September 2011

Rain invades ALDS, suspends Game 1

It was somehow fitting that following a regular season in which 22 Yankees games were affected by inclement weather that the postseason would, too. But the first game?

Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Tigers Friday night at Yankee Stadium was suspended because of rain in the middle of the second inning with the score 1-1 and will resume at the point of the suspension beginning at 8:37 Saturday night.

“We’ve been through this all year long,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s not what either club wanted. Both clubs have to deal with it. The one thing I probably learned as much as any other, you cannot fight Mother Nature.”

The dream matchup of the Yankees’ CC Sabathia against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander will have to wait, perhaps to Monday night at Detroit. Girardi said that Ivan Nova will pitch Saturday night and Freddy Garcia in Game 2 Sunday. Similarly, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he will stay in rotation with Doug Fister resuming Game 1 Saturday night and Max Scherzer to start Game 2 Sunday.

There is nothing definite about when Sabathia and Verlander will work again but if so it will probably be at Comerica Park, so Yankees fans lost the marquee pairing. The break for each team is that neither Sabathia nor Verlander will start more than one game in the best-of-5 ALDS.

Sabathia struck out the first two batters before giving up a home run to Delmon Young, but the Yankees figured out a way to get a run off Verlander without a hit in the bottom half. Derek Jeter struck out but got to first base on a wild pitch. A walk to Curtis Granderson and two groundouts sent Jeter around the bases.

The change in pitchers may affect the Tigers more than the Yankees because Leyland’s lineup was set for a lefthander in Sabathia and now will oppose a righthander in Nova. Both Detroit pitchers are righthanded, so the change doesn’t affect the Yankees.

“That’s the one little dilemma probably, but it will work out,” Leyland said. “I’m going to keep my lineup in there and see how the game plays out. I’m not going to start pulling guys out and change my lineup in the bottom of the second inning. My lineup will be the same when we take the field. I do feel bad for the national audience and the fans that were here tonight. Certainly, it was really a marquee matchup. That’s a little said, but that’s the way it is.”

The only tickets valid for Saturday night’s resumed game are tickets for ALDS Home Game 1. Fans holding tickets for ALDS Home Game 2 originally scheduled for Saturday night must use them for Sunday’s game. There will be no refunds or exchanges for tickets to ALDS Home Game 1 or ALDS Home Game 2.

Unusual ‘start’ for Mo

Think of all the distinguished players, many of them Hall of Famers, who have thrown out ceremonial first pitches before postseason games at Yankee Stadium and the list has run the gamut from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Yogi Berra to Whitey Ford to Reggie Jackson to Bernie Williams and scores of others in between.

Leave it to the Yankees to come up with something a bit different Friday night as the Yankees opened their 50th postseason. Prior to Game 1 of the American League Division Series, active players handled the assignment as Mariano Rivera, who became baseball’s all-time saves leader this year, performed the duty throwing to long-time catcher Jorge Posada, who took the position behind the plate in full gear, chest protector, shin guards and all.

As Mo stood on the front of the mound, Jorgie motioned for him to move back on to the rubber. Rivera then threw his usual strike to the delight of the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium. How odd it was to see the man who usually closes games to get one started.

Red Sox Nation conspiracy hunting

Yankees Universe will love this. The American League Division Series started Friday night with the Yankees in and the Red Sox out. According to Red Sox nation, this is all the Yankees’ fault.

That’s right. The Red Sox did not qualify for postseason play because the Yankees conspired to keep Boston out. It is all the fault of Yankees manager Joe Girardi for using 11 pitchers in the final game against Tampa Bay and setting it up for journeyman Scott Proctor to toss a lollipop to Evan Longoria for a game-winning home run in the 12th inning moments after Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon had blown a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth in Baltimore that jumped the Rays over the Red Sox as the AL’s wild-card entry.

This is how sick the fans of that crybaby team that calls Fenway Park home reacts to everything: the Yankees are to blame. What a joke!

Of the 20 losses the Red Sox had in 27 games in September when they spit up a nine-game lead in the wild card standings, only four were to the Yankees. The same Scott Proctor who gave up that playoff clinching homer to Longoria also gave up a 14th-inning home run to Jacoby Ellsbury in the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. How come Red Sox Nation doesn’t think the Yankees were trying to help Boston there?

That the Yankees are responsible for the Red Sox’ failure to make the playoffs is absurd. After all, the Yankees had a 7-0 lead in that last game at Tropicana Field. Girardi paraded a collection of relievers into the game, but the guys that Tampa Bay came back against were not September callups. The Rays tied the score off Boone Logan, Luis Ayala and Cory Wade, all of whom were slated for the postseason roster. Proctor is another story, but Joe had simply run out of arms.

