radio. Remember, we’re trying to win a ring around here.

The Most Clutch Hits of 2011

As the “too many homers” myth carried on through the season, it seemed like there were two things that this narrative suggested: the Yankees were a) unable to hit with runners in scoring position and b) the Yankees could only score was via home run (also c) that scoring via the dinger doesn’t work in the playoffs, but that’s an argument for another day). Now, the great thing about the season being wrapped up is that we have the entire season to look back on. We can compare predictions to what actually happened, we can figure out how certain moves worked out, and we can talk about the highlights of the season.

Like a good nerd living in my mom’s basement, I can’t simply be satisfied by separating the statistical highlights by WPA. That would be boring. Instead, I decided to separate the top five plays by leverage. For a quick and dirty definition, the leverage is how “clutch” the play is and is independent of the outcome; the WPA measure how valuable the hit or out was within the game. Therefore, a home run with two on and two out in the ninth has a much higher value/WPA than a single with two on and two out in the ninth, but the at-bat has the same leverage. This is also a interesting stat to measure the intensity of the situations relievers end up in (see my article on David Robertson earlier in the year), but that’s another story, maybe for tomorrow. I present to you, the top five highest-leveraged hits of the year. For reference, anything about 1.5 is considered “high leverage,” and anything above 3.0 is considered “very high leverage.” You can calculate your own leverage situations here.

T-1: May 11: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom tenth off Joakim Soria: 6.05.

AJ Burnett went seven, er, strong innings, allowing only one run while walking six (!) and striking out five. David Robertson gave up a run (!!) in 0.2 IP, though he also struck out two. The game was tied going into the top of the tenth when Buddy Carlyle came in. A walk, a wild pitch, and a Frenchy double later, the Royals had the lead going into the bottom tenth. Ned Yost sent out Joakim Soria to close it out, but a walk and TWO!! bunts later, Russell Martin was standing at third looking to re-tie the game. Curtis Granderson, the man himself, drove him in, as a man with 100 RBIs and having the year that Grandy is having is wont to do. That retied the game.

Unfortunately, the Yankees lost the game in the eleventh thanks to an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly. Bummer.

T-1: May 24: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom ninth off Frank Francisco: 6.05

If I didn’t know better, I would say Curtis Granderson knows how to come up in a big spot.

CC Sabathia was busy throwing himself a complete game on a mere 103 pitches, but the 4 runs he had given up were just one more than the three from the combination of Rickey Romero (7 IP), Casey Janssen, and Marc Rzepczynski. Luckily, the Blue Jays decided for some absurd reason that the pretty crappy Frank Francisco was going to be their closer, and so it was up to him to protect a one run lead in the ninth. Jorge Posada banged a pinch-hit double, and Chris Dickerson ran for him. Jeter moved him to third with two outs and the Grandyman coming up. And, like clockwork, Granderson singled up the hole between first and second to tie the game up. I am personally all right with him coming up in important spots.

The Yankees then promptly won when Granderson stole second and Teixeira singled him home. By the way, the Jays weren’t playing the shift on Tex, and they might not have lost if they were.

3. July 18: Brett Gardner’s RBI single in the top of the eighth off Kyle Farnsworth: 5.41

Though the Yankees had taken an early lead, the ever, er, reliable AJ Burnett dug the Yankees into an early hole against the Rays’ rookie Alex Cobb. Luckily, Cobb came out in the fifth to be replaced by Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos. Peralta started off the inning giving up a single to Cano and a walk to Swisher followed by an out to the pinch-hitting Andruw Jones, so Maddon pulled him for his closer, Kyle Farnsworth. With the Rays up 4-2, it was a save situation for the man who Yankees fans remembered extremely unkindly. With Tampa, however, Farnsworth had so far posted an impressive 1.86 ERA.

Lucky for the Yankees, Farnsworth had flashbacks to his Yankees years and allowed two straight singles, the first to Russell Martin to load the bases with one out, and the second to Brett Gardner, a clean single through the shortstop hole opened up by the bases being loaded. This brought the score up to 4-3.

The Yankees would tie the game on Eduardo Nunez’s groundout to short (which was only not a double play due to Gardner’s tough slide) and then win the game on a bases loaded walk from Alex Torres.

4. September 21: Jorge Posada’s RBI single in the bottom off the eighth off Brandon Gomes: 5.29

Here’s one everyone will remember. After struggling through a year in which he was relegated to DH, platooned, then benched, Joe Girardi gave Jorge Posada the chance to clinch the AL East title by pinch hitting him for Jesus Montero with the bases loaded. The game had been tied 2-2 up until this point, though Jake McGee had worked himself into a little jam with first and second and one out. Robbie was intentionally walked to load the bases and Maddon brought in Gomes.

Posada, of course, ripped a solid single into right, clinched the AL East, and proved that he is the most amazing no-catch all-hit super slow catcher/DH of all time. Yay for Jorge.

5. April 24: Russell Martin’s RBI single in the top of the eleventh off Jason Berken: 5.21

Jake Arrieta had allowed two runs in the first and a run in the fifth while Freddy Garcia through six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks (and we all assumed it was just because it was the Orioles). Joba Chamberlain came in, gave up two runs, making it 3-2, and Mo blew the save while the Orioles bullpen held the Yankees scoreless (!). To extras!

Jason Berken came in in the eleventh inning and allowed a Cano double, and a Cano stolen base before striking out Swisher and intentionally walking Chavez. This brought Russell Martin to the plate. Keep in mind that, at this point in the season, Martin was batting .328 with an OPS of 1.099. In this particular game, he had four at-bats with only a walk to show for it. On his fifth at-bat, he lined a ball to Robert Andino, who airmailed a throw to Brian Roberts at second, letting the Yankees take the lead. This was very generously scored a hit, to say the least. Either way, Martin gets credit for the high-leverage hit, and the Yankees beat up on Berken a little more to win the game 6-3.

Leverage is the closest thing to measuring clutch that we have to measure: high leverage hits are more “clutch” than low-leverage ones. The problem is that part of leverage factors in the inning, and it seems like you should be able to be clutch in the second inning as much as you can in the eighth.

Cashman: Sabathia will start Game Three on Monday

Via Ken Rosenthal, Brian Cashman said that CC Sabathia will start Game Three of the ALDS on Monday night. The team has ruled him out for Game Two tomorrow after he threw 27 pitches in the game and 48 pitches in warm-ups before the rain last night. Justin Verlander will start Monday for the Tigers, meaning each team will only get one full start from their ace. For shame.