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    Fink Thinks: Eight things you didn’t know about Game 6

    Sunday, October 30, 2011, 3:27 PM [General]

    By Zach Finkelstein

    Fifty-one years ago, Major League Baseball’s American League added two franchises, including the Washington Senators, who were replacing a team that went by that exact name from 1901-60 before moving to Minnesota and becoming the Twins. The Senators II did not inhabit the nation’s capital for nearly as long as their predecessor, however, re-branding as the Texas Rangers in 1972. Regardless of what they have been called, the Senators/Rangers had never reached the World Series until last season, when they lost to a Giants team that had gone title-less since 1954, when it called New York home.

    On multiple occasions Thursday night, the Rangers’ Texas-sized title drought appeared to be over. But in one of the most exciting World Series games of all-time, the St. Louis Cardinals, down to their final strike in both the ninth and 10th innings, forced a decisive Game 7 when David Freese capped a game for the ages with a walk-off home run to center field.

    Let’s take a behind-the-numbers look at the 2011 season’s dramatic penultimate contest.

    1. Walk-off hero: David Freese’s long ball was the 15th walk-off homer in World Series history, and the first since Scott Podsednik of the White Sox launched one to end Game 2 of the 2005 Fall Classic. Furthermore, Freese’s blast was only the fifth to come in a Game 6 or later, joining historic homers off the bats of Bill Mazeroski (1960, Game 7); Carlton Fisk (1975, Game 6); Kirby Puckett (1991, Game 6); and Joe Carter (1993, Game 6).

    2. Extra special: Game 6 marked the 56th extra-inning contest in Fall Classic history, and the first since the Chicago White Sox beat the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series. The 4-hour, 33-minute marathon was also the 10th extra-inning affair in a Game 6, with the last coming in 1992 when the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Atlanta Braves to win the first of their two consecutive titles.

    3. Going the distance: This marks the 37th time that a best-of-seven World Series has extended all the way (including 1912, when eight games were played following a Game 2 tie). The last to go the distance came in 2002, when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants. There have not been many maxed-out series in recent memory, however. A full seven games were played in 1991 (Braves and Twins), 1997 (Indians and Marlins) and 2001 (Yankees and Diamondbacks). But that’s it since 1988.

    4. Small home-field advantage: Of the 36 Game 7′s (including the one played during the eight-game series in 1912), the home team has been victorious 19 times (52.8 percent). So although the visitors have not had a decided home-field disadvantage overall, they have had to watch the home team celebrate on its own soil following each of the last eight Game 7′s.

    5. Cards in seven: The Cardinals will play in their 11th World Series Game 7, and their first since 1987. The franchise is 7-3 all-time in these historic win-or-else games (more victories than any other franchise), but it has lost the last two.

    6. Wild wins: A Cardinals win Friday night would make St. Louis the fifth Wild Card entry to win it all, and the first since the 2004 Boston Red Sox joined a short list that includes the 1997 and 2003 Marlins, and the 2002 Angels.

    A Redbirds win will also make them the 19th club to come back from a 3-games-to-2 Fall Classic deficit under the current seven-game system. The last team to do so was the 2002 Angels, who trailed the Giants before taking the final two games in Anaheim.

    7. Parity push: A Rangers championship will mean that 10 different franchises would have won it all in the past 11 years. The Rangers would also become the first franchise to win its first title since the Angels took the monkey off their backs in 2002.

    8. One-day rain delay: Game 6 was played one day later than originally scheduled because of the 30th rain-related postponement in World Series history, and the first since Game 4 of the 2006 Fall Classic (also in St. Louis).

    Although the move to postpone was criticized by some, many understood the downside of playing a Fall Classic game under an uncomfortable October shower, weather that would have negatively affected the outcome of baseball’s premier event. Former All-Star player and championship manager Joe Torre, now MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, explained baseball’s decision to wait to play.

    “You get to Game 6 of the World Series, and you want to guard [against playing in rain] — as long as you have a forecast that we’re expecting clear weather tomorrow, and if necessary the next day, I think that was more of a decision maker than anything else, just the fact that we’re anticipating rain during the game.”

    With the postponement following a scheduled off day, this year’s Fall Classic was the first to go two straight days without a game since 1989, when an earthquake forced a 10-day delay of the Athletics-Giants Fall Classic.

