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All of Texas jumps for joy as Rangers head to first ever World Series (Photo: Getty Images).

The Rangers couldn’t have drawn it up any better. In the team’s previous 49 seasons, it had made the postseason only three times, and lost each series to the New York Yankees. After dispatching the Rays to win their first ALDS, the Rangers then exacted revenge on the hated Yankees, who had turned them away so often in the past. What’s more, the last out of the ALCS was a called third strike against Alex Rodriguez, the player who had come to symbolize the Rangers’ fall from contender to pretender in the previous decade. Even better, on the mound was Neftali Feliz, who along with Elvis Andrus was acquired in the trade of Mark Teixeira. While Andrus and Feliz jumped on top of the celebratory pile, Teixeira sat injured on the Yankees’ bench. Like good cowboys, the Rangers had tied up all the loose ends.

To say that the Rangers thoroughly outplayed the Yankees is a Texas-sized understatement. In fact, if not for a few curious pitching changes by Ron Washington in game one, the Rangers could have easily swept the series. And yet, the Yankees were still locked up in a 1-1 tie, only four innings from forcing a game seven.

Mismatch: ALCS Comparison

  Runs BA OBP SLG SB
Yankees 38 0.304 0.378 0.512 9
Rangers 19 0.201 0.300 0.370 2
           
  Starters ERA Relievers ERA IP H K
Yankees 7.11 5.75 52 63 43
Rangers 3.65 2.25 53 38 52

Source: MLB.com

Before the series started, I questioned Joe Girardi’s decision to have Phil Hughes start games two and six instead of the veteran Andy Pettitte, and tonight was exactly the reason why. Instead of heading into an elimination game with the battle tested Pettitte, the Yankees had to rely on the inexperienced Hughes, whose confidence had to be shaken after turning in one of the worst starts in ALCS history. From the first batter, Hughes exhibited the same lack of command that felled him in the second game. However, after giving up a first inning run, he settled down enough to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard over the next three innings, giving the Yankees a chance to see if they could finally figure out Colby Lewis, who kept the team hitless over the first four innings.

One of the biggest reasons why the Yankees offense struggled so much in the series was because Alex Rodriguez could never get started. So, when Arod led off the fifth inning with a booming double in the gap, there was reason for optimism. However, it was only fleeting. In fact, the way the Yankees tied the score in that inning turned out to mean more than the run itself. 

After moving to third on a long fly ball from Lance Berkman, the Yankees finally got on the board when a HBP to Nick Swisher was incorrectly ruled a wild pitch. Normally, a more confident Yankees offense would have considered itself deprived of a base runner, but neither Swisher nor Girardi made a case for taking first base. In fact, it was the Rangers who vehemently protested the call. As things turned out, both sides were correct in their arguments because the Yankees really never threatened again.

After allowing an infield single to start the bottom of the fifth, Hughes retired the next two batters, but then faced the imposing figure of Josh Hamilton with a runner on third. Just like in game four, Girardi was faced with a starter at the end of his rope in a game-defining situation. Unfortunately, he also made the exact same mistakes. After once again resorting to an intentional walk, Girardi then left Hughes in for one batter too many (just as he did with AJ Burnett). Instead of immediately going to his best relievers, Girardi allowed Hughes to give up a two run double to Vladimir Guerrero before summoning the struggling David Robertson. Sure enough, Robertson surrendered a two run blast to Nelson Cruz and the horses were out of the barn. Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera did eventually finish off the final three innings by only allowing one run (on one hit), but by that point, it was too late.

The Yankees at bats over the final three innings were so poor, that it almost seemed as if they had already accepted their fate. Colby Lewis breezed through his final three innings, punctuating his performance by striking out the side in the eighth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the series, Lewis ended the ALCS at 2-0 with 1.98 ERA, and could just have easily earned the MVP award that went to Josh Hamilton.

The last batter faced by Lewis was Derek Jeter, who waved feebly through an outside fastball to end the night at 0-4. Although the ninth inning remained, Jeter’s weak swing served perfectly as both the symbolic end to the season as well as the signaling of the end of an era dominated by the Yankee Captain. Jeter is likely to remain with the team, but how the two sides come together, as well as the role he will play going forward, is sure to be the story of the offseason.

There will be plenty of time to conduct a post mortem on the 2010 Yankees and determine the best ways to move forward in 2011, but the immediate impression is kind of an empty one. There really is no shame in losing a postseason series, or even in failing to make it to October, but to me, 2010 will always be defined by the half-hearted, Machiavellian approach that the organization took in September. After the regular season played out, it was hard to reconnect in October, which could very well be what happened to the players as well. As a result, 2010 will instead be remembered more for who was lost off the field than any game that was won or lost on it, and perhaps that is most fitting.

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The legendary folk hero Davy Crockett once said, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas”. To those who doubted their resiliency, the Yankees used game five of the ALCS to say exactly the same thing.

