Obviously, a team wants to win every playoff game, but in a series it is difficult to take them all. Winning the first game of a series is always important; however, the Tigers winning Game 1 was even more so than usual and now puts the weight of the series on Game 2.
The Detroit Tigers took the first game of the ALCS series from the New York Yankees despite shaky pitching. Doug Fister walked five batters and three times allowed the bases to be loaded. He survived each inning without allowing a run.
Jose Valverde came into the game in the ninth. The closer was perfect last season but has had some rough patches this year. He blew five saves during the season and has now twice lost leads in the playoffs. He gave up four runs off of two home runs in the ninth.
When he was finally pulled after only getting two outs in the ninth, he may have lost his closer’s role on the team. As he will be a free agent after the season, he likely has lost his roster spot as well. Despite this, the Tigers were able to win.
The Yankees fought back in that ninth inning to tie the game. Normally, this gives a team an incredible surge of momentum. The Tigers were able to hold on, though, and won the game in the 12th inning by scoring two runs. Stopping a comeback like that can suck the energy out of a team.
The Yankees now enter the next game with so much pressure on them. While this is a must-win game for them, the Tigers need it just as much.
By dropping the comeback, the Yankees are already deflated. While many teams have bounced back from such defeats, the Yankees now face an uphill battle. They now enter this game without their leader, Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle.
Jeter has been responsible for 30 percent of the team's postseason scoring. On a team that has had so many players struggling, losing one of the few productive ones could be devastating.
Jeter’s replacement will be Jayson Nix. He is a career backup player who has bounced between five teams over five seasons. He is a career .214 hitter, although he had his best season this year but still has only hit .243.
He is not a true shortstop, either, as 255 of his 317 games have come at second and third base. He has only played 35 games at shortstop with seven errors. Not only do the Yankees lose Jeter’s production and leadership, they lose his fielding as well.
Hiroki Kuroda will be starting Game 2 for the Yankees. He will be starting on short rest for the first time in his career. Every pitcher is different, so it is difficult to predict how he will respond to the short rest in this game or what holdover effect it will have on a possible start after this. But between the short rest and being down in the series, the pressure will be on Kuroda.
Perhaps the biggest reason that this is a must-win game is due to Game 3. Justin Verlander will be the starter in that game. He has a 0.56 ERA in his two playoff starts this season. That game will be in Detroit, where his already impressive stats are even more amazing. In Detroit this season, his ERA is 1.65 and batters have a paltry .187 batting average against him.
With the Yankees' anemic offense right now, the team does not want to come into that game down two games—which is why Game 2 is a must-win for the Yankees.
Many of these reasons are also why it is a must-win for the Tigers. The last thing they want to do is give the Yankees any hope. They cannot allow them to win their first game without Jeter, as that will instill some hope in the team.
While winning this game will not seal the series, it would provide a monumental task for the Yankees to overcome. This would force them to not only face Verlander in Game 3 but then Max Scherzer in Game 4. Verlander and Scherzer led the AL in strikeouts this season.
The Yankees have been strikeout machines in these playoffs with 57 so far. That does not bode well for them facing two of the better strikeout pitchers in the game.
Game 2 comes down to a survival game. Can the Yankees rise to the challenge and keep their hopes alive? Can the Tigers begin to stomp out the Yankees' dreams of another World Series run? Sure, it is early, but with a win here the Tigers can start thinking sweep.
You never want to allow a team to hang around, to give them a chance or any hope. Game 2 is where the Tigers can take away any hope from the Yankees.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports. You can follow him on Twitter.
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