Yankee bats come alive, force Game Six

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.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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


(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Bombs Away

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.

Leftovers

The Yankee version of the claw/antlers. (Photo Credit: Rebecca, Optimist Prime)

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.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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

It never feels as easy as the graph makes it look, does it? MLB.com has your box score and video, FanGraphs some other stuff.

Up Next

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.

Open Thread: Not Dead Yet

Big Stoppa. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It wasn’t the easiest of outings for CC Sabathia, but when aces don’t have their best stuff they still find a way to win. That’s exactly what the big man did today, giving his club six hard-fought innings before handing the ball off to the bullpen with a lead. The offense finally woke up a little, with Robbie Cano, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson all going deep for solo shots in the 7-2 win. The Yankees are still down three games to two in the ALCS, but they’re on their way back to Texas for Game Six. That’s all you can ask for.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. Game Four of the NLCS is starting pretty much right now on FOX, with San Fran leading the series two games to one. Madison Bumgarner gets the ball against Joe Blanton. You’ve also got the Yanks’ postgame on YES. Chat about that, or whatever else you want.

ALCS Game Five: Rangers @ Yankees

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It all comes down to this. Win, and they’ll live to fight another day. Lose, and the next time we see them will be in late-February. The Rangers have massively outplayed the Yankees all series long, but CC Sabathia on the mound with Mariano Rivera available for up to seven outs is a recipe capable of curing all ills, at least for a day. Just win this game and get it to Texas, figure it out from there.

I’m not ready for the season to end yet, so let’s do this thing. Here are the lineups…

Rangers
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35 ERA)

Yankees
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Robbie Cano, 2B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Marcus Thames, DH
6. Lance Berkman, 1B
7. Jorge Posada, C
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 4:07pm ET, and the game can be seen on TBS. Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent are throwing out the ceremonial first pitches, so let’s hope some of their luck rubs off. Enjoy the game, go Yankees.

Mo: Girardi called team meeting after Game Four

Via Ed Price and Marc Carig, Mariano Rivera told reporters that Joe Girardi called a team meeting after last night’s Game Four loss. He wouldn’t reveal the details understandably, though he did say the general message was to worry only about today. There’s not much more they can do than that right now.

It’s trendy to trash Girardi for the team’s play and his decisions right now, but we’ve long been past the point were the blame falls on the players. They’re the ones on the field, and they’re simply not getting the job done. Hopefully they got the message last night and pull out a win today, sending this thing back to Texas.

ALCS Game Four Chat

A disappointing end to a disappointing season

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

With the aid of Steve Donahue and Joe Girardi, Mark Teixeira limped off the field in the fifth inning of last night’s Game Four, an unceremonious end to his 2010 season. A Grade II hamstring strain suffered while running out what should have been a double play grounder (thanks for the bad throw, Michael Young) was the culprit, attacking Tex’s right leg a few steps before he reached the bag. It was a fitting end for a type of season he had, a disappointment made bearable only by the help of others.

Now, it’s important to remember that disappointing is a relative term here. Tex was a legit MVP candidate last year, one that hit .292/.383/.565 with a league-leading 39 homers. From 2004 through 2009, basically every season between his rookie campaign and 2010, Tex amassed a .295/.385/.554 batting line, undeniably elite production regardless of position. He slumped down to a .367 wOBA and 3.5 fWAR this season, still very good, but well below the lofty standards he’s set. Both totals are his lowest since his rookie season. Teixeira’s 33 homers were plenty given the overall decline in offense around the league, but an all-or-nothing approach yielded nothing more than all compared to the past.

Much like 2009, Tex battled through his customary April slump, though this time it stuck around a little longer. He showed signs of life in May but didn’t really hit his stride until June, far too late for the three-hole hitter on the defending World Champs. He then hit another rough patch late in the season that carried right on into the playoffs. Now two full years into the Mark Teixeira Era, that’s the one aspect of his game that’s become painfully obvious: the guy is extremely streaky.