The Red Sox won the season series over the Yankees, 12-6. Where were the conspiracy theorists when the Yankees were losing eight of their first nine games and 10 of 12 to the Red Sox earlier in the season? Please tell me how that is the Yankees’ way of making sure Boston didn’t reach postseason play. The best way to keep opponents from advancing to the playoffs is to beat them as often as you can, which the Yankees certainly did not do for the most part against Boston.

I covered the 2004 AL Championship Series when the Yankees gagged on that 3-0 lead to the Red Sox and became the first baseball team to lose a seven-game postseason series after having won the first three games. The Yankees had a one-run lead in the ninth with Mariano Rivera, the best closer of all time, on the hill in Game 4 three outs from a sweep. Dave Roberts stole second base, and it all went downhill from there.

It was an excruciating period for Yankees Universe. The most successful franchise in sports suffered the most embarrassing postseason collapse. However, I don’t remember Yankees fans blaming anyone else for the team’s failure other than the team itself. The players felt the same way. They were responsible for not putting the Red Sox away.

This is no different. The Red Sox had an entire month to put the Rays out to pasture. That they failed to do so was no one’s fault but their own. Red Sox Nation should not hang Boston’s humiliating ending on the Yankees. Look in your own dugout.

Rays stun Yanks’ long parade of relievers

Joe Girardi managed Wednesday night’s game as if were an All-Star Game, and just as what happened to Joe Torre and Bob Brenly in 2002 he ran out of pitchers as the Rays staged a stunning comeback to push the Yankees’ final regular season game into extra innings.

For seven innings as the Yankees were coasting along with a 7-0 lead and working on a combined two-hitter, Girardi was running out pitchers sometimes just one out at a time. A.J. Burnett in fact pitched to only one batter. The strategy seemed fine so long as the Yankees had a huge lead, but man, did everything start coming apart in the eighth.

Think of all those people in the paid crowd of 29,518 at Tropicana Field who left the park early when it appeared their team had no chance to come from behind. Tampa Bay has one of the weakest lineups in the majors, so when the Yankees jumped all over David Price on a grand slam and a solo homer by Mark Teixeira in the first four innings the Jays seemed cooked.

But after Andruw Jones homered in the fifth to make it 7-0, the Yankees stopped hitting. They made 15 consecutive outs before former teammate Kyle Farnsworth walked two batters in the 10th before striking out Austin Romine.

With six outs left in their season and knowing the Red Sox were up by a run in Baltimore, the Rays put together a rally in the eighth against Boone Logan and Luis Ayala. Old pal Johnny Damon got it started with a single. Ben Zobrist, who made a costly error in the first inning, followed with a double.

Two hit batters sandwiched around a walk pushed across two runs. A sacrifice fly by B.J. Upton sent home another. Evan Longoria got the Rays’ only hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a three-run home run off Ayala that made it a one-run game. The real devastating blow to the Yankees and an uplifting one for the Rays was yet to come.

Right out of a pulp fiction novel, pinch hitter Dan Johnson, down to what seemed Tampa Bay’s last strike of the season, drove a 2-2 changeup from Cory Wade into the right field seats to tie the score.

So the Yankees headed into extras having already used 11 pitchers. After the 11th, Scott Proctor, the only other available arm was Hector Noesi whom Girardi would have preferred to rest. The regular season just wouldn’t end for the Yankees.

They were still on the field when they found out who they will play in the American League Division Series that starts Friday night at Yankee Stadium – the Tigers. The Rangers’ extra-inning victory at Anaheim ensured they would face the wild card entry, the identity of which was not known until after midnight.

In a stunning turn of events, only minutes after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, who scored two runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth, Longoria took Proctor deep with one out in the 12th for a playoff-clinching home run. The Rays’ 8-7 victory over the Yankees completed an amazing comeback against Boston, which lost a nine-game lead in the wild-card standings over 26 days in one of the worst collapses in major-league history.

A-Rod a late scratch with sore surgical knee

While Yankees manager Joe Girardi was letting his bullpen handle Wednesday night’s season finale, he planned to put out his regular lineup against the Rays because of the wild-card race that has gone down to the wire between Tampa Bay and Boston.

However, before the game Alex Rodriguez was scratched due to a sore right knee, the same one that he had surgery on in July that shelved him for 38 games. A-Rod was originally slated to play third base and bat fifth. Girardi went with September call-up Brandon Laird at third and batted him ninth moving everyone else up one spot with Swisher batting fifth.