Which way to Texas? (Photo: AP)

Although the Yankees had to feel comfortable with their ace going on full rest for the first time in the postseason, the irony of yesterday’s victory is C.C. Sabathia didn’t pitch particularly well. In fact, Sabathia became the first Yankees’ starter in 50 years to win a postseason game while giving up at least 11 hits. And yet, the ace lefty still managed to keep the Rangers at bay by getting a big strikeout or inducing a key double play at just the right time. The mark of a great pitcher is the ability to win despite not having his best stuff, and game five was exhibit A on why Sabathia qualifies as one.

The Yankees entered game five in a terrible slump, batting .198 for the entire series and producing only three hits in their last 33 at bats with runners in scoring position. Without a turnaround in that performance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how well Sabathia pitched. In the second inning against C.J. Wilson, the slumbering lumber was put to an immediate test.

After being gifted two walks by Wilson in the bottom of the second, the Yankees finally came through in the clutch as RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson plated three runs. One of the runs, however, was actually produced by the speedy legs of Posada. In a scene out of an old cops and robbers silent movie, Posada rounded second and headed for third on Granderson’s single, which probably made right fielder Jeff Francoeur jump out his shoes. In his haste to nab the slow footed catcher, Francoeur short-hopped Michael Young, whose haste to make a tag allowed the ball to roll toward the dugout screen. Without looking, which is usually the way he runs the bases, Posada sprang up from his slide and continued his mad dash around the bases by heading home. Unfortunately for Posada, Wilson had backed up the errant throw and merely had to flip the ball home to nab him at the plate. Flip it he did, but about 20 feet over the catcher’s head.

Although it wasn’t exactly Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash to win the seventh game of the 1946 World Series, Posada’s trip around the bases not only produced an important run, but also seemed to lighten the mood in the Yankees’ dugout. That relaxed feeling only increased after back-to-back homers by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano in the following inning gave the Yankees a 5-0 and made game six seem like a certainty. It wasn’t that easy, however, because Sabathia never really found the rhythm he needed to sail through the game. Before handing the ball off the bullpen in the seventh, Sabathia had to retire the red hot Josh Hamilton with two men on to end the fifth and then wiggle out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth. It wasn’t pretty, but at the same time it was exactly what the Yankees needed.

After six solid innings from their starter, the Yankees closed out the game with three shutout innings by Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera. That formula could come into play again on Friday, as Phil Hughes looks to rebound from his awful start in game two. Of course, the only way to earn the right to face Cliff Lee is by scoring runs off Colby Lewis, so the offense will also have to improve in its second go round against the Rangers’ righty.

With game five in the rearview mirror, a dramatic high noon showdown against the postseason’s best hired gun seems to be on the horizon. However, the Yankees can’t be too quick to the draw because before they can face off against Lee, they must shoot their way out of game six. The Rangers will be waiting in ambush, so the onus is on the Yankees to come out on Friday with guns blazing. The defending champions aren’t dead yet; they’re going to Texas.

Postseason Victories by a Yankees Starter With 11-Plus Hits Allowed

Player Date Series G# Opp Rslt IP H ER GSc
Waite Hoyt 10/6/1926 WS 4 STL W 10-5 9 14 2 52
Bob Turley 10/6/1960 WS 2 PIT W 16-3 8.1 13 2 44
Jim McDonald 10/4/1953 WS 5 BRO W 11-7 7.2 12 5 36
Bob Shawkey 10/13/1923 WS 4 NYG W 8-4 7.2 12 3 41
CC Sabathia 10/20/2010 ALCS 5 TEX W 7-2 6 11 2 49
Waite Hoyt 10/9/1928 WS 4 STL W 7-3 9 11 2 60

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Yankees backs are now officially against the wall as they face their first real “must win game” of the season. You can break out all the clichés because they finally apply. After losing their third straight game to the Rangers, the Yankees are now precariously teetering on the edge of elimination.

There's no place for AJ Burnett to hide after giving up a crucial three-run HR to Bengie Molina in the sixth inning (Photo: Getty Images).

When Joe Girardi announced his starting rotation, the situation the Yankees now find themselves in wasn’t hard to fathom. Nonetheless, the Yankees still had a chance to win game four, as evidenced by the 3-2 lead they carried into the sixth inning. Unfortunately, a combination of poor hitting with men on base and a series of curious managerial decisions combined to give the Rangers another commanding victory in an ALCS that Texas has absolutely dominated.

The first five innings of the game featured numerous twists and turns and plenty of surprises, but perhaps none more so than the initial effectiveness of AJ Burnett. Over the first two innings, Burnett used a mid-90s fastball and off the table curve to retire all six batters, including three on strikeouts. Being the enigma that he is, however, Burnett still managed to give up two runs in the third despite having his good stuff. The Rangers’ rally in that inning consisted of a walk to David Murphy after being ahead 0-2 and then a HBP against Molina, who was squaring to bunt, both of which were followed by a series of infield grounders that eventually lead to the both runners crossing the plate.

