October 2011

Rain may have helped Yanks this time

When the Yankees and Tigers opposed each other in the American League Division Series five years ago, a rainout proved a benefit to Detroit, which went on to win the series. This season, a suspended game due to rain in the ALDS may prove to have been in the Yanks’ favor.

It is too early to tell after one game, naturally, but the Yankees moved a step up on the Tigers after Game 1, which took two nights to complete because of inclement weather. The Yankees had their bats in full gear against Detroit’s Doug Fister and won big, 9-3. On a night when the sellout crowd of 50,940, a record at the current Yankee Stadium, chanted “M-V-P” every time Curtis Granderson came up, Robinson Cano proved he is in the same category with a six-RBI game.

The chief danger in opposing the Tigers in a best-of-5 series was the task of having to face AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander twice. The rain that forced the suspension of Game 1 after 1 ½ innings Friday night changed all that. Verlander will have only one shot at the Yankees now, and maybe only if he starts Game 3.

Of course, CC Sabathia can only pitch once in the ALDS for the Yankees. But Ivan Nova besting Fister, who was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA after coming to Detroit from Seattle in a July 30 trade, gave the Yankees an edge. It takes a lot of pressure off Game 2 starter Freddy Garcia. Manager Joe Girardi said after the game that his plans call for Sabathia to start Game 3 and A.J. Burnett if there is a Game 4.

Fister was first hurt by Cano with a run-scoring double in the fifth that the Yankees thought might have been a home run. By the time Cano hurt the Tigers again, Fister was out of the game. With runners on second and third and two out in the sixth, Fister froze Brett Gardner with two fastballs. The righthander then went with a breaking ball, which only served to speed up the bat of Gardner, who punched a single to center for two runs and a 4-1 lead.

Fister lost if after that, yielding a single to Derek Jeter and a walk to Granderson. Despite having lefthanders Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke in the bullpen, Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in righthander Al Albuquerque to pitch to the lefty batting Cano, who crushed a 0-1 slider for a grand slam to right. Leyland defended his decision by pointing out that Albuquerque, who was 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA in the regular season, had not allowed a home run all year and permitted only three inherited runners to score and held lefty hitters to a .177 batting average.

It was Cano’s seventh career postseason homer (third in the ALDS) and the first postseason salami for the Yankees since Ricky Ledee in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox. Beginning with Tony Lazzeri in the 1936 World Series, the Yankees have hit 11 grand slams in postseason play.

Maybe Leyland knew something after all about Cano against lefties because Schlereth gave up an RBI double to him in the eighth. Cano’s six RBI tied the franchise record for a postseason game, joining Bobby Richardson in Game 3 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, Hideki Matsui in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series against the Phillies and Bernie Williams in Game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Rangers.

Nova was, well, super, as the crowd likes to chant. He pitched six innings of shutout ball before the Tigers got two runs in the ninth when Luis Ayala allowed a pair of inherited runners to score. The move to Ayala did not work. The move to Mariano Rivera did. He ended the game by striking out former teammate Wilson Betemit.

Five years ago, the rainout of Game 2 at the old Stadium worked in the Tigers’ favor. It was made up the next day with a 1:10 p.m. start. After Mike Mussina blew a 3-1 lead, the Yankees went down meekly in the late innings as twilight approached against the 100-mph stuff of Joel Zumaya. In Detroit, Kenny Rogers eked out his revenge against the Yankees with seven shutout innings in bearing Randy Johnson in Game 3, and the Tigers wrapped up the series the next day by pounding Jaret Wright.

Five years later, a much different scenario may emerge.

New rule foils ‘deja vu’ situation

Where was Jeffrey Maieir when the Yankees could have used him? The New Jersey schoolboy of 1996 American League Championship Series lore came to mind in the fifth inning Saturday night when Robinson Cano hit a ball off the top of the wall in left field. Fans cheered believing it was a two-run home run, but umpires held up Cano at second base.

Unlike 15 years ago when umpires were not allowed to view video replays to determine contested home run calls, the six umpires were able by since adopted rules to review the play at the request of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who believed Cano had homered and given the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

The skipper was half right. The umpires upheld the call of a double for Cano but allowed Curtis Granderson, who was running from first base full speed, to score that put the Yankees ahead, 2-1.

Yankees fans along the left field fence obviously were aware of the dangers of interfering with a ball near the wall. Two fans wearing yellow slickers put their hands in the air and away from the wall so that they would not make contact with Cano’s drive which hit the top of the fence and bounced back onto the field.

In Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, Jeter was credited with a home run on a drive to right field that was caught by Maier wearing a glove and extending his arms over the fence. Richie Garcia, the right field umpire, did not call interference on the young fan. The ruling gave Jeter a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game that the Yankees won over the Orioles in the 11th on a homer by Bernie Williams. The Yankees went on to win the best-of-7 series in 5 games.

Garcia later admitted that he blew the call and should have ruled interference that would have left Jeter at second base. Fortunately for the Yankees at that time, the rule that is in place now was not then.

Let’s play ball — again!

And so the visiting team takes the field. What a strange way to start a ballgame. No singing of the National Anthem, either. Of course not; the game had already started. In addition, the game time temperature dropped about 20 degrees in one inning, but that was almost 24 hours later.

Such were the sights and sounds of the resumption of Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and the Tigers Saturday night at Yankee Stadium. And when was the last time Jorge Posada was the first batter of the night. The unusual circumstances were due to Game 1 being suspended because of rain Friday night. Pitching lines of the starters, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, were read by official scorer Jordan Sprechman. They were replaced by Doug Fister and Ivan Nova, respectively.

Fans who had to drive home disappointedly in the rain Friday night were back in their chillier seats for the first pitch Saturday night. The weather forecast had been similar to that of the night before, which brought to mind horrendous scenarios had there been another stoppage. It rained much of the afternoon. The Yankees were able to take batting practice but not the Tigers. The mercury kept dipping until it fell to 55 degrees by the time Posada led off the second inning with a single. It was October baseball all right.

The Stadium crowd warmed up when Russell Martin doubled. Things quieted down when Posada was caught in a rundown on a grounder to third by Brett Gardner. After balking the runners to second and third, Fister struck out Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. Nova retired the Tigers in order in his first inning as everyone seemed ready to settle in for some postseason ball.