    This season’s Game 6 was also the first clinching game to be delayed since the 1986 World Series, when rain postponed Game 7 between the Red Sox and Mets. The next night, New York’s National League club beat Boston, 8-5, to win its second title.

    Twenty-five Fall Classics later, the Rangers, who committed a late-inning fielding gaffe of their own in Game 6, are now forced to play another day in order to secure that elusive first championship.

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    Eight things you didn’t know about Game 4

    Sunday, October 30, 2011, 3:24 PM [General]

    On a Saturday evening that was etched into eternity, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only men to belt three long balls in one World Series affair. The St. Louis slugger would also end the game with a total of five hits, a tally that had only been accomplished once on baseball’s biggest stage.

    But the dagger that was King Albert’s Game 3 glory missed the hearts of the Texas Rangers, who tied the chase for the Fall Classic crown at two games apiece on Sunday.

    Let’s take a behind-the-numbers look at the Rangers’ 4-0 win in World Series Game 4.

    8. Tied at two: The Rangers and Cardinals will be the first teams to play Game 5 with the Series tied since the Florida Marlins and New York Yankees in 2003. But for all the importance that will be placed on the Fall Classic’s fifth affair, six of the past nine franchises to go down, 3-2, managed to win it all (condolences for fans of the 1982 Brewers, the ’86 Red Sox, the ’87 Cardinals, the ‘91 Braves; the ‘01 Yankees and the ‘02 Giants).

    7. Texas won Game 4 because: Rangers starter Derek Holland tossed 8 1/3 shutout innings. To put that into perspective, the last American League hurler to record 8 1/3 scoreless Fall Classic frames was Holland’s childhood hero, Andy Pettitte … 15 years ago.

    “Growing up as a kid, obviously [winning a World Series game was] the dream that I’ve wanted to do,” Holland said during his postgame news conference. “And after idolizing Andy Pettitte and seeing that, I wanted to be like him.”

    6. This win was powered by: The Rangers clung to a 1-0 lead until Texas’ Mike Napoli belted a three-run, sixth-inning homer to become the first catcher with two World Series long balls since Mike Piazza in 2000.

    “I was looking for something up and kind of had an idea they were probably going to try to pound me in, and I just got a pitch up that I could handle,” said Napoli, one of the Majors’ most prolific mashers of the high fastball.

    5. Futility: The Redbirds were held to two hits, the fewest tallied in a Fall Classic game since the Yankees two-hit the Braves in the 1999 World Series opener.

    Both Cardinals hits came off the bat of Lance Berkman, who doubled in the second inning and singled in the fifth.

    4. Where’d you go, O?: In getting blanked after Saturday’s 16-run barrage, the Redbirds’ bats tied the World Series record for the largest run differential from one game to the next.

    Try guessing the only other time a World Series team’s lineup went that cold without notice? You would have been correct had you said 1936. A mere 75 years ago, the Yankees scored 18 times on the New York Giants in Game 2 before plating only a pair of runs the very next game.

    3. Walked on: Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson walked seven, his highest total since June 25, 2010, when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. (By the way, Jackson no-hit the Tampa Bay Rays that day.)

    Jackson’s Fall Classic free-pass benevolence was not unprecedented, however. Fourteen others have walked at least seven in one World Series start, most recently Marlins right-hander Livan Hernandez, who allowed eight in Game 5 of the 1997 World Series.

    In case you were wondering, the unflattering “benchmark” for walks in a World Series game is held by the Yankees’ Bill Bevens, who permitted 10 free passes in Game 4 of the 1947 Series. Bevins did so over 8 2/3 innings, however, and in an era when starters often went the distance.

    2. Win once, shame on me; win twice, small chance: With the victory, the Rangers have now played 44 straight affairs (playoffs included) sans a losing streak. That is not a typo, either, as Texas last dropped consecutive games Aug. 23-25. The only other team to play so consistently in 2011 was the Philadelphia Phillies, who took the field 44 times in a row (June 5-July 26) without two straight defeats.