Girardi recently flip-flopped Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira in the third and fifth spots in the order against right-handed pitching. Against Tampa Bay lefthander David Price, Girardi returned Teixeira to the 3-hole and batted Cano cleanup, which could also be the plan in the postseason.

Tex put a dagger into the Rays’ playoff hopes by belting a grand slam in the second inning to give the Yankees and rookie starter Dellin Betances a 5-0 lead. It was Teixeira’s first homer in 33 career at-bats against Price.

Tampa Bay got off to a shaky start as the usually sure-handed Ben Zobrist booted a ground ball by Cano that gave the Yankees an unearned run in the first inning. It was Zobrist’s first error at the position in 66 games.

Girardi also made some news with the announcement – frankly that almost everybody suspected – that Ivan Nova will start the second game of the American League Division Series after CC Sabathia works the opener. The identity of the third starter is still to be determined.

Rays fans salute Soriano for different reason

Rays fans cheered Rafael Soriano throughout the 2010 season as he registered a league-leading 45 saves for Tampa Bay that earned him a multi-year, mega-bucks contract as a free agent with the Yankees. He was the object of a joyful Tropicana Field audience Tuesday night when Soriano gave up a three-run home run to Matt Joyce in the seventh inning that sent the Rays toward a 5-3 victory that kept alive their hopes for a wild-card playoff berth.

Three was the key number for the Rays in this one. Joyce’s three-run bomb followed by one inning a triple play pulled off by the Tampa Bay infield that snuffed out a Yankees rally that threatened to break the game open. The Yanks had taken a 3-2 lead on a walk and doubles by Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher.

An intentional walk to Jorge Posada loaded the bases for Russell Martin, who had homered off Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson earlier in the game. Martin hit a hard grounder to third base where Evan Longoria gloved it, stepped on the bag and instead of throwing home for the lead runner shot the ball to second base where Ben Zobrist relayed to first for the triple killing. That was a tremendously heady play by Longoria, who realized the guy who hit the ball was a catcher and gave the triple play attempt a try.

The play seemed to revive the Rays, who were able to score only two runs in 5 1/3 innings off a so-so Bartolo Colon, who remained winless in 10 starts since July 30 (0-4, 5.37 ERA). After the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke of Colon’s contributions this season in the past tense, which seemed to indicate that the veteran righthander might not be on the staff for the first round of the playoffs.

The Yankees are still trying to decide what to do to prepare for the Division Series because they do not yet know who they will play, either Detroit or Texas. As for the wild card, that will go down to the last game. The Red Sox hung on for an 8-7 victory in Baltimore. David Price will start for Tampa Bay Wednesday night against a collection of Yankees pitchers who will not be on the postseason roster.

Girardi warned the Red Sox this was going to happen. With the American League East and home-field advantage for the first two rounds in place, the Yankees don’t owe Boston anything.

Can Jeter finish the year at .300?

Derek Jeter was not in the starting lineup Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. It was likely his last day off for the season. The Captain is expected to start Wednesday night in the regular season finale and continue his pursuit to a .300 batting average.

Jeet is batting .298 in 543 at-bats. He would need to go 2-for-4 to finish the season at .300. If he goes 1-for-3 or 2-for-5, he would finish at .299. Now here’s a situation. If Jeter should get a hit in his first at-bat, that would put his average at .2996, which would round out to .300. If that should happen, would Yankees manager Joe Girardi take Jeter out of the game to protect the .300 average? Would DJ ask out?

Hmmm. My guess is no, but I would have no problem if that were the case. It is not like a batting title is at stake. As for the Red Sox being upset because they would want the Yankees’ best team on the field in that last game with the wild-card spot on the line, tough. Boston created the tight race it finds itself in now.

Speaking of the Yankees’ lineup, Girardi batted Robinson Cano in the 3-hole for the third straight game and appears to be leaning toward doing so in the postseason against right-handed pitching. The skipper is essentially flip-flopping Cano and Mark Teixeira. Cano has earned the shot at batting in the 3-hole. Entering play Tuesday night, he was a .333 hitter with 1 double, 1 homer and 5 RBI in 24 at-bats when batting third.

Rays manager Joe Maddon showed so much respect for Cano that he ordered him intentionally walked in the third inning with two outs, a runner on second base and Alex Rodriguez on deck. It worked out for Tampa Bay but not immediately because Jeremy Hellickson walked A-Rod to fill the bases before getting Teixeira on a fly to right.

Yanks can’t get to 100 in W column

The Yankees’ 5-2 loss at Tropicana Field Monday night means that they cannot win 100 games this year. They needed to sweep the Rays in the season-ending, three-game set to get into three figures in victories for the 20th time in franchise history.

