ALDS Game 5: Yankees season ends
The Yankees season ended abruptly last night with a 3-2 loss to the Tigers in Game 5 of the ALDS. This defeat is a painful one for the team, as playoff expectations were high after they finished the regular season with the best record in the American League. Personally this loss came as a surprise, as it seemed the Yankees had everything lined up going into this pivotal game; the home crowd, a rested bullpen, a starter (Ivan Nova) who hadn't lost since June, and a lineup that had finally come alive in Game 4. Pitching had been the main concern for the Yankees going into the playoffs, but on this night they more than held up their end of the bargain while the offense let the team down.
Rough start: Some of the air was immediately sucked out of the fired up Yankee stadium crowd in the first inning when Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit back-to-back home runs off of Nova. In deciding games it is important to get off to a good start, and on this night the Yanks seemed to tighten up a little when the Tigers jumped to the early lead.
Key Plays: A number of plays occurred throughout the course of the game that could have easily turned the tide in the Yankees favor. Trailing 2-0 with one-out in the bottom of the 4th, A-Rod was held at third base on Jorge Posada's single to center. It would have been a close play at the plate, but this later loomed large as Russell Martin was unable to get the run in from third, popping out to the first basemen. With two-outs Brett Gardner initially had an advantageous 3-0 count against Tigers pitcher Doug Fister, and one more ball would've gotten the Yankees on the board. Fister fought back from that count to retire Gardner on a pop out to third.
The Yankees had every opportunity to break the game open in the bottom of the 7th, as due to a fortunate bounce on a grounder by Robinson Cano, the Yankees once again had the bases loaded with one-out against Tiger reliever Joaquin Benoit. With A-Rod coming up to the plate, the Yankee faithful were hoping he would obliterate the 3-1 deficit with one swing. Unfortunately, as he has looked for a majority of the last month, A-Rod was overmatched and struck out. After a walk by Mark Teixeira made it 3-2, the normally disciplined Nick Swisher went for a ball off the plate and also struck out. Derek Jeter hit one near the warning track in the bottom of the 8th, but that was as close as the Yankees would get. As Manager Joe Girardi would say after the game, they were just one hit away from winning on this night.
Tigers pitching: Credit has to be given to the Tigers pitching staff, as they made the pitches when they had to and shut the Yankees down in a hostile environment. Fister had the Yankees off balance for five innings, as with the exception of the 4th inning the Yankees were never able to put any pressure on him. Benoit worked himself into trouble on a few occasions, but bore down and got the big outs in the 7th when the game was hanging in the balance. Jose Valverde's saves are usually stressful to watch for Tigers fans, but on this night he ended the game with ease.
Yankee stars fall short: CC Sabathia and the middle of the Yankee lineup let them down in this game and the series as a whole. Counted on to be the ace of the staff, CC had a 6.23 era in the series and gave up a key run in relief that gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead in Game 5. He has come up short the last two postseasons, which combined with his struggles in the 2nd half of the 2011 season must give the Yankees brass a little pause on how much further to extend him given his ability to opt-out of his current contract this winter. A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher hit .111, .167. and .211 in the series respectively, and with the exception of A-Rod's 2009 playoff run this continues to a disturbing trend of these three having lackluster playoff performances. The Yankees rely on them to provide power in the middle of the order, but instead they have continually displayed an inability to hit quality pitching.
Jorge goes out with a bang: As I have stated in previous columns Jorge Posada is one of my all-time favorite Yankees. Given the struggles he has endured this year I was thrilled that he not only made the postseason roster, but was one of their most consistent hitters during this series. His .429 average in the ALDS led all Yankees, and he had great at bats throughout and showed that he can still hit high end pitching. I was really hoping the team we would win it in his last year, and am saddened by the fact that this is probably the last time we will see him in Pinstripes He is/was a great Yankee, and his passion, leadership, intensity, and skills will be sorely missed.
I am sure the Yankees will retool and reload in the offseason, but they definitely let a golden opportunity slip away last night. Who knows how they would have fared against the Rangers, but with the home-field advantage and their championship caliber bullpen I foresaw a tight series. Unfortunately we won't get to see how that series would've played out, as a lineup that was supposed to be the team's strong suit didn't come through when it counted.