    1. A busy day in the neighborhood: Hours before the Rangers beat the Cardinals, the Dallas Cowboys routed the visiting St. Louis Rams. Interestingly enough, it was the second time in three years that two cities faced off in a World Series game and a football contest in the same town on the same day. The other occasion came in 2009, when the Eagles and Giants battled before the Yankees and Phillies played across the street.

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    Fink Thinks: Six things you didn’t know about Game 2

    Sunday, October 30, 2011, 3:22 PM [General]

    On the sport’s biggest stage Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers remained deadlocked for practically nine rounds of riveting World Series play. And in a Fall Classic affair where one swing threatened to flip the outcome at any time, the American League’s entry overcame eight innings of offensive ineptitude to eke out a 2-1 win with a pair of runs during the game’s final frame.

    Included below is an inside-the-numbers analysis of the 2011 World Series’ second game.

    Texas ties game, takes lead in historic fashion: Michael Young became the first man in World Series history to lift his team to triumph via a top-of-the-ninth-inning sacrifice fly. The game-deciding play immediately followed a game-tying sac fly, off the bat of a struggling Josh Hamilton, who stepped up to the plate for his team — literally and figuratively — when it needed him most. Amazingly, the Rangers became the first squad in Fall Classic history to record the game-tying and game-winning runs via the sac fly.

    Texas also became the first team to win a Fall Classic affair after overcoming a deficit in its final at-bat since the Arizona Diamondbacks prevailed over the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

    Key win: With the Series now tied at one game apiece, the Rangers and Redbirds became the 55th set of championship round squads to head into Game 3 all knotted up. In the previous 54 occasions that a World Series was tied after two, the victor of the second contest went on to win it all 29 times (53.7 percent). Overcoming a two-games-to-none deficit proves to be a much more daunting task, however. Of the 52 teams that have taken a 2-0 World Series advantage, 41 (78.8%) ended up as the last squad standing.

    “It wasn’t a Series-saving rally, but it was huge,” said Ian Kinsler, whose ninth-inning single and steal spurred Texas’ triumph.

    Historic power outage: The Rangers and Cardinals traded zeroes until the bottom of the seventh, the second straight night the Fall Classic remained scoreless through at least three frames. And contrary to the cliché that “good pitching beats good hitting,” this was only the second time that both Fall Classic foes took shutouts into the fourth during Games 1 and 2. The only other occasion occurred during the 1961 World Series between the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.

    In plating a pair of runs in their final at-bat, the Rangers snapped a 12-inning scoreless streak dating back to the fifth frame of Wednesday’s Game 1.

    On a related note, Game 2 was the first Fall Classic affair sans a long ball from either squad since the Red Sox and Rockies failed to go yard during the second game of the 2007 Fall Classic.

    Garcia represents: In firing Game 2′s initial offering, St. Louis left-hander Jaime Garcia became the first Mexican-born hurler to start a World Series affair since Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw Fernando Valenzuela toed the rubber during the 1981 Fall Classic.

    “Well, obviously that’s really exciting,” said Garcia of the comparison. “I just found out [that I would be the first Mexican-born starter during the World Series in 30 years] yesterday, too, when they were asking me. I’m thrilled to hear that, and I’m going to go out there and represent the team, my family and not only my hometown but the whole country of Mexico. I know they’ve been really good, watching me the whole year in these playoffs, and I’m really proud of that. “

    Garcia had the right to be proud during the postgame, too, after scattering three hits over seven scoreless frames. He also fanned seven Rangers to become the eighth Redbird to strikeout as many in a World Series game.

    Neftali Feliz: Collected his fifth save of the 2011 postseason and has converted each of his opportunities this October (three in ALDS, one in ALCS and one in World Series). In 8 2/3 innings pitched, he has allowed just one run (1.04 ERA) on three hits with five walks and seven strikeouts.

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    Fink Thinks: Rally Squirrel burrows into baseball lore

    Sunday, October 30, 2011, 3:18 PM [General]

    From Stan Musial to Ozzie Smith and from Bob Gibson to Albert Pujols, the 10-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals have not suffered from a shortage of stars during their long and illustrious history.

    But for all of their fame, the Redbirds successfully started the final stage of the chase for another title with their most galvanizing figure being a squirrel that has scurried into the collective hearts of Cardinals Nation.