It is no big deal because the Yankees have done everything they wanted to do, which was to win the American League East and finish with the best record in the league that will give them home field advantage in the Division Series and League Championship Series. Reaching 100 in the W column would have been a nice topping on the season but one that was not necessary.

Not that Yankees fans ever like to see them lose, but falling to Tampa Bay combined with the Red Sox’ loss at Baltimore means the Rays have pulled into a tie for the wild card berth with Boston, which has squandered a nine-game lead in those standings since Sept. 4. If the teams should remain tied after Tuesday night’s game, there could be pressure on Yankees manager Joe Girardi to field a representative lineup for the last game of the season if the wild-card slot is still on the line.

Girardi made it clear before the Yankees left for St. Petersburg, Fla., that he was starting Bartolo Colon Tuesday night and that Wednesday night’s finale would be handled by the bullpen. He has no reason to do anything differently. Girardi’s first responsibility is to the Yankees. He used a lot of regulars last weekend against the Red Sox and last week and Monday night against the Rays. He is under no obligation for the integrity of the game to do something that might hurt his team’s chances in postseason play, which begins Friday night.

The Red Sox and the Rays had a 162-game schedule and 18 games apiece against the Yankees to stay close to them. Boston in particular has no gripe. The Red Sox got into this fix by themselves and should not expect any kind of helping hand from the Yankees now.

Hughes back in bullpen, shades of 2009

There will be no Phil Hughes audition for a starter’s role in the playoffs. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has decided that the team would be better served with Hughes in the bullpen, a role that he handled particularly well in 2009. Besides, with no need for a fifth starter in the postseason, Hughes was the most fitting choice of those in the rotation to work out of the pen.

Hughes, who has been bothered by back problems that required an epidural injection, pitched out of the pen Monday night at Tropicana Field in his first appearance in two weeks and his second since Sept. 6.

The righthander showed some rust with two walks in the fifth inning but after giving up a leadoff double to Matt Joyce in the sixth Hughes came back strong by getting Casey Kotchman on a foul pop behind the plate and striking out Terry Shoppach, who had homered earlier off Raul Valdes, who himself is auditioning for a bullpen role as a situational lefthander alongside Boone Logan.

Starting in place of Hughes was Hector Noesi, who lasted only four batters into the third and lost the 2-0 lead the Yankees had taken by the third inning by Robinson Cano, who set a club record in the process. Cano socked his 28th home run in the first inning and broke Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri’s franchise mark for RBI by a second baseman. Cano added a run-scoring single in the third.

The Rays grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third and only a bizarre rundown play kept them from pouring it on. B.J. Upton doubled in the tying runs and scored the go-ahead run on a single by Johnny Damon. Then the strange play occurred. With Evan Longoria on third base, Damon broke for second. When catcher Russell Martin threw to second, Damon stopped in his tracks and got in a rundown. He was tagged out by Jorge Posada, who was playing first base and made a nifty jump over Damon and threw home to nab Longoria trying to score.

Another weird situation occurred in the fifth when Martin was ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber, who left his position behind the catcher and walked in front of him, sort of a no-no for umps. Who knows what Martin said, but Schrieber’s action made him seem the antagonist. That meant rookie Austin Romine, who caught all 14 innings of Sunday night’s game, had to strap on the gear again.

The Yankees are having their problems with umpires lately. Girardi was tossed Sunday night by Tim McClelland. Joe was basically trying defending Nick Swisher for arguing a call at first base and making sure the player didn’t get ejected. Girardi also pointed out to McClelland what a bad night he was having in a polite manner, I’m sure.

Rivera named AL Player of the Week

The honors keep coming for Mariano Rivera. The all-time saves leader was honored Monday as the American League Player of the Week. And what a week it was.

It started with Mo getting his 602nd career save Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium against the Twins as he surpassed Trevor Hoffman for the most career saves. Rivera made three appearances during the week and allowed no runs and one hit with one walk (intentional) and three strikeouts in three innings in chalking up two saves.

Rivera’s record-setting save occurred 15 years and 125 days after he notched his first save May 17, 1996, against the Angels. He has saved 63 more games than any other reliever since and went into Monday night’s game at St. Petersburg, Fla., with 279 more saves than any active pitcher.

At 41, Rivera has shown no signs of slowing up with a 1-2 record, 44 saves and 1.92 ERA. This year marks the 14th time in his career that Mo has made 60 or more appearances in a season. He reached the 40-save plateau for the eighth time and became the first 40-year-old to do so.