The Yankees may be at a disadvantage going into Detroit down 2-0, but they are a veteran team and have the experience to play well under pressure. The questions is, will they start to hit and get an early lead in Game 3?
Game 3 starting pitcher Phil Hughes, infielder Jayson Nix, and first baseman Mark Teixeira expressed to the media their confidence that the Yankees can come back and make the series with Detroit competitive.
Right-hander Phil Hughes will start the game after pitching well in Game 4 of the divisional series against Baltimore, giving up just one run, eight strikeouts, three walks and one run. In the regular season, Hughes was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. At the age of 26, Hughes is no longer a kid and is ready for big stage of the playoffs.
On the Media call Monday, Hughes was asked if liked the pressure of being given a start on in a big game situation,
"There's always questions that come with every start, and I don't really feel like I can, you know, sort of feel any added pressure just because of the circumstances. I just have to go out there and pitch, that's all it boils down to, not really worry about being down 0-2. I do enjoy that pressure and the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it."
Justin Verlander will be the Tigers' starter for Game 3, a tough customer for the Yankees to face down 2-0, seeing an early exit to the playoffs just two losses away. The 29-year-old right-hander is already 2-0 in the playoffs having beaten Oakland twice in the first round. In the regular season, Verlander was 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA.
Hughes commented on facing the Tigers' ace while not having Derek Jeter behind him at shortstop.
The game plan that we have going into it is to shut down the team as best we can. So that doesn't change. I'm trying to throw up as many zeros as I can. So it doesn't really affect it either way. I try to go out there, like I said, and throw the best game I can and trust that our guys are going to score some runs. And obviously Verlander is a great pitcher, but he is human and we know we can score off him. I just have to do a better job than he does. It's going to be a challenge, but, like I said, I'm looking forward to it."
With Derek Jeter not in the playoff lineup for the first time in what seems in a generation, in fact 157 straight postseason games, the task of playing shortstop falls to Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old much-traveled utility infielder has had his best career year in 2012, batting .243 with four HR and 18 RBI. Nix has two hits in seven at bats so far in the playoffs, so he may be able to contribute. Remember Bucky Dent?
Nix's comments on the conference call, indicates the Dallas, Texas native is ready to play, not over awed about filling for Jeter on the big stage, but just doing his job and taking in the playoff experience,
"I am very disappointed for Derek. That part I hate it for him. But at the same time I'm excited for my opportunity to be able to play. And ever since these playoffs started, I've really just been kind of itching to get in these games. So to have a chance to start and play in these games is very exciting, and I'm really enjoying it. But there has been a lot of emotions. With Derek going down, the role changes, been a lot of emotions. But it has been a lot of fun."
Mark Teixeira has returned to the Yankees lineup from a calf injury, performing well in the playoffs with eight hits and seven walks for a .469 on base percentage. Not bad after a regular season which witnessed the 32-year-old from Annapolis MD hit .251 with 24 HR, 84 RBI and 54 walks. About approaching the challenge and pressure of playoff baseball with the season on the line, the Yankee first baseman said:
"Yeah, I think there's two things. The first is one pitch at a time. We can't score seven runs, eight runs in one at-bat. We do want to score a lot of runs. If you try to look at the big picture and scoring a bunch of runs in a game, you might lose focus on that one pitch each at-bat. So that's the first thing, is guys will concentrate on each pitch."
Despite the playoff circumstances, baseball is still a game of cat and mouse between pitchers and hitters. Teixeira added:
"And then also it depends on what the pitcher is doing now. Say the guy is throwing a lot of sinker balls, you have to get the ball up, guys will tell each other: Hey, make this guy get the ball up. Or, hey, he is not throwing his cutter for a strike, lay off the pitch inside, whatever it may be. It is the one pitch at a time, but also a little bit of X's and O's."
About the challenge of facing Justin Verlander, Teixeira said:
"And it doesn't matter who you're facing, as a hitter you want to face familiar pitchers. Even if he happens to be the best pitcher on the planet now and maybe the best pitcher in the last 10, 15 years. We have played Justin a lot. We won a few games, we lost a few games. We know what he will do to us. He will throw it 100 miles an hour, fix in a good curveball and a good changeup. And it sounds like a tough job, but we have risen to the occasion before and are hoping to do it again.
So the Yankees will face one of the best pitchers in a game that is as close to a must-win as you are ever going to see. The Yankees are a collection of veterans who have played and often succeeded in pressure games over recent years. Whether it is Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson or Alex Rodriquez, they really need one of their key hitters to carry them through the postseason.
It is crunch time for the Yankees and their captain is on the sidelines. Will one of their veterans step up and carry them back from a 2-0 deficit in this series for the American League pennant?
Quotes provided by Kenny Leandry of the New Yankees Public Relations staff
Ken Kraetzer reports on college sports for WVOX in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American Legion radio, has followed the Yankees since the mid-1960s. Twitter: SAL50NY Radio
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