    The Cardinals’ prodigal pet is known as the the Rally Squirrel, a social media savvy varmint that has taken an entire sport by storm. The Rally Squirrel made its Major League debut in early October, stopping play to scamper around Busch Stadium during St. Louis’ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

    One night later, it burrowed its way into baseball lore.

    During the fifth frame of Game 4, the squirrel crossed home plate just in time to distract Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt, who proceeded to protest that his pitch should have been declared dead as a result of squirrel interference. Time had not been granted beforehand, however, and so the errant offering counted. The Phillies would eventually end the inning unscathed, but the rodent run was something of a death knell.

    “I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it,” Oswalt said after losing the game. “I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch.”

    Although the rowdy rodent has stayed off the field and out of the limelight, its likeness has become ubiquitous with the Cardinals’ push through the postseason.

    “I think it’s good. The fans are having fun,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. “And I really believe that. This is not old-school, and I know I am in many ways, but I think there’s so much attention and pressure on the players that sometimes they don’t show their happiness.”

    In deciding to debut during baseball’s most high-profile month, the Rally Squirrel managed to maximize its media exposure. As a result, it has been provided a platform to effect positive change in the community.

    And although the squirrel’s on-field influence may be minimal (at the very most), the animal has left an indelible paw print on a sport that embraces superstition like no other.

    Not all baseball-animal stories end happily, however. The best examples of the aforementioned fact can be gleaned from the Cardinals’ closest rival, the Cubs, who have not won it all since 1908. And although much of their misfortune can be attributed to poor play, terrible trades and horrific heartbreak, there is an undeniable undertone that connects Chi town’s lovable losers with two of the sport’s most unfortunate animal anecdotes: the Curse of the Billy Goat in 1945 and the infamous black cat incident in September 1969.

    On a more positive note, who could forget the Rally Monkey that became ubiquitous with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s early 21st-century success?

    Will baseball’s newest rally animal remain relevant for as long as the Angels’ primate? Only time will tell.

    But what matters now is that a squirrel has become the symbolic face of St. Louis’ title push, a championship run that seemed impossible before the Atlanta Braves’ historic September collapse.

    In summary, it’s all been nuts.

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    Fink Thinks: Bright spots exist for Jets, even in defeat

    Monday, October 10, 2011, 9:26 PM [General]

    Rex Ryan is a mountain of a man. Everything about him is big.

    From his stature to his smile and from his personality to his predictions, the Jets' blustery coach knows how to stand out in a town famous for its bright lights and loud sound bites.

    Ryan surely enjoyed success during his first two seasons calling Gang Green's shots (2009 and 2010), but he nonetheless entered his third campaign with more Super Bowl guarantees made than AFC championships won.

    And following Week 5, an uncharacteristically modest coach took an uncharacteristically humble approach when addressing the media in Foxborough, Mass. He had no choice, of course, as his squad had just lost for the third straight Sunday, 30-21, to its nemesis from New England. Not only did the Jets fall to the Patriots; they were outrushed, 152 yards to 97, another sub-100 total that is unacceptable for a team purported to be of the "ground and pound" variety.

    In addition, New York's defense, which held its own for most of 60 minutes, was unable to get a key stop with the game on the line.

    Trailing, 27-21, the Jets allowed Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to rumble for 59 of his 136 yards during a 6 minute, 12 second fourth-quarter drive that New England executed to trim time off the clock. Gang Green's offense did not return to the field until Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski had booted the home team to a two-possession lead with just over a minute to play.

    "I never thought I'd be here losing three straight, but that's where we're at," Ryan remarked.

    "We've earned it."

    For all their hype, the now third-place Jets (2-3) are two full games behind the Patriots and the surprising Buffalo Bills, who on Sunday grounded the Philadelphia Eagles, the popular preseason pick to win it all.

    Despite Gang Green's self-dug hole, Ryan is by no means ready to concede defeat. He shouldn't be, not with a group that overcame historic levels of adversity during the 2009 season.

    "We're the only team in the history of the National Football League to make it to the playoffs and overcome two three-game losing streaks," Ryan said Monday. "So unfortunately, we've had the experience, but we know how to get out of it. And that's just to go at it and have that resolve and work at it, and we can come through this again."

