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…

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)

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.

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.

Yankees meltdown late, drop Game Four

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It all started out so promising. A.J. Burnett was throwing the snot out of the ball in the first few innings, the offense was hitting so rockets off Tommy Hunter, and the Yankees had a lead into the sixth inning with Mariano Rivera reasonably available for two innings. Things looked good, but of course they didn’t end that way. A.J. was left in perhaps for a few batters too many, and the end result is a commanding three games to one lead for the Rangers in the best-of-seven series.

Everything changed for good in the fifth inning. The Yanks were up 3-2 at the time on the strength of a Robbie Cano homer, a Curtis Granderson single, and a Brett Gardner fielder’s choice, and they were mounting another threat with men at first and second and no outs. Mark Teixeira, still 0-for-ALCS, came up with a chance to redeem himself, but all he did was bounce into a potential double play. Michael Young fielded the grounder at third, stepped on the base and fired to first, but he pulled first baseman Mitch Moreland off the bag. Tex slid into first awkwardly, prompting some chuckles, but everyone stopped laughing when he stayed down. The Yanks’ first baseman strained his hammy running down the line and didn’t slide as much as crumble in pain. He wasn’t just removed from the game, he’s done for the season entirely.

The sad thing is that Burnett actually pitched pretty well for the first five innings. He had allowed two runs to that point, both in the third inning, and that entire rally came without the benefit of a ball leaving the infield. He gave the Yanks pretty much everything they could have hoped for and then some up to that point. More than two weeks since his last start, Burnett was ordered to intentionally walk Babe Ruth Barry Bonds Ted Williams David Murphy with his pitch count at 94. One pitch later, and it wasn’t even a bad pitch that far inside, Bengie Molina whacked a three run homer that gave Texas a 5-3 lead they’d never give up.

As usual, the Yankees had their chances to score runs. They stranded a man on second (two outs) in the third, men at second and third (two outs) in the fourth (Frankie Cervelli got to make the final out!), got nothing out of that fifth inning rally, and then left the bases loaded in the eighth after Nick Swisher and righty hitting Lance Berkman (Tex’s injury screwed things up) had chances to do damage. Hell, they couldn’t even get the runner in from second with no outs in the ninth inning in the lowest of low pressure situations. All told, they went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position in Game Four, and are three for their last 27 with RISP dating back to Game Two. Good recipe to lose right there.

The final score was 10-3 after Boone Logan allowed yet another homer to Josh Hamilton (who went deep twice), Joba Chamberlain continued to pitch himself right out of town, and Sergio Mitre reminded everyone why he’s been non-tendered twice already. All told, the Rangers have outscored the Yanks 22-5 since the eighth inning of Game One, and it’s not a fluke. They’ve outplayed them in pretty much every way imaginable, and they deserve to win. The series isn’t over, but the Magic 8 Ball says “outlook not so good.” CC Sabathia gets the ball tomorrow afternoon with the season on the line.

Teixeira out for the season; Nuñez to be activated

12:45am: It’s a Grade II strain, worse than when Phil Hughes popped his hammy back in 2007. He’ll need 6-8 weeks to recover, but that doesn’t really matter. He’ll be ready to go for Spring Training, which is what’s important.

12:23am: As the Yanks’ season rests in the hands of their ace CC Sabathia, the team will be without Mark Teixeira for the remainder of the postseason. Following a disastrous hamstring pull in the pivotal fifth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, the Yankees will remove Teixeira from the roster tomorrow and activate Eduardo Nuñez, Bryan Hoch reported after the game. With this move, Teixeira is done for the season as per MLB rules, he will be ineligible to play in the World Series. What a way for his season to end.