The Yankees’ offense seemed as if it might break out of its series long slump against Tommy Hunter when Robinson Cano gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with a homerun that just got over the ball in right. On the play, several fans made contact with Nelson Cruz’ glove, but the umpire ruled that the right fielder did not actually have a play on the ball. Later in the inning, controversy reared its head again when Lance Berkman hit what looked like the Yankees second homerun of the inning. After a replay review, however, the ball was ruled foul and the second run was taken off the board.

After Burnett gave up the lead in the top of the third, the Yankees scored single runs in the third and fourth to regain the advantage. In the later frame, however, the Yankees had a chance to do much more damage, but an Elvis Andrus diving play with the bases loaded turned a two run single into an RBI fielder’s choice that nabbed the advancing runner at third. At that point, the decision to start Francisco Cervelli proved most costly as the anemic backup catcher was dispatched on three pitches. By forgoing an opportunity to use Jorge Posada, Girardi forfeited a valuable scoring opportunity. The Yankees failure to capitalize would also foreshadow the play that eventually led to the team’s demise only two innings later.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, a lead off double by Derek Jeter and walk to Curtis Granderson seemed to put the Yankees on the brink of breaking open the game. When Mark Teixeira worked the count to 2-0, the entire Stadium probably had visions of a long fly ball landing into the leftfield bleachers. Unfortunately, Teixeira’s series-long struggles continued, but this time the Yankees’ rally wasn’t the only victim. As he has repeatedly done in the postseason, Teixeira rolled over on an outside fastball and hit a potential groundball double play to third base. Sensing his fate, and perhaps venting his frustration, Teixeira busted out of the box and ran as fast as he could to first base. As things turned out, Teixeira’s hustle wasn’t really needed because Young rushed his return throw to first, but that was only evident after the Yankees’ first baseman had collapsed at the bag with what was later diagnosed as grade two strain of his hamstring, an injury that ended his season at least one game prematurely.

Once Teixeira went down, it seemed as if the air was taken out of the Stadium. And, what little was left, dissipated when Alex Rodriguez also continued his series-long slump with an inning ending double play. Although the Yankees exited the inning holding onto a 3-2 lead, you couldn’t help but feel that the game, and perhaps the series, had been lost in the fateful inning.

When Rangers’ starter Tommy Hunter got into trouble in the fourth, Ron Washington quickly called to the bullpen and was rewarded by the strong pitching of Derek Holland, who went 3 2/3 innings and only gave up one hit. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Girardi was not as prescient. Despite getting a strong five innings from AJ Burnett, the Yankees’ manager decided to tempt fate with his erratic righty who had not pitched in nearly three weeks. Sure enough, Vladimir Guerrero led off the sixth with a line drive single to right. In fairness to Burnett, the single probably would have been caught by someone like Greg Golson, but for some unexplainable reason, Girardi opted to use Marcus Thames in right field when Nick Swisher was pressed into duty at 1B. Burnett did rebound to get the next two batters, but on the second out, a fly ball to deep center, Cruz, who reached first on a fielder’s choice, advanced to second. Instead of going to Boone Logan, his lefty specialist, to face David Murphy, Girardi then committed a baseball cardinal sin by putting the go ahead runner on base with an intentional walk. Sure enough, the Yankees’ manager was made to repent on the very next pitch as Bengie Molina deposited a first pitch fastball into the short porch in left.

Although the score was only 5-3 in the sixth, the combination of Teixeira’s injury, the Yankees inability to come through with a big hit and Girardi’s managerial blunders seemed to raise a collective white flag. Even when the Rangers tried to give the Yankees new life by loading the bases on walks in the eighth, they couldn’t even take advantage by scoring a single run. Finally, in the ninth, Girardi waived a real white flag by bringing in Sergio Mitre, who promptly gave up long HRs to Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz to put an end to any hopes for another miraculous comeback.

The only positive about Girardi’s ill conceived pitching rotation is the Yankees now have C.C. Sabathia in game five. If the ace lefty can continue his dominance at Yankee Stadium, it’s actually not hard to imagine a path that leads back to a game 7. The only problem, however, is what waits at the end of that road. The Yankees are far from done in the series, but the team now not only needs to reel off three wins a row, but they must overcome Cliff Lee to do it. Normally, the vision of Lee on the mound in a deciding game would be enough to send chills down the collective spine of an opposing lineup, but for the Yankees, there’s now no one else they’d rather see.

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Andy Pettitte, the pitcher with the most wins in the postseason, threw one his better games in October, but the Yankees still lost. In fact, they never really had a chance. That’s how good Cliff Lee was last night, as the Rangers’ ace joined Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax as lefties who have dominated the Bronx Bombers in the postseason.

