How Curtis Granderson failed before he succeeded

There is a new postseason hero for the Yankees. Curtis Granderson‘s two-run triple might not have been Scotty Brosius or Tino Martinez big, but it was definitely Alex Rodriguez big. Bigger, maybe, since Granderson gave his team the lead. It capped a four-run sixth inning that would restore faith in the Yankees and ultimately drive a Game 1 win. But it didn’t come very easily.

Granderson actually had a chance to do some damage in the first inning. He came up in the exact same situation as he did in the sixth: men on first and second with two outs. Liriano must have had plenty of confidence when facing Granderson — he had allowed just four hits, including one home run, in the 25 times he faced him — because he opened with a fastball right down Broadway.

Granderson rightly took a hack, but just couldn’t get the fat part of the bat anywhere near the pitch.

It wasn’t poorly struck, but it did go right to Michael Cuddyer at first for an easy inning-ender.

Granderson’s second at-bat was a bit more interesting. This time it appeared as though Liriano had a plan. He started with a fastball away for ball one, but then came back with a slider that, according to the home plate ump, nicked the outside corner for strike one. He went back to the slider on the third pitch, putting it a bit lower than the last. Curtis held up. Again the slider came on pitch four, and again it was away. This gave Granderson a 3-1 advantage, but then Liriano came inside with a fastball. Granderson just managed to foul it away. On the 3-2 pitch Liriano again turned to the slider. It ended up right where the previous fastball did, and while it appeared as though it missed Mauer’s glove, it didn’t miss by much. Granderson had no chance.

When Granderson came to bat in the next inning the Yankees had just scored two runs. Given Liriano’s history against Granderson, Ron Gardenhire left him in rather than going to lefty reliever Jose Mijares. He started repeating his plan from the previous at-bat by working Granderson away. A slider nipped the outside corner for strike one, but then Liriano missed with two fastballs away. In the previous at-bat it wasn’t until the fifth pitch that Liriano came inside. I’m not sure if Granderson recognized that, but it did appear as thought he was ready to jump on that outside fastball. It didn’t hurt that Liriano missed his spot.

This time Granderson was able to center the ball on the barrel, and what resulted was a home run in 28, maybe 29 ballparks. Thankfully, the ball hung up long enough for even Jorge to make it around from first base. That gave the Yankees a lead not more than a few minute after the game seemed hopeless. Even though they gave one back the next inning, Granderson’s hit changed the tone of the game.

Fun fact: The last time Granderson hit a triple in the postseason came in 2006 in the ALDS…against the Yankees. That one also gave his team the lead. The Yanks and Tigers were tied at three heading into the seventh, but Mike Mussina allowed the go-ahead run on that Granderson triple. The man who scored the run: Marcus Thames.

Tex, Grandy power Yanks to Game One win

Not to sounds cocky or anything, but as Yankee fans we’re privy to plenty of postseason games. We’ve been here before. No matter how tense and stressful we remember these games being, the real thing is always worse. Wednesday night’s ALDS opener against the Twins did wonders for everyone’s blood pressure, featuring back-and-forth lead changes and more jams being worked out of than I care to count. The Yankees prevailed and really stole a win because their best players came through in big moments, and they now enjoy a one-zip lead in the best-of-five series.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Biggest Hit: The Grandy Man Can … And Did

Through the first five innings, the Yankees couldn’t muster a damn thing off Francisco Liriano. They squandered a first-and-second, no out situation in the third inning, which had September’s fingerprints all over it. Liriano retired ten straight from the third through the sixth, but it seemed like he suddenly hit the wall with one out in the sixth. That late season fatigue I talked about in the Game Thread appeared to rear it’s ugly head at the wrong time for Minnesota, but the right time for New York.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Mark Teixeira followed Nick Swisher‘s leadoff strikeout with a double yanked down the leftfield line, and six pitches later Alex Rodriguez was walking down to first. Robbie Cano, the team’s and possibly the league’s MVP, shot a ground ball single through the first base side, driving Tex in from second for the Yanks first run. Marcus Thames struck out for the second out of the inning, but Jorge Posada plated another run with a line drive single over the second baseman’s head. Liriano, sitting at 102 pitches, was left in one batter too long to face Curtis Granderson.

