The New York Yankees find themselves on the brink of elimination heading into Game 4 of the ALDS with the Detroit Tigers. Tigers ace Justin Verlander struck out 11 Yankee batters as the Bronx Bombers fell 5-4 and are down two-games-to-one in their series.
The Yankees have two options tonight: win or go home. And in New York, it better be the former.
What do the Yankees have to do in order to send the series back to Yankee Stadium?
Here are some players that need to step up and some things the team has to accomplish to keep their season alive for one more game.
Joe Girardi's decision to pitch the inconsistent A.J. Burnett in Game 4 raised eyebrows among the Yankee faithful and MLB media experts. There is no telling which Burnett will show up tonight: the one who struck out nine batters in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, or the one who had an 11-11 record with a 5.15 ERA this year.
Burnett was supposed to pitch out of the bullpen in this series, but the rain in Game 1 forced a change of plans.
In the 2010 ALCS, Burnett was pitching in Game 4 against the Texas Rangers when the Yankees were trying to tie the series. He allowed a three-run home run to allow Texas to run to a 10-3 win and a 3-1 series lead. The Rangers eventually knocked off the reigning World Series champions.
Burnett faltered the last time the Yankees needed a boost in the playoffs. Will this be the case again, or will he continue a September where he went undefeated in five starts? He needs to be on his best and not let the pressure get to him.
Cano had a strong regular season this year, hitting 28 home runs and 118 RBI. He finished with a .302 batting average and .882 OPS, and he also participated in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, where he won the Home Run Derby.
In three playoff games this year, Cano has six RBI and a home run. His stat line boasts a .308 batting average and a .357 OBP, as well as a 1.049 OPS. In Game 1, he hit a grand slam to right field in the sixth inning to turn the Yankees' 4-1 lead into a dominating 8-1 lead. The Yankees won the game 9-3 to take the early series advantage.
As New York faces elimination tonight, Cano will need to work more of his magic at the plate. In four at-bats last night, he struck out twice and only got one hit. Hopefully, he can step it up to save the Yankees' season.
In the regular season, Gardner hit 36 RBI and boasted a .259 batting average. However, he really excelled in baserunning, leading the Yankees and ranking second in MLB with 49 stolen bases.
So far in the playoffs, he has had nine at-bats, where he has one run and four RBI with a .333 average. In Game 3, he tied the game 4-4 in the top of the seventh when he hit a two-run home run. Although that was the last of the offense the Yankees got, Gardner showed that he can be depended on when the Yankees need an extra push.
If Gardner can be clutch early, and maybe use his unbelievable speed around the bases to advance a go-ahead run, the Yankees can leave Detroit looking forward to Game 5.
Posada's production and playing time were down during the regular season, as he played in 115 games and hit 14 home runs and 44 RBI while putting up a .235 batting average.
But during his postseason career, he has been a part of five Yankees teams that won World Series Championships, including the 1990s dynasty under Joe Torre. In 123 playoff games, Posada has 52 runs, 11 home runs and 42 RBI while batting .246. He also has a .357 OBP and 101 hits.
In eight at-bats in this year's playoffs, Posada's four hits and three runs have earned him a .500 batting average, and he hit a single in last night's game.
Among Posada's accomplishments this year are his 10th grand slam and the single in September that gave the Yankees the AL East title. He has the potential to come up big, and as the Yankees designated hitter tonight, he'll need one more clutch moment.
After all, if the Yankees are eliminated tonight, this could be the end of Posada's career. He does not want to go out a loser.
Teixeira had a good regular season, as he hit 90 runs and 39 home runs with 111 RBI and a .248 average. But in the playoffs, he can never find the same form and his batting average has dropped significantly in each of his postseasons with the Yankees.
In 2010, Teixeira hit just one home run and three runs for a .148 batting average. This year has been worse, though. In three playoff games, he has only one hit and a .091 batting average. This is unacceptable, and there's no sugarcoating it.
Tonight, Teixeira will have to turn into a playoff performer. The Yankees know he is capable of doing better, and he will have to get it together to save the season.
According to the Yankees media relations Twitter, the Yankees were 71-23 in the regular season when they scored first. While they didn't have a stat on what their record is when scoring first in the playoffs, the Yankees will need this to work in their favor tonight. They got a 2-0 lead in the first inning last night, but allowed two runs in the bottom of the third and then surrendered one run in each of the fifth through seventh innings.
This is not the first time the Yankees have given up leads. In the last week of the regular season alone, they gave up leads in two games, including a large 7-0 lead in the last game of the year against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays' comeback allowed them to clinch the AL Wild Card and squeak into the postseason.
When the Yankees get a lead tonight, they will need to do everything possible to keep the Tigers from catching them. They can't stop working for even one inning, or the quest for another pennant will be over.
The 2011 ALDS between the Yankees and the Tigers bears many similarities to the 2006 series.
In 2006, the Yankees won Game 1 against the Tigers and then had to play a Game 2 that was pushed up because of, you guessed it, rain. They ended up losing in four games, with the final nail in the coffin coming at Comerica Park. The Tigers went on to the World Series, but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Some of the Yankees players on that 2006 team remain the same for 2011, but otherwise, this is a whole new roster. The 2011 Yankees have their chance to quiet chatter about 2006 and live to see another day.
But it won't be easy. After the Tigers won in Game 2, Detroit closer Jose Valverde declared that the series was over. As he said to The Detroit News:
"It's over already. (Justin) Verlander has it tomorrow. The next day, we have the celebration in Detroit. They have a good team, but I think that's it for them."
Well, Verlander did take down the Yankees last night, and Valverde's teammates tried to say the closer was just joking around and didn't mean to come off as arrogant. But no matter what the Tigers say, Valverde's quote has to be bulletin-board material for New York's clubhouse.
Can the Yankees get back at Valverde in the best way possible by sending the series back to New York and shushing everyone still talking about 2006?
Tonight, we'll find out.
Alison Myers is covering the 2011 MLB Playoffs for Bleacher Report and is also an NHL Featured Columnnist. You can e-mail her with questions, comments or writing opportunities at firstname.lastname@example.org or request a follow on Twitter.