Perhaps it’s just confirmation bias, but there appears to be no middle ground to Tex’s offensive game. When he slumps, he really slumps and for an extended period of time. He’ll hack at pitches in the dirt and pop hittable pitches up on the infield or into the shallow outfield, and that was never more obvious than during the postseason. Tex took an 0-for-ALCS and was salvaged only by a game winning homer in Game One of the ALDS against the Twins. When he’s right though, when he’s in a groove and his swinging is working well, he’s one of the five best players on the planet. In 2010 though, there were far more downs than ups.

To be fair, there is one aspect of Tex’s game that doesn’t slump, and that’s his defense. His glovework at first is world class and remains that way even when he isn’t hitting, so he’s never a total zero. He can still, and often does, prevent runs defensively even when he isn’t producing with the stick. That’s definitely a big positive.

Tex’s season personifies the MSM narrative whenever the Yankees are losing or fail to win the World Series; he’s a 30-something on a gigantic contract with albatross potential not living up to expectations, particularly when it comes to vaguely defined and often arbitrary “clutch” situations. It’s a gross oversimplification of course, but that’s the way it goes in this town. Tex was clearly upset and disappointed during his postgame meet with the media last night, as he should have been. After his monster pinstriped debut last year, Teixeira’s follow-up campaign can best be described as underwhelming.

Remember 2007

There is no need to sugarcoat the Yankees’ chances of coming back in this series. They’re down three games to one and every obstacle is stacked against them. The offense hasn’t hit all series. Even before Cliff Lee looms in a potential Game 7, the Yankees have to face two pitchers against whom they did not fare well in Games 1 and 2. They really have only two factors working in their favor. First, that the series isn’t over until Texas wins one more game. Second, that they have their ace on the mound this afternoon.

This scenario actually runs parallel to a recent ALCS. We tend to remember 2007 because of midges, but right now we should remember it because the team’s biggest rival made a comeback after being down three games to one. I’m sure everyone in Boston was feeling down heading into Game 5, with the team just one loss away from elimination. But they came back. The Yanks can do the same.

(Winslow Townson/AP)

The similarities start right off the bat. While the Red Sox didn’t make a miraculous Game 1 comeback, they did set the tone by winning the game handily. But the very next day the Indians came back and romped the Sox, scoring 13 runs in a quite demoralizing fashion. Curt Schilling started and allowed five runs in 4.2 innings, similar to what Phil Hughes did on Saturday. The bullpen held down the Indians while the game went into extra innings. It was there that Eric Gagne, Javier Lopez, and Jon Lester combined to allow seven runs in the top of the 11th, ensuring a Cleveland victory and an even series.

Game 3 held a few parallels, though Jake Westbrook is no Cliff Lee (Lee had actually been left off the Indians’ playoff roster that year). The Indians scored two in the second and then two again in the fifth, rendering the Red Sox two seventh inning runs ultimately meaningless. Boston then turned to Tim Wakefield, the worst of their starters, instead of bringing back Josh Beckett on short rest. The Indians rallied for seven in the fifth, which was enough to close a 7-3 victory. That’s when things looked bleak for Boston.

It was in Game 5 that the Red Sox mounted their comeback. They sent their ace to the hill* and after allowing a run in the first he went on to pitch seven innings of shutout ball, handing the ball directly to Jonathan Papelbon to close it out, even though the Sox had a six-run lead at the time. The series then went back to Boston, where the home team exploded for 10 runs in three innings in Game 6. They then wrapped the series the next day, scoring six runs in the eighth to turn a 5-2 game into an 11-2 series clincher.

*His opponent: CC Sabathia.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily destined to repeat the Red Sox comeback, but the parallels are clear. Boston was the better team that year, though that didn’t appear to be the case through the series’ first four games. The Indians had outplayed them after Game 1, and the situation was dire indeed. But the Red Sox rallied behind their ace and picked up a Game 5 victory. They headed home, though, while the Yanks’ best case scenario is heading to Texas. Still, their chances are as good as the Sox’s were that year. It’s understandable that many people want to count them out now. But all we have to do is turn to a famous Yankee for a quote to debunk that.