For the first, I dunno, five-and-a-half months of the season we heard a whole lot about how Grandy’s struggles against lefties were going to cost the Yanks in a big spot, and for those first five-and-a-half months of the season they did. But then Granderson pulled hitting coach Kevin Long aside in August and asked for some help. The two remade the centerfielder’s swing, and even though it’s a small sample, Grandy crushed southpaws to the tune of .286/.375/.500 the rest of the season.

Liriano was gassed and Granderson was looking up the zone, and that was a bad combination for the Twins. The fourth pitch of the at-bat was a 94 mph fastball out over the plate and well up in the zone, and Grandy absolutely annihilated the pitch, sending it out to deep right-center. It bounced off the extra tall wall out there but would have probably been out in the Bronx (which would have been the first homer Liriano allowed to lefty batter this season), but it in the end it didn’t matter. Cano and Posada crossed the plate as the tying and go-ahead runs, and Granderson was on third with a triple. The WPA of the play was a whopping .298.

Honorable Mention: Tex Marks The Spot

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Yanks let the Twins tie it back up in the bottom half of the sixth (more on that in a bit), but that didn’t last very long. Jesse Crain relieved Jose Mijares who relieved Liriano, and got a quick first out in the seventh when Derek Jeter lined a ball out to center. Swish jump on a 0-1 fastball and grounded it up the middle for a single, not the prettiest hit but they all count the same.

Tex and Crain have a bit of a history, with the former taking the latter deep back in May. They showed the replay during the game and apparently that ball landed in the suite level of the New Stadium, just below the upper deck, so it was definitely a monster shot. Once they reminded us of that homer, everyone got a little greedy and wanted another one. Can’t help it, it’s the nature of Yankee fans.

Crain attacked the Yanks’ first baseman early with fastballs, throwing three in his first four pitches for a 2-2 count. He dropped a curveball in the dirt to run the count full, but the sixth and final pitch of the at-bat was quite simply a meatball. The slider just spun in place and hung up right in Tex’s wheelhouse, and he did exactly what good hitters are supposed to do to that kind of pitch. He lifted it into orbit and towards the rightfield corner, and the only question was fair or foul. It dropped it fair, right next to foul pole to give the Yanks a 6-4 lead. The WPA of that swing? Right behind Grandy’s triple at .284.

Biggest Pitch: Don’t Forget To Pick Up The Pieces Of Your Bat, Denard

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Before this game, Joe Girardi told reporters that he was a little bit hesitant to bring Mariano Rivera into a game for more than one inning. A few hours later, he marched out to the mound with runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth and signaled for The Sandman. When push comes to shove, Girardi made the best move he possibly could have, going to Rivera for the four out save. There’s no tomorrow, no sense in planning for it.

Mo did what he always does, and that was pound the lefty hitting Span inside with cutter after cutter after cutter. The problem is that the first three were too far inside and all went for balls, but Rivera recovered as he usually does. A called strike and a foul ball ran the count full, and the sixth pitch of the confrontation resulted in the familiar sound of a bat breaking and a ball getting beaten into the grass. The routine dribbler to Jeter ended the threat and the inning. Since we’re talking WPA here, this one checked in at .131 for the Yanks.

Honorable Mention: CC Finishes Off Hardy

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Things were most definitely not easy for CC Sabathia tonight, but we’ll cover that in a bit. After Granderson had given the Yankees the lead, Sabathia appeared to be on his way to a shutdown bottom of the sixth by getting two quick outs from Minnesota’s three-four hitters, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young. CC was careful with Jim Thome all night, and he walked him with two outs, one of the many September frustrations that popped up in this game. Michael Cuddyer doubled on a ball that was in the diving Brett Gardner‘s glove, but he fumbled it and put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. A five pitch walk to Jason Kubel loaded the bases.

