When the Yankees extended their season by taking Game Five yesterday, they did so thanks to the performances of their star players. Robbie Cano hit his fourth homer of the ALCS, Alex Rodriguez doubled to set-up a rally and drew two walks, Jorge Posada drove in the first run of the game and then came around to score, CC Sabathia provided six hard-fought innings, and Mariano Rivera was there to close things out in the ninth. The team’s best players were their best players in the most important game of the season, but let’s not understate the contributions they received from their deadline pickups.
Mark Teixeira‘s season came to an abrupt end in Game Four when his right hamstring popped running down to first, so Lance Berkman is now stepping in as the Yanks’ full-time first baseman. I don’t know about you, but I’d have called you crazy if you woulda told me in April that Berkman would be the team’s everyday first baseman in the ALCS. Does not compute.
Anyway, Fat Elvis dusted off his first baseman’s mitt and took to the field for just the eighth time in forty games as a Yankee. I know he had some adventurous plays down in Tampa early on and even had that nasty spill yesterday, but overall Berkman is a solid defensive first baseman (his +13.1 UZR over the last three years is basically identical to Tex’s, for what it’s worth) capable of making all the routine plays plus a little more. He won’t make the flashy plays or the throws that Teixeira can, but it’s not like the Yankees had to resort to trotting Jason Giambi out there in the postseason.
Despite batting righthanded, by far his weaker side this season (.236 wOBA), Puma managed to contribute some offensively in Game Five, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a well-struck sac fly. His approach was rather simple; he just took everything not in his happy zone, which resulted in 22 pitches seen in just four plate appearances. The potential was there for zero offensive contribution, but Berkman’s been a great hitter for a long time and he found a way to chip in anything he could from his weak side. That’s all you could ask for from your backup first baseman.
After the Yanks had built up their lead and gotten all they could out of Sabathia, they handed the ball over to another July 31st pickup in Kerry Wood. The Yankee bullpen, a strength the entire second half, had faltered in a big way during Games Three and Four, allowing 11 runs and 16 baserunners in just five innings of work, but Wood was not involved in that disaster. The first batter he faced, the pesky Elvis Andrus, reached base on his eleventyith infield hit of the series, but some pitches and pickoff throws later, Wood caught him straying too far off second. Kerry had one pickoff since the 2006 season, but Andrus was his second of the ALCS. Lucky? Yes. Do you need luck to dig out of the three games to one hole? Also yes.
Wood went to work against the heart of Texas’ order with the Andrus pickoff mixed in. He struck out both Michael Young and Josh Hamilton to end the seventh, and then came out to retire Vlad Guerrero, David Murphy, and Ian Kinsler in order in the eighth. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan were horrifically ineffective during the past two games, but Wood stepped up in the must-win situation and give his club two big innings to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Mariano Rivera.
Berkman and Wood were ideal deadline pickups for many reasons off-the-field, such as low cost to acquire and short commitment, but on-the-field they made perfect sense. Both are veteran players with playoff (and in Berkman’s case, World Series) experience, but more importantly they bought into their role. Berkman’s a hero in Houston, where he played every single day and hit in the middle of the order for the last decade or so. With the Yankees, he was just a platoon designated hitter now pressed into a more important role. Wood was saving games for a last place team in Cleveland, and saves equal money on the free agent market. He joined the Yanks as just another cog in their deep bullpen, but emerged as someone much more important than that.
When the Yanks acquired these two guys at the deadline, none of us expected them to be this important with the season on the line. If you’re going to lose a player of Mark Teixeira’s caliber to injury, Lance Berkman’s a pretty damn good replacement to have. Should the regular relievers falter, having a hard-throwing strikeout machine like Kerry Wood to back them up is more than you could ask for. Neither player will be with the Yanks next season, but right now they’re doing everything asked of them and then some to help this team try to win a World Championship, and we appreciate that.
In describing yesterday’s Game 5 victory, Cliff Corcoran of Pinstriped Bible makes a connection to the past:
Perhaps its because, after being dominated by the Rangers for four games, a single win, even a lop-sided one such as the 7-2 Game Five, doesn’t carry enough weight to restore balance to the series. Whatever it is, Game Five felt like a repeat of Game Three of the 2007 Division Series against the Indians, a face-saving but empty victory that did little other than postpone the inevitable series loss suffered in the following game.
That someone would compare this situation to 2007 was inevitable; it was not only the last time the Yankees lost a playoff series, but it’s the last time they faced an elimination game in the playoffs before yesterday. It’s the freshest, most vivid instance that we can recall, and so it weighs on our minds more heavily than instances from the more distant past. Not that there are many better comparable situations in the recent past. The last time the Yankees were down 3-1 or worse in a seven-game series was in 1976.
That’s not to say that we can’t find certain parallels to the 2007 team. Both squads had question marks on the pitching staff. The 2007 team had Chien-Ming Wang as its ace, and while he had a good regular season he bombed in the playoffs. CC Sabathia wasn’t quite that bad in the ALCS, and he actually overcame some control and stuff issues in Game 5, whereas Wang couldn’t find himself at all in 2007’s elimination game. Sabathia also performed far better than Roger Clemens, who pitched the first elimination game of 2007. You might remember that as the day Phil Hughes became a man.
Speaking of Hughes, he takes Wang’s part in this parallel story, since he pitches the second elimination game. It’s tough to make a comparison, because it’s impossible to eliminate hindsight from the equation. Did I feel confident in Wang coming back on three days’ rest to pitch Game 4 in that series? I believe I did at the time. And I believe that the confidence didn’t so much wane in the early goings as it did completely die. With Hughes the situation is a bit different. He’s not coming back on short rest because the Yankees have no one else; rather, he’s coming back on an extra day’s rest.
Still, I’m not convinced of the parallels between the 2007 Yankees and the 2010 Yankees. As I wrote yesterday, I see more parallels between the 2007 Red Sox and the 2010 Yankees. The 07 Sox, you’ll remember, were on top of the division all season. On September 3 they were 83-55, seven games up on the Yanks. They ended 96-66, just two games up on the Yanks after letting them get to within a game and a half. They then swept Anaheim in the ALDS before going down 3-1, in the same manner as the 2010 Yanks, in the ALCS. They brought in their ace, Josh Beckett, for Game 5, and ended up winning the next three games.
When making comparisons, it’s easy to look to the team’s own past. But the 2010 Yankees are as different from the 2007 Yankees as they are from the 2007 Red Sox. There might be some familiar names, but their games have changed since then. Given that the 2010 Yankees romped through the first round, where the 2007 Yankees faltered, I’m more drawn to the 2007 Sox comparison. It doesn’t hurt that the ending was a bit happier.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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)
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.
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.