The precious opportunities kept appearing. Crucial chances for the Yankees, chances for them to overtake the Tigers, win Game 5 of the American League Division Series and prolong their season. But, in futile at-bat after futile at-bat, the Yankees didn’t produce. The powerful Yankees couldn’t smack a timely single Thursday night.
When Jose Valverde pumped a fastball past Alex Rodriguez, the Tigers had a 3-2 win while the Yankees had the ending to their night and the ending to an exasperating postseason. Rodriguez’s last, helpless hack was an attempt to catch up with a 94-mile per hour pitch. That final swing was an ugly and fitting finale to a game that should haunt the Yankees.
“This,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, “will be a game I remember for the rest of my life.”
So will the Yankees. Or, at least, they should remember it. The Yankees left the bases loaded in two innings and stranded 11 runners, repeatedly fizzling in important situations. They needed someone, whether it was Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin or anyone else, to simply collect a single. It didn’t happen. Even a sacrifice fly would have helped, but the Yankees couldn’t do that, either.
How could the Yankees finish second in the Major Leagues in runs scored, and then let a game and a season drift away because of a succession of failed at-bats? During every batting practice session, hitting coach Kevin Long works on situational hitting with the Yankees. When a Yankee is in the batter’s box, Long will bark, “One out, second and third.” That means the batter should at least try and hit a sac fly.
Here’s what Long could have shouted to Martin in the fourth. “Bases loaded, one out.” Martin popped out. He could have updated the situation to two outs for Brett Gardner, who also popped out. Long could have told Rodriguez, “Bases loaded, one out,” in the seventh. Rodriguez whiffed on a nasty split-finger fastball from Joaquin Benoit. After Teixeira’s bases-loaded walk, which, as it turns out, was about as clutch an at-bat as the Yankees had all night, Long could have told Swisher that there were three on and two outs. Benoit basically told Swisher to sit down, whiffing him on a 96-mile per hour fastball.
Teams that are in the postseason are never ready for their journey to end. When it ends, even if it seems inevitable, it ends so abruptly. In one inning, the Yankees are hoping and believing that Derek Jeter’s shot to right field would be a two-run homer in the eighth. In the next inning, they are robotically carrying their equipment back to the clubhouse for the final time in 2011.
“It’s a terrible day for us,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
The loss left the Yankees with a numbing feeling. Just as numbing were some of the numbers from their marquee players. In the Yankees’ last two postseason series, the defeat to the Tigers and a loss to the Rangers in the 2010 AL Championship Series, Rodriguez is 6-for-39, Teixeira is 3-for-32 and Swisher is 6-for-41. That’s 15-for-112, a combined average of .134. It’s challenging to win games in October, but it’s even more challenging when core members of the lineup are missing in action.
Rodriguez has six years and $143 million left on his contract while Teixeira has five years and $112.5 million left on his deal. If the Yankees exercise Swisher’s $10.25 million option, he will return in 2012, too. Those contract totals are lofty numbers, but the numbers that will also cling to all three are their recent postseason numbers.
Like this stinging loss to the Tigers, those can’t be erased.
“It’s devastating,” Rodriguez said. “This one is going to hurt for a long time. I’ll be 50 and this will still hurt.”
Girardi tried to minimize the absence of clutch hitting by citing his players’ effort in the series. Effort should be expected, but, if the effort doesn’t produce results, there’s a void. The Yankees ended up in a void against the Tigers, in a totally empty place. April is a long way off.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES