For the New York Yankees, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers could have been a monumental victory, one highlighted by yet another unfathomably huge ninth-inning home run from Raul Ibanez.
Instead, Game 1 turned into a crushing defeat. A defeat so crushing that it makes all the crushing defeats the Yankees could have possibly imagined look like sweet dreams by comparison.
The Yankees lost Game 1 in 12 innings by the final of 6-4, but the actual result of the game is a mere fraction of what made Saturday's contest so crushing for the Yankees.
No, what matters more is what happened to ageless shortstop Derek Jeter in the top of the 12th inning. He hit the deck trying to field a ground ball up the middle off the bat of Jhonny Peralta, and then had to be helped off the field. All the while, he wore his considerable pain on his face.
And then came the diagnosis and the prognosis, which were obtained straight from Yankees manager Joe Girardi by Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:
Jeter fractured ankle out for 3 months— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) October 14, 2012
Fist of the baseball gods? Meet the gut of the New York Yankees.
There's no exaggerating how huge of a loss this is for the Yankees. With Jeter gone, they're going to play the rest of the ALCS without a guy who has 200 career postseason hits to his name, not to mention a guy who hit .316 during the regular season at the age of 38.
In addition, Jeter is—or was—hitting .333 in this postseason for a Yankees team that has been struggling mightily at the plate ever since the playoffs began.
And indeed, when it comes to Jeter, the numbers only mean so much. The Yankees have lost a productive player, sure, but they've also lost without a doubt the most important player on the team.
Jeter is the captain of the Yankees. He's the club's heart and soul. In the words of Reggie Jackson, he is the straw that stirs the drink.
And now he's gone, not to be seen again on a baseball diamond until spring training. His 2012 season is officially in the books.
Alas, the Yankees' 2012 season will soon follow. They will not recover from this.
Yeah, I know. Doom and gloom. Typical Yankee hater nonsense. This writer should shut his stupid pie hole. Rabble, rabble, rabble. Such is the usual drill whenever doom is forecasted for the Yankees.
But this is different. This time, the doom is for real and it's hiding in plain sight.
The Jeter injury is an absolute killer, but what's worse is that it's not the only distressing storyline the Yankees are taking away from Game 1. Other not-so-great stuff happened to them as well.
Most distressing of all—after the Jeter injury, of course—is the fact that the Yankees' offensive struggles in this postseason kept on keeping on in Game 1 against the Tigers. The Yankees hit just .211/.278/.333 as a team in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles, and they weren't much better against Doug Fister and the rest of Detroit's arms on Saturday night.
The Yankees scored four runs on 11 hits and six walks, to be sure, but those numbers are misleading. All four of the Yankees' runs came in the ninth inning against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, and he may be the worst pitcher Jim Leyland has in his bullpen at the moment. The two two-run homers that were hit by Ichiro and Ibanez off of Valverde represent two of the three hits the Yankees got with runners in scoring position in a total of 13 chances.
In six postseason games, the Yankees are now hitting .222 with runners in scoring position. That's even worse than the .256 average with runners in scoring position they posted during the regular season, and that mark was bad enough to begin with.
And yes, the usual suspects were back at it in Game 1. The hitters who have been struggling in this postseason kept right on struggling.
Robinson Cano went 0-for-6 batting out of the No. 3 spot, making him 2-for-28 in this postseason. He looks nothing like the hitter who finished the regular season on a 24-for-39 tear, which may have something to do with the fact that he's facing quality pitching rather than, you know, the pitching of the Twins, Blue Jays and Red Sox.
Nick Swisher went 1-for-5 batting out of the No. 7 hole, making him 3-for-23 in the playoffs. He also didn't help the Yankees by badly misplaying a ball in the right field gap off the bat of Delmon Young in the top of the 12th inning that turned into a go-ahead RBI double.
Curtis Granderson went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts batting out of the No. 8 hole, making him 3-for-23 in the playoffs with a grand total of 11 strikeouts.
As for Alex Rodriguez, well, he just did his Alex Rodriguez thing again. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout that came, naturally, in a key situation in the sixth inning in which the Yankees had runners on second and third with nobody out. He's now 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in the postseason.
A-Rod was booed once again, but Granderson, Swisher and even Cano heard their share of the boos as well. Yankees fans appear to be fully aware that it's not all A-Rod's fault at this point. They seem to understand that Ichiro, Ibanez and Mark Teixeira are the only worthwhile hitters the Yankees have right now, and that three out of nine isn't so good.
There's very little room for optimism with the Yankees' offense. Even before Jeter was removed from the equation, all of the Yankee offense's worst nightmares were coming true in this postseason. Skeptics were complaining all through the regular season that the Yankees were over-reliant on the home run and hopeless with runners in scoring position, and the Orioles and Tigers have done a fine job of exploiting these weaknesses.
And there's no reason to think that the Tigers are going to stop exploiting these weaknesses.
Even despite some early control problems, Fister had his way with the Yankees through six-and-a-third in Game 1, and the Tigers have a few more quality starting pitchers lined up to follow him in this series.
Anibal Sanchez will toe the rubber in Game 2 on Sunday. He looked sharp in his Game 3 start against the Oakland A's in the ALDS, and before that he posted a 2.15 ERA in his final eight starts of the regular season. He's a tough customer.
After Sanchez goes in Game 2, Justin Verlander will go in Game 3. He's a
tough customer the best pitcher in baseball. Hands down.
After Verlander goes in Game 3, Max Scherzer will go in Game 4. He'll be going up against a true ace in CC Sabathia, but Scherzer certainly has the stuff to match up with him on a good day. When Scherzer is feeling it, he features an array of unhittable pitches.
All told, we're talking about a Tigers rotation that posted the second-best ERA in the American League this season. The likes of Verlander, Fister, Sanchez and Scherzer represent a brutally tough matchup for a Yankees team that, if we're being honest, has only really been impressive against closers in this postseason.
And they won't be lucky enough to see Valverde in a save situation again. Not after the stunts he's pulled the last two times he's tried and failed to protect a lead in the ninth inning. If Leyland uses Valverde in a save situation again, he won't make it out of the dugout before somebody slaps a straight jacket on him.
The Tigers' bullpen will be an adventure even if Valverde's role is reduced, but the Tigers are still going to have a better team than the Yankees. They have more hitters they can trust than the Yankees do, and their starting pitching is significantly better. With Jeter gone, the task before Detroit's starters will be even easier.
The odds are very good that the Tigers will take a 2-0 series lead back to Detroit. All they have to do is ride Sanchez to a win over Hiroki Kuroda on Sunday, and that may be rather easy seeing as how Kuroda is going to be starting on three days' rest for the first time in his professional career.
You can see how dire the signs are for the Yankees. They lost an extra-inning game for the second time in three days on Saturday, and this loss featured more offensive struggles and a season-ending injury to their brightest star. The road ahead is paved with tough starting pitching matchups, and it may not return home again before the series is over.
To beat the Tigers in this ALCS, the Yankees will have to claw, scratch and fight like they've never clawed, scratched and fought before. They may only be down 1-0, but they are officially in last stand mode.
In times like these, the Yankees are used to looking to Derek Jeter to lead them. Whenever he was at the plate or in the field, the Yankees stood a chance.
Jeter will not appear at the plate again in this series, nor will he be glimpsed at shortstop. He will be glimpsed only in the dugout, where he will surely be doing his level-best to cheer his teammates on.
A cheerleader isn't what the Yankees need. They need a star shortstop. They need a captain.
They need Derek Jeter.
And Derek Jeter's not walking through that door.
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