It came a day late, but there was nothing short about Detroit’s sweeping victory. Max Scherzer supplied the latest stellar start, holding the befuddled Yankees hitless for 5 innings before departing in the 6th, while validating his MLB K-rate title by fanning 10 of the first 19 batters, nine of them swinging. As in the opening round, the Bengal bats broke out their one big inning in the clincher, spanking CC Sabathia to the funky beat of 6 runs on 11 hits in 3.2 IP.
They amassed 16 hits in all — surpassing their postseason record of 15, set in game 1 — and punched up 4 HRs (to match their total for the prior 8 games), including their first two multi-run HRs of this postseason. The circuit clouts were struck by Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta (twice) and Austin Jackson; that same trio accounted for Detroit’s 4 HRs in last year’s ALCS finale, but this time there were no big crooked numbers up on the opposing line.
The first two runs off Sabathia were tainted by sloppy play at the corners. In the 1st, Eric Chavez (whose play did nothing to validate his manager’s desperate ditch of A-Rod) reacted slowly on a bouncer that may have melted into the afternoon glare, and hustling Omar Infante beat the throw; that set up Delmon Young‘s two-out liner to right for the early lead. (Young notched what we once called the “game-winning RBI” in all four contests and was rewarded with the series MVP.) With 2 outs and 2 on in the 3rd, Mark Teixeira backed up in search of a candy hop but tasted only vinegar when the ball sprang over his glove, his second misplay of the inning but first charged error, and Avisail Garcia cashed in with a chopper over CC’s head that Eduardo Nunez contained but could not convert.
As in game 3, the Yankees could not square up what hittable pitches they saw. Their only threat before garbage time came with 2 gone in the 3rd. Prince Fielder stone-handled a Nunez cue-shot, and after a steal and a walk, Nick Swisher stepped in with a chance to shed some baggage from his Titanic cargo hold. Swish had worked a 7-pitch AB in the 1st, but then swung over Scherzer’s first good slider. Here, he got ahead 2-and-1, then took a knee-high fastball that tailed back to chip the dish for strike two. Finally, with the scene set by three straight interior decorations, Scherzer nailed an outside target and got a call from umpire Jeff Nelson, leaving Swisher justifiably steamed.
Before the Bombers’ next baserunner, the Bengals’ big bang theory had blown the game off its hinges.
Scherzer breezed through the 4th with two more strikeouts, claiming Raul Ibanez for the second time. With one out in the home half, Infante looped a single into right-center, and Sabathia started Cabrera with a fastball inside. Yankee hurlers had effectively contained the triple-crown winner with hard stuff aimed at his shins, but this one came in thigh-high, and Cabrera boosted it on a majestic path. The slain spheroid shuffled off its mortal coil and found its final repose in the left-field stands. Two batters later, Peralta popped a belt-high bender into the same area code, and when Andy Dirks one-hopped the wall, the Yankees’ ace headed for the dugout, taking their last hopes with him. New York trailed by 6 runs, one more than they’d tallied in the series so far.
Scherzer left in the 6th after the lone tally, and three relievers closed it out by retiring 10 of 11 batters. For the third straight game, ex-Yankee Phil Coke got the last out, completing 5.2 scoreless innings in the series, sending the Tigers to their 11th pennant and second under Jim Leyland.
The expensive benchwarmers did get in the game, after all. Alex Rodriguez pinch-hit for Ibanez in the 6th against a lefty, with 2 outs and 2 on, and a chance to trim the bulge to 2 runs, but Drew Smyly got ahead and induced a routine flyout. Curtis Granderson batted in the 7th with a man aboard, but U-turned after three pitches, his seventh whiff in 11 hitless ABs this series to round out a 3-for-30, 16-K postseason, his only run and RBI on a solo HR. A-Rod would roll to short for the 2nd out of the 9th, completing the autumn of his discontent at 3 for 25 with no RBI. Robinson Cano took another collar and wound up 3 for 40. Swisher collected the long-awaited RBI, but finished the postseason at 5 for 30; Russell Martin finished 5 for 31, while Eric Chavez fanned in both his trips to maintain a pristine 0 for 16. New York batted .157 for the series, Detroit .291.
The starters’ efforts in Detroit’s 9-game run to the World Series have averaged about 7 innings and 1 run, with 66 Ks in 62 IP; none has yielded more than 2 runs in a game. In the unexpectedly brief ALCS, the four-man crew meted out 2 runs in 27.1 IP. And while Scherzer alone has failed to deliver a quality start, that’s just because he’s been short-leashed by a couple of dings; his outings have been touched by just 2 runs (1 ER) on 5 hits in 11 IP, with 18 Ks against 3 walks.
Delmon Young was so hot, he even drew his first unintentional walk in his last 50-some postseason PAs.
The finale brought to mind a line near the end of the endlessly quotable film The Lion in Winter, spoken by Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionheart. He and his brother princes have been scrapping to be named heir by Henry II, but are now endungeoned under pall of execution. Cornered, the warrior Richard blusters defiantly — “He isn’t going to see me beg!” — while bloodless Geoffrey mocks him: “Why, you chivalric fool. As if the way one fell down mattered.” But Richard is unbowed:
“When the fall is all there is, it matters.”
For most of their history, the Yankees have lived by a very different meaning of “the fall is all there is.” October wears pinstripes. But today, with their ouster from this year’s pageant all but certain, the highest hopes reserved by many fans and surely some within the organization were for nothing but a decent showing, a noble fall: that for one game at least, at last, with their indomitable ace on the hill, this team might actually look like The Yankees, and if not change their fate, at least go down fighting.
No such luck. The Yanks exited the stage today in seeming disarray: Captain fallen, Ace battered, Achilles sulking in his tent, Skipper setting courses that cried out “My kingdom for a horse!”; dismissed for the second straight year by a team that has rarely been addressed in the Yankees’ plans for world domination. One should not get carried away by these four games, or by this fortnight’s scoring drought; the organization lacks nor means nor smarts to build the bridge to the next championship team. But the pervading sense is: that team, whenever they arrive, will not look much like this one.