    If the master motivator was inclined to console his team, he could have mentioned any of the following six Sunday highlights:

    • Wideout Jeremy Kerley caught his first NFL pass, a nine-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Mark Sanchez. The reception capped a three-play, 20-yard drive that was set up by an 88-yard kickoff return by running back Joe McKnight.

    • Wide receiver Derrick Mason became the 18th player in NFL history to record 12,000 receiving yards when he caught a seven-yard pass on third-and-six in the fourth quarter.

    • Wideout Santonio Holmes recorded his second touchdown pass of the season when he grabbed a 21-yard reception in the fourth quarter that cut the Pats' lead to 27-21. It was the 28th receiving score of his career and his eighth in green.

    • Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua and linebackers Jamaal Westerman and David Harris each recorded sacks in the first half. The defense finished with its third four-sack effort in five games.

    • Pitoitua's sack, which came when he spun Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to the ground in the first quarter, was the first of his career.

    • Antonio Cromartie collected his 21st career interception, ending the first half when he picked off a tipped Brady pass in New England's end zone. It was Cromartie's second career interception off Brady, who had never before thrown a red-zone pick at home.

    New York's next test will come against the winless Miami Dolphins, a team the Jets "haven't done well against ... at home," Ryan said.

    "The two years that I have been here, they beat us both times," Ryan added. "I think they've had a 130 total yards of offense in each of those games and we got beat in both of those games. That's a credit to them, they found ways to beat us here. We have to change that tide."

    For a three-loss squad that last season dropped its third game in Week 13 (also in New England), the tide does needs to change. Fast.

     

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    Fink Thinks: Early offseason opinions

    Monday, October 10, 2011, 1:59 PM [General]

    When Major League Baseball released the 2011 postseason schedule on Aug. 10, the Yankees sat in second place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games behind a Boston Red Sox team that was sailing along seamlessly in the sport's HOV lane, destination World Series.

    As it turned out, Boston's train to October, which ran like a charm for most of the summer, took an ugly detour before crashing into infamy on Sept. 28. The 97-win Yankees, by contrast, arrived to the postseason dance with the Junior Circuit's best record.

    They did not stay long, however.

    In a first-class city that appreciates nothing less than the best from its first-class team, the Yankees were booted from their first-round playoff in five games, dropping three affairs by a combined four runs to the American League champion Tigers.

    Eight days after the biggest September collapse in baseball history, the Bombers were sent home for a winter of reflection.

    When the Red Sox completed their historic fall, New England collectively wept while simultaneously demanding answers. Shortly thereafter, the first head rolled out of Fenway when Red Sox manager Terry Francona was let go.

    Although drastic change has not been called for in the Bronx, the Yankees have several key decisions to make this winter, and the team that charges the field on Opening Day 2012 could look different than this year's version.

    What options have to be mulled? How will things turn out? Let's take a look.

    Give Cash cash: Before they make any roster modifications, the Yankees will have to re-sign general manager Brian Cashman, whose contract expires at month's end. This decision is as easy as the one that led to CC Sabathia starting Game 1 of every postseason series over the past three seasons. Cashman is an ace of an executive, a man capable of rapping every curveball his big league city throws his way. From the pitchers he picked up last winter (Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Luis Ayala) to the hurler he signed to a Minor League contract in June (Cory Wade) to the prospects he refused to part with (Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez), Cashman has done an excellent job, even by New York's standards. The Yankees appear to agree. Expect a deal soon.

    Look out for No. 1, and look for a No. 2: Less than 24 hours after his team was eliminated, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner thanked fans for their support throughout the 2011 campaign. Steinbrenner said that he personally shared in the "fans' disappointment that this season has ended without a championship," before reciting the company mission statement. "I assure you that this disappointment will strengthen our resolve to field a team in 2012 that can bring a twenty-eighth championship to the Bronx. That work starts now," Steinbrenner said.

    The Yankees' No. 1 priority should be to offer a five-year extension to their No. 1 starter, CC Sabathia -- who is eligible to opt out of the remaining four years and $92 million on his present pact. Why give offer an extra half-decade? For one, the ace does not turn 32 until July 2012. By comparison, the southpaw's employers offered an older left-hander, Cliff Lee, a six-year commitment worth $140 million last winter. The Yankees can afford to overpay their ace. What they cannot afford, however, is to lose him to anyone, especially a team such as the Red Sox, who will surely be seeking a man of Sabathia's stature.

