Yankee adjustments doom Liriano

For the first five innings of last night’s game, the Yankees were at the mercy of Francisco Liriano. They attempted to start a rally in the third inning when Brett Gardner walked and Derek Jeter singled with no outs, but all that appeared to do was anger the Twins’ lefty. He retired the next three batters with ease, emphatically ending the threat by getting Alex Rodriguez to swing-and-miss at three straight sliders. Those were the first three batters of a stretch in which Liriano would retire ten in a row, but after that things went downhill for him.

True to form, Liriano killed the Yankees with his slider and changeup early on. He threw those two pitches a combined 51.4% of the time this season, and stuck right with that plan for the first five innings and one batter. By my very unofficial count, Liriano threw 34 offspeed pitches out of the zone to the first 19 batters he faced, getting the Yanks to chase a whopping 15 of them. That’s broken down into eight swings-and-misses and seven with contact, whether it be a foul ball or a ground ball or whatever. Either way, Liriano was keeping the Yanks off balance by mixing his pitches and making them look like strikes before they darted away from the zone and turned into ball.

“[Liriano] really went to his offspeed pitches tonight,” said Nick Swisher, who started the sixth inning by chasing a changeup and a slider out of the zone for a leadoff strikeout. “We made a little adjustment.”

The hit that started it all. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Liriano, who averaged just 97.5 pitches per start this season, had thrown a very manageable 80 pitches through Swisher’s strikeout. Mark Teixeira, perpetually susceptible to changeups down in the zone, knew what to expect from Minnesota’s ace after he’d gotten him on (yep) a changeup in his first at-bat. Liriano threw a first pitch change and got Tex to swing-and-miss on a pitch that was both off the plate and below the zone. Tex made one of those little adjustments Swish talked about, and jumped all over the second straight changeup down in the zone, yanking it down the leftfield line for a double. With a man on second and his pitch count approaching 90, the Yanks forced Liriano to abandon his comfort zone.

A-Rod walked on six pitches as the next batter, four of which were fastballs. He took a slider for a strike and then a changeup down for a ball (as David Cone likes to say, he just spit on it) before Liriano went back to the heat. Robbie Cano got two fastballs in his two pitch at-bat and singled in the Yanks’ first run. Even though Marcus Thames followed that with a strike out for the second out of the inning, Liriano didn’t throw him a breaking ball until he got two strikes on him. The next batter, Jorge Posada, fouled off a first pitch slider in the zone, but he then took two straight fastballs for balls. Liriano tried to get him to chase a slider down for a strike, but again, Posada just spit on it. The next slider was a mistake pitch that was left about thigh high, and Posada lined it over Orlando Hudson’s head for a single and another run.

Joe covered Curtis Granderson‘s sixth inning at-bat this morning, but the pattern is important. Liriano got a called strike on a slider that hugged the outside corner of the plate, a borderline pitch. As he did with Posada, the lefty went to two straight fastballs after the first pitch breaking ball, and again both went for balls.

Liriano knew what was up at this point; the Yanks weren’t going to swing at his offspeed stuff unless it was a hittable pitch in the zone. After getting crushed with sliders and changeups early, the Yankee lineup simply took those pitches away. They swung at just one of six offspeed pitches out of the zone after Swisher’s strikeout, and that was the strike three to Thames (who had to be in protect mode with two strikes, swinging at anything close). Liriano’s fourth pitch to Granderson was another fastball, this one missing badly and eventually clanking off the wall in right-center for a two-run triple. For the sake of completeness, Liriano Jose Mijares retired Brett Gardner to end the inning one batter later, throwing him nothing but fastballs during the seven pitch at-bat.

As we’ve seen them do numerous times this season, the Yanks adjusted to the starting pitcher’s game plan the third time through the order. Liriano’s slider and changeup are both among the very best lefthanded offspeed pitches in baseball, but in that sixth inning the Yankees just took them away by simply not swinging. Swisher called it a little adjustment, but it was a little adjustment that reaped huge benefits.

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.


(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.