Yankee batters had pained expressions all night against Cliff Lee (Photo: AP)

Game three of the ALCS was basically over before it started when Josh Hamilton belted a two run homer only three batters into the game. Against a mortal pitcher, such a blow would hardly register as a blip on the Yankees’ radar, but with Lee toeing the rubber in opposition, Hamilton’s blast could have been measured on the Richter scale. By the end of the bottom of the first, it was evident that the Rangers’ ace was on his game and the Yankees chances of overcoming the deficit were slim.

To his credit, Pettitte rebounded from the home run to allow only three more hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings, but that was just window dressing. With Lee mowing down the Yankees in the bottom half of each frame, the only purpose of the Rangers’ at bats was to delay the inevitable. Lee didn’t allow his first base runner until walking Mark Teixeira in the fourth and his first hit until a bloop single by Jorge Posada in the fifth, but each “rally” occurred with two outs and was quickly extinguished. The Yankees only real scoring chance took place in the sixth after Brett Gardner singled up the middle and stole second base with no outs. Lee responded to the threat by striking out Jeter and inducing two weak groundouts from Swisher and Teixeira, and what passed for the Yankees’ offense was once again turned aside.

The Yankees only hope to steal the game rested on Ron Washington’s infatuation with overusing his bullpen. Before he could get the chance, however, the Yankees’ bullpen was the one that proved to be incendiary. In the top of the ninth, the Rangers salted the game away with six runs scored off Boone Logan and David Robertson, leaving little need to run Lee back out to the mound in the bottom of the inning with 120 pitches. After the game, Joe Girardi was criticized for falling to go to his closer in the ninth inning, but with Lee still in the game, the Yankees two run deficit was really more like eight runs. Instead, the more valid criticism once again falls at the feet of Washington, who did use his closer, Neftali Feliz, to protect an actual eight run lead. Feliz needed 20 pitches to complete inning, so if he is unavailable or limited later in the series, you can point to Washington’s curious decision.

Although the story of last night’s game was the dominance of Cliff Lee, the postgame attention quickly turned to AJ Burnett, upon whose erratic right arm the Yankees’ season now rests. It didn’t have to be this way, of course. The Rangers entered the ALCS with their rotation dictated by a five game ALDS, but the Yankees had the opportunity to line their starters up. The ideal plan seemed to involve Sabathia for games 1, 4 and 7, Pettitte in games 2 and 6 and then Burnett against Lee and Hughes in game 5. Because the Rangers actually hit better against righties, especially hard throwing ones, using Sabathia and Pettitte (on full rest) for five games should have been the centerpiece of any plan, especially because three of those matchups (against Tommy Hunter and two against Colby Lewis) would have highly favored the Yankees. Furthermore, Hughes has struggled when pitching on long rest (8.04 ERA and 1.101 OPS against in three starts with greater than six days rest), so a game five start would have permitted him to throw an inning in games 1 or 2. Finally, pairing Burnett against Lee would have either leveraged AJ’s potential to be dominant, or mitigated his propensity for being awful.

All of that is water under the bridge now as the Yankees turn to AJ Burnett to even the ALCS at two games. Of course, if the Yankees’ lineup continues to struggle, it won’t matter who takes the mound for them. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .194/.288/.296, but without Robinson Cano’s contribution, that falls to .163/.270/.198. In the middle of the order, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have a combined OPS of .522, while Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher, all with an OPS below. 500, haven’t been much better. In other words, as great as Lee was last night, the Yankees have made just about every starter look like an ace in this series. If that doesn’t change soon, the ALCS will not be returning to Texas.

Historic Aspects of Game 3 of the ALCS

  • The Yankees 8-0 loss was the most lopsided shutout in the team’s postseason history.
  • The Yankees three base runners were the fewest recorded by the team in a postseason game. The team’s two hits also matched an all-time low, joining game 3 of the 2001 ALDS (Barry Zito) and game 4 of the 1958 World Series (Warren Spahn).
  • Cliff Lee’s 13 strikeouts was the third highest total recorded by a pitcher against the Yankees in the postseason, matching Bob Gibson’s performance in the 1964 World Series. Only Sandy Koufax (15 in the 1963 World Series) and Carl Erskine (14 in the 1953 World Series) had more.
  • The Yankees 15 strikeouts matched the franchise’s postseason high for a nine inning game (Koufax in game one of the 1963 World Series).
  • The five earned runs surrendered by David Robertson was the third highest total allowed by a Yankees’ reliever in the postseason. Only Jay Witasick (eight in 1 1/3 innings during the2001 World Series) and Hideki Irabu (seven in 4 2/3 innings during the 1999 ALCS) allowed more.