At this point, with Sabathia at 102 stressful pitches and David Robertson up in the bullpen, most figured Girardi would go to the righty against rookie Danny Valencia instead stick with his ace’s struggling command. He didn’t, and CC did what was previously thought to be unthinkable, he walked Minnesota’s third baseman on four pitches to force in the tying run. With another righty due up in J.J. Hardy, Girardi again left his ace out to clean up his own mess.

Sabathia reached back and poured a 94 mph fastball over the plate for strike one, but a slider dropped out of the zone for a ball before two fastballs ran the count to 2-2. With his 111th and final pitch of the night, CC pulled the string on a changeup and got Hardy to swing over the ball for the inning ending strikeout. The Twins tied it up, but they left the bases loaded and weren’t able to do any more damage. The WPA of this strikeout sits at .104.

Honorable Honorable Mention: D-Rob Gets The Hall Of Famer

CC gave way to Boone Logan, who retired Span and Hudson before allowing a ground ball single to Mauer on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. He’s a great hitter, it happens. Could have been worse. With two outs in the seventh Girardi went to Robertson to face the righty swinging Young. We all know D-Rob can struggle with his command from time to time, and sure enough he started his outing by walking the former Devil Ray on six pitches.

That not only put the tying run on base, it also brought Thome to plate, which is always scary. One mistake and forget about being tied, the Twins would have had the lead. Thome’s one of those guys who always comes to the plate with a man in scoring position, even if the bases are empty. He’s got that kind of power.

Robertson stole strike one with a 94 mph fastball right down the heart of the plate, and it was easily the best pitch Thome had to hit on the night. The young righty then went to his bread-and-butter pitch, the curveball, to handle the rest. The first one hit the dirt for a ball, but the next one caught the corner for a 1-2 count. The third straight curve might have been the single best pitch of the night, dropping right out of the zone with Thome’s bat swinging clear over it. Robertson got the strikeout to end the threat, showing what kind of weapon his swing-and-missability is in the postseason. Just for the sake of completeness, the WPA of Thome’s strikeout was .078 in favor of the Yanks.

CC Grinds It Out

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It was clear early on that Sabathia wasn’t on top of his game. His fastball command was just a bit off, perhaps the result of an eight day layoff between starts. Span led the game off with a single, and even though the Yanks would escape the inning unscathed, they weren’t so lucky the next inning. CC hit Thome to start the frame, them hung a 2-0 fastball to Michael Cuddyer who absolutely clobbered the pitch, hitting it out to dead center. An impressive shot anywhere, but especially in the vast expanses of Target Field.

The final line on CC’s night was six innings, five hits, four runs (three earned), three walks (all in that sixth inning), and five strikeouts. He did retire 11 in a row before walking Thome with two outs in the sixth, but in general it was a grind for the big guy all night. He threw a ton of pitches early and ran deep counts, and that last inning of work would have driven mere mortals insane. It sounds crazy, but Sabathia did what aces do in that sixth inning even though he loaded the bases and walked in a run with two outs. He limited the damage in what could have been a very, very messy situation for his team. A lesser pitcher turns that into a two or three or more run rally, not just one. Sabathia will have to rest up, because he’s getting the ball three days from now in Game Four, which I sure hope is not necessary.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A big thanks to goes out to Ron Gardenhire and Hudson for sacrifice bunting following Span’s single in the first. It reduced Minnesota’s chances of winning by 1.8%, which isn’t much, but every little bit counts.

Speaking of bunts, Swisher needs a smack upside the head for squaring around with men on first and second with none out in the third. He didn’t get it down on the first attempt then swung away, but still. Sheesh, you’re smarter than that man.

That doesn't make any sense. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Kerry Wood had to be bailed out by Mo in the eighth, but it certainly wasn’t an ugly inning for him. He struck out Cuddyer with a 96 mph piece of cheese up in the zone for the first out, but he then walked Jason Kubel on six pitches and allowed Valencia to reach on an infield single. A weak grounder to Cano moved the runners up to second and third, bringing Girardi out of the dugout. A shaky outing overall for Wood, but he definitely did not get smacked around.

Derek Jeter only had one hit on the night, but he hit three balls right on the screws. The process is good, and soon enough the results will be there. Gardner drew a walk and saw 25 total pitches in four plate appearances. Tex had two hits, Posada had two hits, and A-Rod reached twice on a single and walk. He also had a heads-up steal with two outs in the eight, but he was left standing at second. Still a great play on his part, the man’s baseball instincts are off-the-charts. Every Yankee hitter reached base at least once, but at the same time Tex and Cano were the only ones not to strike out.

How about that craptistic job by the umpires with two outs in the ninth? Young’s line drive was caught by defensive sub Greg Golson at his shoestrings, but they ruled it a trap and the inning continued. Rivera ended the game one pitch later when he got Thome to pop-up to third, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but still. Get that call right, man.

As for Rivera, he looked like himself while recording four, really five outs. He broke at least four bats, the only one I’m not sure about is Young’s non-hit hit. That’s a pretty sweet ratio though.

Moral of tonight’s story: never count this team out. Plenty of people had one foot already off the ledge in the second and third inning. Chillax, y’all. They got this.

WPA Graph & Box Score

At one point the Yanks’ win expectancy was down to 12.4%. Solid comeback, I’d say. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other cool stuff.

Up Next

Game Two, Thursday evening a little earlier than usual. That one starts at 6:07pm ET. Yankee hero Andy Pettitte gets the ball against Yankee disgrace Carl Pavano and his mustache.

Yanks take Game One behind Granderson, Teixeira

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

And 27 28 outs later, the Yanks take Game One by the score of 6-4. The regular recap will be up shortly in a while.

ALDS Game One Spillover Thread

For luck.

(and the sake of having a fresh thread)

ALDS Game One: Yankees @ Twins

We’ve all been here before, haven’t we? Yeah, we have. Just last year these same two teams matched up in the American League Division Series, though the circumstances we’re quite the same. The Yankees had won the AL East by a considerable margin and were opening at home while Minnesota eked in after a Game 163 win against the Tigers, forcing them to throw rookie Brian Duensing in Game One with all of nine big league starts to his credit.

Things are slightly different this year. The Twinkies were the ones to coast in the postseason with a huge division lead while the Yanks had to sweat a little down the stretch. Ron Gardenhire’s team is much stronger this season thanks to a deeper and much improved lineup (last year they started Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Nick Punto in Game One), but more importantly they now have a bonafide ace. Francisco Liriano was arguably the best pitcher in the league this year, striking out 9.44 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.72 in the same time frame. He gave up nine homeruns all season (three in his last start though), all to righthanded batters. Three years out from Tommy John surgery, Liriano threw a career high 191.2 innings in 2010 and seemed to tire down the stretch (4.69 ERA, .346 wOBA against in his last ten starts). Let’s hope that trend continues today.

There are no fatigue concerns about who the Yankees are sending to the mound, and that’s CC Sabathia. Sabathia eats 191.2 inning workloads for breakfast – over the last four years he’s averaged (averaged!) over 254 innings per season, including playoffs – so as far as I’m concerned he’s just starting to get warmed up this time of year. He gave his team a win in Game One of the ALDS last year with six and two-thirds strong innings, holding the Twinkies to just one earned run while striking out eight and walking zero. CC is very important to the Yanks’ World Series hopes, but then again what ace isn’t?

Joe posted his Game One preview at FanGraphs with some sweet charts earlier today (Jack Moore did the same for the Twins), so make sure you check that out between now and first pitch. Here are your lineups…

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

CC Sabathia, SP (21-7, 3.18 ERA)

Twins
1. Denard Span, SP
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jim Thome, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jason Kubel, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. J.J. Hardy, SS

Francisco Liriano, SP (14-10, 3.62 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 8:37pm ET, and the game can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Teixeira received cortisone shot last month

Via Marc Carig, Mark Teixeira received a cortisone shot in his injury thumb at some point last month. Tex bruised the thumb on a diving play against the White Sox in late August, though the soreness lingered and it affected him at the plate for much of September. We don’t when exactly he received the shot, but he really started crushing the ball around the 21st or 22nd of last month, so a day or two before that is a good bet. Tex hit .293/.388/.585 with three homers in the last two weeks of the season, so it would be nice if he maintained that pace this month.

Joe Girardi’s not-so-big dance

For much of the last six weeks, Joe Girardi and his decisions have unwillingly grabbed the New York media spotlight. The Yankees, after all, had their playoff spot wrapped up in early August, and the sports writers, radio screamers and obsessed fans needed something to dissect as the season whiled away the final few weeks. So Joe Girardi and his moves came under fire.

On the one hand, questioning Girardi’s approach made sense. He didn’t seem to manage with much urgency over the final few weeks and often make lineup decisions and pitching moves that left the Yanks on the wrong side of a lopsided score and left many scratching their heads. But on the other hand, Girardi had a plan, and despite protestations that he truly wanted to win the AL East, he stuck with his plan. He made sure that his bullpen arms weren’t burned out; he rested Nick Swisher and his ailing knee; he gave aching Mark Teixeira time off. The team is well rested heading into its impending ALDS match-up with the Twins, and that is all thanks to Girardi.

Still, the murmuring about Girardi’s future continues to bubble. The Yankees have a policy that they keep in place for everyone: The team does not extend contracts before they run out. Derek Jeter will hit free agency. Mariano Rivera will hit free agency. Joe Girardi will hit free agency.

Girardi’s free agency brings with it intrigue. Joe’s hometown Chicago Cubs also have a managerial vacancy, and as everyone knows, GM Jim Hendry salivates at the thought of a Girardi homecoming for the hapless Cubs. As Buster Olney said last week, “Cubs remain intent on taking a run at Joe Girardi, partly to learn about him, and partly to placate fan base; they want to at least try.”

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Phil Rogers ponders the Cubs’ relationship with Girardi. He believes the Cubs have Girardi atop their list, but no one he has spoken with thinks the Yanks will jettison their skipper or that the skipper will leave New York. He writes:

As the Yankees worked out to face the Twins in their American League Division Series, I polled a dozen people who either work for the Yankees or deal with them on a regular basis.

Asked to rate the chances Girardi will change jobs after the playoffs on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the least chance, the New York insiders gave replies ranging from a -1 to a 3.5. “The door’s open,” one said, “but just a crack.”

None among those surveyed thinks there is even a 50-50 chance Girardi is sufficiently weary of New York and all that life there entails to pull the plug. That could change if something goes very bad against the Twins, but one person close to the Yankees’ brain trust offered a take that must be the worst fear for anyone who covets Girardi in the Cubs’ dugout. “If he does go somewhere, it won’t be (to Chicago),” he said.

Similarly, in idle chatter on Twitter, I’ve asked Ken Davidoff and Mark Feinsand about Girardi’s future, and they both think he will return as the Yanks’ manager. Fans though are divided. They see a guy too married to match ups and fringe role players. They claim he can hurt the Yankees more often than not despite his .591 winning percentage as the Bombers’ helmer. In New York, even winners can’t win.

So in a few hours, Girardi and his A-lineup behind CC Sabathia will take the field, and while many think this is a big series for Girardi, it isn’t. He has his team as healthy as any can be on October 6 after 162 games, and he’s lined up his rotation so that his ace pitches two of five games and lefties face a lineup vulnerable to southpaws in four of five contests. His bullpen too is rarin’ to go with a Hall of Fame closer and four legitimate set-up man in front. That’s what the manager is supposed to do, and even though the pressure is on Girardi to win because that’s what we do in New York City, this ALDS will not make him or break him. Unless he doesn’t want to be, he’ll return to the Yankees in 2011 and beyond, and that’s as close to a sure thing in baseball as you’ll find.