Three innings earlier, it didn't seem like anything could go wrong for the Yankees.
They were riding a high. After a long night of punchless at-bats, the team entered the ninth inning down 0-4. And then boom! In a matter of minutes, Yankee Stadium caught fire. Russell Martin led off the ninth with a single, and then Ichiro Suzuki homered to cut the deficit to two runs.
After Mark Teixeira worked a walk, Raul Ibanez, the Yankees' clutch hero so far this postseason, stepped into the box. After winning Game 3 of the ALDS with two extraordinary, late-inning home runs last week, Ibanez once again came through. After taking strike one, he drove Jose Valverde's fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.
And then it was all gone. Things took a sharp turn for the worse in the top of the 12th. David Phelps came in to relieve David Robertson to start the inning and promptly walked Miguel Cabrera. Two batters later, Delmon Young lined a 2-0 slider to right field to drive in Cabrera for the go-ahead run.
Things were going badly for the Yankees at this point, but they were about to get much, much worse. Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta took a big swing and issued a knockout punch—one that could put them down for the count this October. Peralta pulled a hard groundball up the middle, on the shortstop side of the pitcher's mound. Derek Jeter, trying his hardest to turn Peralta's hit into an out, dove for the baseball.
As Jeter extended his body for the tumbling baseball, his left cleat jammed in the infield dirt. With his body weight accelerating forward, his cleat stuck in the ground and then snapped back with a violent recoil, sending him somersaulting to the ground.
Jeter immediately grimaced and cried out in pain, curling in to a wounded position. Unable to muster the strength to make a strong throw, he flipped the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano, in an attempt to keep another run from scoring (pinch runner Don Kelly stopped at third base).
TBS cameras flashed to a picture of Jeter's face—eyes clamped shut, teeth clinched in agony.
The crowd at Yankee Stadium was silenced. Not only did they watch the Tigers rip Game 1 of the ALCS out of their hands, but their beloved Yankee captain was lying flat on the ground, writhing in pain. Talk about trauma.
The scene elicited another troubling image in the minds of many fans—Mariano Rivera clutching his blown-out knee on the warning track last spring training.
Like Rivera, Jeter didn't give any indication that he was OK. Because he wasn't. When he didn't pick himself off the ground, it was clear he was very hurt.
Joe Girardi and Yankees trainer Steve Donahue helped Jeter off the field. As he hopped toward the dugout, Derek didn't put any weight on his left leg. A nervous crowd chanted, "Derek Jeter," hoping he would give a thumbs up. But with his eyes fixed on his ankle, he never even lifted his head.
It looked really bad. But there was still hope. Maybe it was just a twisted ankle, or even a sprain. In that case, the iron man that had fought through so many injuries throughout his career would still be able to suit up this postseason. Heck, it's Captain Clutch—Mr. October—we're talking about here. A twisted ankle? He'd wrap it up in athletic tape and start tomorrow's Game 2.
Will the Yankees win the World Series without Derek Jeter?
The outlook is much bleaker, however. Joe Girardi opened his postgame press conference by immediately announcing that Jeter fractured his ankle. He estimated that Jeter would have to work through a three-month recovery period before returning to the field.
Girardi also confirmed that Jeter would miss the remainder of the 2012 postseason. A crushing blow for the Yankees. Three innings earlier, Jeter collected his 200th career postseason hit, and not only is he the team's captain and one of their most productive players, he's also the most accomplished October hitter in the game's history.
The Yankees will deactivate Jeter and add shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the roster for tomorrow's game. For any fans in shock and trying to deny the fact they won't see Jeter in the infield playing for a pennant this fall, Nunez's addition to the roster will put an end to any glimmer of hope. Once Jeter is deactivated, because it's midway through the series, MLB rules won't allow him to play in the ALCS or the World Series.
Jayson Nix, who subbed in for Jeter following the injury, will take over as the Yankees' new starter at short. After the game, Nix told reporters he was ready for the opportunity and believes he can contribute to the team's success.
Nix hit .243/.306/.384 this season, a far cry from Jeter's .316/.362/.429 line. He has a 2.0 career rWAR, playing mostly off the bench in his five-season MLB career. It would be foolish to believe he could come close to replacing the captain's value, but at the very least, his plus glove represents a small upgrade over Jeter's aging legs.
Jeter has posted a -2.5 defensive WAR since the beginning of 2009, suggesting he's a well below average defensive player, while Nix has managed a rock-sold +2.5 dWAR in his career.
But what are we even talking about here? This is Derek Jeter. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, the best postseason hitter in history, and a guy that just hit .316/.362/.429 as a thirty-eight-year-old this season. He's a lifelong Yankee, and he's the owner of five World Series rings. There's no player that can replace him.
With Nunez on the roster now as well, Girardi will probably start Nix for his glove, and use Nuni's speed and contact skills in the late innings off the bench. At the top of lineup, Jeter's absence leaves a void.
Because the Yankees are facing a right-handed-only starting rotation moving forward, they could stack Ichiro Suzuki and another lefty—possibly Grandyman or Cano—at the first and second spots in the order. Ichiro is tearing it up (with four more hits tonight), but the other two aren't doing much of anything. Another option could be Swisher, a switch-hitter with power and fly-ball tendencies, but he isn't hitting either.
Jeter has suffered through left ankle ailments all season, with a bone bruise slowing his performance in September. However, according to the Yankees, this ankle fracture is unrelated.
With Jeter and Rivera now inactive, and both Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano struggling mightily, the Yankees appear to be on the ropes. At Yankee Stadium, their own fans are regularly booing them, and outside of Ibanez and Ichiro, the offense is on life support.
On the bright side, things could've been worse. A fractured ankle isn't that bad, as far as baseball injuries go, and Jeter should be healthy by the time he reports for spring training. In his postgame interview last night, Girardi emphasized that the injury isn't career-ending.