Top-10 Postseason Games Pitched Against the Yankees, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# Tm Rslt IP H ER SO GSc
Randy Johnson 10/28/2001 WS 2 ARI W 4-0 9 3 0 11 91
Cliff Lee 10/18/2010 ALCS 3 TEX W 8-0 8 2 0 13 90
Don Drysdale 10/5/1963 WS 3 LAD W 1-0 9 3 0 9 89
Warren Spahn 10/5/1958 WS 4 MLN W 3-0 9 2 0 7 88
Bob Gibson 10/12/1964 WS 5 STL W 5-2 10 6 0 13 87
Jack Sanford 10/5/1962 WS 2 SFG W 2-0 9 3 0 6 84
Josh Beckett 10/25/2003 WS 6 FLA W 2-0 9 5 0 9 84
Cliff Lee 10/28/2009 WS 1 PHI W 6-1 9 6 0 10 83
Pedro Martinez 10/16/1999 ALCS 3 BOS W 13-1 7 2 0 12 83
Pete Alexander 10/3/1926 WS 2 STL W 6-2 9 4 1 10 82

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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One day after blowing a five run lead in the final three innings, Ron Washington vowed that if his team was presented with the same opportunity again, they would not let it get away. Sure enough, by the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Rangers had built another five run lead, and this time proved their manager prophetic.

I would like to be in the same position again and see what happens. I would like to get in the position of just having to get six more outs, and next time, we’ll probably get it done. We didn’t get it done last night, and we all take credit for that.” – Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog

Phil Hughes walks dejectedly back to the dugout after being lifted in the fifth inning (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s easy to see why Washington would relish the opportunity to be in the same situation, but the actions of Joe Girardi made it seem as if he too was eager for a reprise. What else would explain why Girardi allowed Phil Hughes to give up seven run and 10 hits over four-plus ineffective innings, especially coming one night after he lifted his veteran ace after the fourth inning?

Hughes’ afternoon actually started out quite impressive, as the young righty struck out the side in the first inning. In that frame, the Rangers did push one run across the plate, thanks to a leadoff infield single and three stolen bases, two of which came when Jorge Posada mistakenly threw to second base on an obvious double steal. Ironically, Josh Hamilton, who was running from first, wound up advancing too far before stopping, but instead of tagging him to thwart the play, Robinson Cano tried to nail Elvis Andrus at the plate.

From the onset, the right handers in the Rangers’ lineup seemed intent on taking Phil Hughes to the opposite field, but for some reason both he and Posada never adjusted. Over the next three-plus innings, six of the nine Rangers’ hits were struck by righties taking an outside fastball or cutter to right field. What’s more, five of those hits went for extra bases. If every Yankee fan didn’t know that Nick Swisher’s number was 33, they should now.

Once again, despite being down 5-0 in the third inning, the Yankees seemed to be very much in the ballgame, especially considering that Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis was in and out of trouble in the second and third. The Yankees finally broke through for a run in the fourth when Lance Berkman singled home Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning, but the inning came to a sudden close when Berkman went too far past first and was tagged out in a rundown. Nonetheless, the seeds of another comeback seemed as if they had been planted.  

Instead of cutting his losses as he did with Sabathia in game one, Girardi allowed the inexperienced Hughes to take the mound in the fifth, despite the lack of any sign that he had adjusted to the Rangers’ game plan. Two runs later, the deficit was now at 7-1, and any chance at an encore was abated.

The Yankees last gasp came in the sixth inning, when the hot hitting Robinson Cano hit a 430-plus foot homerun deep into the right field upper deck. Otherwise, the Yankees failed to put much pressure on the same Texas bullpen that coughed up yesterday’s lead.

Coming into the game, the spotlight was on the Rangers’ ability to bounce back from a historic collapse, but they answered the questions with flying colors. Now, the doubts surround the Yankees, whose starting rotation and middle of the lineup have both struggled over the first two games. If not for the managerial gaffes of Washington in game one, the Yankees could be looking at Cliff Lee down two games to none. Even at 1-1, the specter of Lee in game three has shifted the burden over to the Yankees, especially on the heels of Hughes’ disastrous start.

Because of the decision to go with Phil Hughes in game 2, the Yankees can no longer use Sabathia for three games and Andy Pettitte for two games on full rest. Considering that the Rangers have had more success against righties (.772 OPS vs. .718 versus lefties), that seemed like an optimal configuration. Instead, the Yankees are now in a position where they will have to beat Lee in at least one game and still get a win from AJ Burnett. Although it’s impossible to know how Pettitte would have pitched had he started game 2, the turning point of this series could wind up being the fact that he wasn’t given the opportunity.

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Coming from behind has long been a Yankees’ hallmark. In the regular season, the team recorded a major’s best 48 comebacks, and then in the ALDS added two more for good measure. Overcoming a five run deficit with only three innings to play, well, that’s another matter altogether. In fact, in their history of 356 postseason games, the Yankees had come back from a deficit of at least five runs in only two (Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS and Game 4 of the 1996 World Series), and in each of those games the deficit was narrowed before the seventh inning.