    As good as the Bombers' starting staff was in 2011, the team may be on the lookout for a No. 2-type hurler even after Ivan Nova's stellar rookie season. This could come in the form of a free-agent signing. C. J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson are all available. On the trade front, the Rays remain cash-strapped despite their success and excitement. Some have suggested that Tampa Bay would be willing to entertain offers for James Shields, and the Yankees could entice their AL East rival with a plethora of quality pitching prospects (e.g., Hector Noesi, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, Andrew Brackman and David Phelps). This scenario is unlikely. But it's not implausible.

    Hitting decisions: The Yankees' lineup ranked second in baseball with 867 runs scored in 2011. Still, there are moves to be made on the hitting front. The easiest business decision may be the toughest from an emotional standpoint. Jorge Posada proudly donned pinstripes for 17 years, recording 1,767 hits, 286 home runs, 953 runs, 1,107 RBIs and, most importantly, five World Series titles along the way. But all good things come to an end and although he led the Yankees with a .429 average during this abbreviated October, Posada's tenure in the Bronx is seemingly over. The five-time All-Star has intimated that he would like to play next season. If he is able to find a suitor among the remaining 29 clubs, no Yankees fan should fault the possible future Hall of Famer.

    An equally easy decision for the Yankees comes at second base, where they will surely exercise Robinson Cano's $14 million option for 2012. There is nothing else to say on this matter.

    The Yankees should pause for a very brief moment before deciding whether to exercise Nick Swisher's $10.25 million option. The gregarious outfielder certainly has his pluses and minuses. And although an early playoff exit equates to failure in Yankees Universe, an individual cannot be judged by his October performance alone. If he were, Nick Swisher would not be invited back.

    Swisher also struggled in April, May and September 2011, but he enjoyed a sterling summer en route to a final OPS+ of 117. That's not bad, and the Yankees won't be able to do much better on the free-agent market. Carlos Beltran (152 OPS+ in 2011) will be available, but he is 34, injury-prone and seeking a multi-year deal. Johnny Damon (110 OPS+) will be a free agent, too, but he turns 38 in November. All things considered, the Yankees should exercise Swisher's option to remain the vivacious face of New York's outfield.

    Play Jesus: Many baseball scouts believe the Yankees' Jesus Montero could one day resemble Manny Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera in the batter's box. The 21-year-old did nothing to discredit those comparisons after hitting .328/.406/.590 in 69 September plate appearances. The question facing the Yankees, however, is where to play Montero. If he cannot catch on a full-time basis (which may be the case), then how does his bat get in the lineup? This might be the toughest question facing the Yankees next spring. If the club makes Montero the everyday designated hitter, it will lose the flexibility to give veterans such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira half-days off on a regular basis, a practice that could conceivably help preserve the aging stars' health.

    Catching questions: Russell Martin, an excellent defender who deftly handled the team's pitching staff all season, should be offered arbitration and brought back as the starting catcher. The Yankees should not commit to him for more than one year, however, as one of their top catching prospects -- Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez -- may be ready to don the tools of ignorance full-time by 2013. The team's best in-house option for the backup backstop spot would be Francisco Cervelli, who posted a .324 on-base percentage in 137 plate appearances in 2011. If Cervelli's concussion woes linger all winter, the team could target a free agent such as Jose Molina -- the Yanks' second-string catcher for the greater part of 2007-09.

    The Yankees lost because: They outscored (28-17) and outpitched (3.27 ERA to 5.73) the Tigers during the first-round series but were unable to collect a timely hit or sacrifice fly when it mattered most. All told, the Bombers' bats stranded 40 runners while going 11-for-47 with men in scoring position.

    "A hit here, a hit there," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after his team was sent home for the winter, "and this is a different series."

    Baseball is a game designed to determine the best after a 162-game marathon, an American League race the Yankees won in 2011. Over a five-game series, however, luck often plays an influential role. Since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, only three clubs have won the World Series after posting the Majors' best record in the regular season: The 1998 and 2009 Yankees and the 2007 Red Sox. The Yankees will spend the entire offseason trying to improve, realizing that there will still be no defense for bad fortune in 2012.

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