Sabathia escaped further damage in the first inning by nabbing Nelson Cruz before he could touch homeplate (Photo: Getty Images).

Just as he did in the ALDS opener, C.C. Sabathia struggled with his command early in the ballgame. Sabathia’s inability to throw strikes and an inconsistent strike zone by homeplate umpire Jerry Davis conspired to set the Rangers up with a first and third rally only two batters into the game. By the end of the third batter, the Rangers would have a 3-0 lead, thanks to a laser homerun by Josh Hamilton, who deposited a hanging 0-2 slider over the wall in right.

The Yankees were lucky to escape the opening frame down only three runs because Sabathia never seemed to get it together. In fact, if not for a fortuitous bounce on a wild pitch with the bases loaded, Sabathia might not have made it out of the first inning. As things turned out, Sabathia’s “wild pitch” turned out to be his best of the inning when the ball ricocheted back to Jorge Posada. The Yankees’ catcher then underhand flipped the ball to a charging Sabathia, who made a sliding tag on the arm of Nelson Cruz to end the tumultuous inning.

Even though CJ Wilson seemed to be on his game from the first batter, the 3-0 deficit was far from daunting. Over the next few innings, Sabathia flirted with regaining his command and the Yankees mounted two first and second rallies, each of which came up short. Still, it seemed as if the Rangers had forfeited a chance to send the Yankees ace to an early shower and allowed the dangerous Bronx Bombers to remain at arm’s length. In the bottom of the fourth, however, they finally dropped the hammer.

After getting two outs in the fourth, Sabathia surrendered a single to Elvis Andrus and then a two run double to Michael Young before recovering to strikeout Hamilton to end the inning. Now down 5-0, the Yankees backs finally seemed to be against the wall, and the night of their big lefty was done after only four innings for the first time all season.

When the Yankees’ postseason roster was first announced, there was some consternation about the presence of both Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre. The counter to that angst went something like, “well, if either one is pitching in a game, it’s probably lost anyway”. Sure enough, after a scoreless fifth from the long lost Joba Chamberlain, Moseley entered the game in the sixth with the Yankees still trailing by five runs. Game over? Not quite.

Moseley’s two innings of work were nothing less than brilliant. Six batters were faced and four went down on strikes. In a close game, such a performance would have been much heralded, but in a lopsided contest, it seemed like garbage time window dressing, especially with Wilson still going strong. However, as the Yankees have proven countless times in October, things are not always as they seem.

Although there are several deserving candidates, for many, the race for the AL MVP has boiled down to Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano. In the bottom of the first, Hamilton made a compelling case for why he means so much to his team, but the later rounds were all Robinson Cano. The Yankees’ second baseman got the team on the board for the first time in the seventh, when he lined a Wilson changeup just inside the right field foul pole. The blast seemed innocent enough with the Rangers’ still holding a four run lead, especially after Wilson retired the next three batters with relative ease. The Yankees’ MVP would be heard from again, however, and by the end of his ext at bat, all innocence would be lost.

The Yankees historic 8th inning rally was started by the hustle of Brett Gardner (Photo: AP).

Speaking of innocence, that’s exactly how the eighth inning started. Brett Gardner rolled over on a pitch and hit what looked like a sure 3-1 ground out. Wilson was late covering the bag, however, and the speedy Gardner slid safely into first, sacrificing his hand to the spikes of the sprinting pitcher. Although just a single, the hustle play appeared to quickly shift the momentum. Seizing on the opportunity, Derek Jeter immediately slammed a double past Michael Young, who was inexplicably playing on the infield grass, and the Yankees deficit had now been cut to three.

In the buildup to the series, much had been written and said about Nolan Ryan’s philosophy of having his pitchers’ throw deeper into games. During the broadcast, Ron Darling made exactly that point. In reality, however, that has really been more of a myth, and never was that more evident than in how Ron Washington handled the rest of the eighth inning.

Even though Wilson had only thrown 104 pitches up until the Jeter double, Washington opted to play the dangerous game of bullpen roulette. Unfortunately for the Rangers’ manager, there was a bullet in every chamber. Darren Oliver was summoned first, but all he did was add fuel to the fire, walking both Swisher and Teixeira to load the bases. Next in was Darren O’Day, but his evening lasted only one pitch as Alex Rodriguez lined a bullet past Young to score two more runs. The assembly line then spit out Clay Rapada, but his night was just as short. After giving up a line drive up the middle to Cano on the first pitch, the Yankees had come all the way back to tie the game and sent Washington back to the mound for Derek Holland. Although Holland lasted longer than a pitch, the Yankees completed the comeback when Marcus Thames lined a soft single to left that plated Arod with the go ahead run. Five runs, five pitchers, one inning.

The obvious second guess of Washington was why he decided to lift Wilson with only 104 pitches. A seething Nolan Ryan, who was seated prominently in the stands, was probably asking that very same question. Having said that, the Rangers bullpen has been a strength, and both Oliver and O’Day have been a big part of that. What defies explanation, however, was the use of Rapada and Holland, even though the latter did pitch relatively well. In the postgame press conference, Washington explained that he had faith in his bullpen, but he ultimately placed it in the wrong relievers. Instead of using Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando, who combined to give up one run in 22 2/3 innings over the final month of the season, Washington went with the struggling O’Day (six runs in nine September innings) and untested Rapada (only nine innings in 2010). The Yankees certainly deserve credit for the comeback, but the bullpen management of Washington was a big help.

Key Rangers’ Relievers, September Performance

Name W L ERA G SV IP H ER HR BB SO
Neftali Feliz 1 0 0.00 12 7 12 1/3 3 0 0 2 12
Alexi Ogando 1 0 0.87 14 0 10 1/3 10 1 0 1 7
Darren Oliver 0 0 1.86 10 0 9 2/3 10 2 1 1 6
Derek Holland 0 0 1.80 2 0 5 4 1 0 1  0
Clay Rapada 0 0 4.00 13 0 9 6 4 2 7 5
Darren O’Day 2 0 5.79 11 0 9 1/3 8 6 4 2 9

Source: Fangraphs.com

Now staked to a lead, Girardi went with his “eighth inning” guy, but the early returns looked as if they might be no better. Kerry Wood, who was wild in his last appearance in the ALDS, walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches and then fell behind David Murphy 2-1. Perhaps he was trying to steal, or get a good jump on the hit and run, but regardless, Kinsler left for second too soon and fell victim to a pickoff attempt. In their previous series against the Rays, the Rangers were lauded for their aggressive (and borderline reckless) base running, but with Wood about to unravel, that philosophy proved to be Wood’s salvation.

The Yankees squandered a chance to plate an insurance run in the ninth when Swisher followed another Jeter double with an ill advised bunt, but the Rangers returned the favor when they had Andrus give away an out with a sacrifice bunt in the bottom half of the inning. Of course, with Mariano Rivera on the mound, what choice did the Rangers have? Both Young and Hamilton had a crack at the tying run, but Rivera once again displayed the Yankees ultimate postseason advantage by recording a strikeout and weak grounder to end the game and preserve one of the greatest comebacks in the Yankees’ long post season history.

With the victory, the Yankees have now increased their postseason winning streak over the Rangers to a franchise record 10 games (one better than their streak over the just defeated Minnesota Twins). What’s more, the Rangers are no 0-7 in home playoff games. In other words, history seems to be working against Texas, which should only feed discussion of the psychological impact of yesterday’s turn of events. Of course, all of that is meaningless if the Rangers rebound to win game two. What is certain, however, is that the Rangers won’t feel safe again in this series until the final out is recorded.

Yankees vs. Rangers, Postseason History

Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt
10/1/1996 ALDS 1 NYY TEX L 2-6
10/2/1996 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 5-4
10/4/1996 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 3-2
10/5/1996 ALDS 4 NYY TEX W 6-4
9/29/1998 ALDS 1 NYY TEX W 2-0
9/30/1998 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 3-1
10/2/1998 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 4-0
10/5/1999 ALDS 1 NYY TEX W 8-0
10/7/1999 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 3-1
10/9/1999 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 3-0
10/16/2010 ALCS 1 NYY TEX W 6-5

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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With all due respect to the Twins, the Yankees real battle in the ALDS was with themselves. As noted in an earlier post, there were five key questions surrounding the Yankees, and most of them were answered in the affirmative. As a result, the Twins really had no chance because the Yankees were just a much better team now playing at the top of their game.

The Yankees were all smiles after sweeping the Twins in the ALDS for the second year in a row (Photo:AP).

Heading into the ALDS, the biggest concern for the Yankees was the team’s rotation depth (or lack thereof), but as things turned out, the “worst” outing was turned in by C.C. Sabathia, who surrendered three earned runs in “only” six innings.  After Sabathia, the Yankees were supposed to be vulnerable, but the Twins quickly found out that wasn’t the case. First, Andy Pettitte allayed fears about his health by throwing seven innings of two run ball, and then Phil Hughes did even better, shutting out the Twins in his seven frames. As a result, the Yankees can now look forward to the ALCS with confidence in the rotation.

Headlined by Mariano Rivera, the Yankees bullpen was expected to be a relative strength, and thanks to solid efforts by Kerry Wood and David Robertson, it certainly proved to be so. The biggest question, however, was would Boone Logan be able to be the same shutdown lefty as Damaso Marte was in last year’s post season. Although he only saw one inning of work, Logan retired three of the four lefties he faced, including a pivotal bases loaded pop up from Jason Kubel in the eighth inning of game three. Equally important was Logan responded to his first taste of October by throwing strikes. In the ALCS, Logan will undoubtedly face an even greater challenge, but his first crack at the post season was a success.

At times during last year’s post season, Alex Rodriguez seemed to single handedly lift the Yankees offense, so a natural concern was would he be able to shoulder the burden again. Well, in the ALDS, he didn’t have to. Despite getting only three singles from the cleanup hitter, the Yankees did not struggle to score runs. Among those picking up the slack was Mark Teixeira, whose game winning two run homer in the opener was one of the biggest hits of the series. Like Arod, Teixeira is capable of carrying an offense for an extended period, so the Yankees had to be heartened by the sight of their slugging first baseman coming through in the clutch.

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were a major part of the Yankees’ championship in 2009, so this year there were some pretty big shoes to fill. Replacing those two in the lineup were Curtis Granderson and the DH platoon of Marcus Thames and Lance Berkman, so the performance of those three players faced the most scrutiny. How did they do? Thames’ OPS of 1.089 was the lowest of the group, which pretty much says it all. In total, the trio went 9 for 22 with five runs, two homers and seven RBIs.

By sweeping the Twins, the ALDS provided some vindication for the Yankees’ brain trust of GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. After taking some hits for his off season acquisition, all of Cashman’s additions contributed in a big way to the first round sweep. Meanwhile, Girardi was afforded an opportunity to say “I told you so”, as the crispness of the Yankees play and lack of a home field advantage seemed to justify his end of season approach.

The last out of the series was a microcosm of the matchup between the two teams. When Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, retired Danny Valencia, a 25 year old rookie third baseman, to close out the sweep, the disparity between the two teams was on display. Although much has been written about the Yankees being in Twins’ heads, the fact of the matter is they are simply a much better team. With all of the Yankees’ questions answered in a positive manner, the Twins really had no chance.

Yankees Top-10 Pitching Performances in the ALDS, by Game Score

Player Date G Opp Rslt IP H ER BB SO GS
David Wells 9/29/1998 1 TEX W 2-0 8 5 0 1 9 80
O. Hernandez 10/5/1999 1 TEX W 8-0 8 2 0 6 4 76
Andy Pettitte 9/30/1998 2 TEX W 3-1 7 3 1 0 8 75
Phil Hughes 10/9/2010 3 MIN W 6-1 7 4 0 1 6 74
David Wells 10/4/1997 3 CLE W 6-1 9 5 1 0 1 74
Andy Pettitte 10/2/2003 2 MIN W 4-1 7 4 1 3 10 72
Mike Mussina 10/13/2001 3 OAK W 1-0 7 4 0 1 4 72
Dave Righetti 10/8/1981 2 MIL W 3-0 6 4 0 2 10 72
Andy Pettitte 10/4/2000 2 OAK W 4-0 7.2 5 0 1 3 71
Roger Clemens 10/9/1999 3 TEX W 3-0 7 3 0 2 2 71

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Heading into the ALDS, the biggest question hanging over the Yankees was the health of Andy Pettitte. Last night, the  veteran lefty allayed those concerns.

Andy Pettitte answered all the questions with his game two performance (Photo: Getty Images).

Over the first two innings, Pettitte’s command was a little shaky, particularly in the second when he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. At that point, however, Pettitte did what he does best…he limited the damage to a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia.

The Yankees entered the game with seven consecutive playoff victories against the Twins, all of the comeback variety. So, falling behind by one run in the second was hardly a reason for panic. Of more concern were the early returns from Carl Pavano, who limited the Yankees to one base hit over the first three innings. Aided by Hunter Wendlestedt’s generous strike zone, which seemed to include six inches off the plate to lefties (of which the Yankees lineup featured seven), Pavano pounded the strike zone early and then forced the batters to be aggressive later in the count. By the fourth inning, however, the Yankees’ game plan changed.

Curtis Granderson started the fourth inning with a leadoff double, his first of three hits, on a 2-0 pitch. Following the hit, the entire Yankees lineup went into attack mode. Pavano needed only six pitches to get through the next four batters, but was lucky to do so as all of them hit the ball hard. Singles by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, which came sandwiched around an Arod sac fly, helped plate the tying run, but when Nick Swisher rapped into a 1-6-3 double play, Pavano avoided further damage.

The Yankees eventually took the lead in the fifth inning when Pavano was felled by another 2-0 pitch. This time, Lance Berkman lined the offering over the left center field wall for only his second home run in a Yankees’ uniform. In his two months with the team, Berkman had desperately been in search of his first Yankee moment, but it never came. He finally found it with his initial post season swing.

While the Yankees were busy solving Pavano, Pettitte shifted into another gear. All of a sudden, the veteran lefty looked as if he was in midseason form, spotting his fastball, pounding his cutter and dropping curves into the zone at will. At one point, Pettitte retired 12 batters in a row, but when the string was broken, it was done in a big way. With one out in the sixth, Pettitte fell behind Orlando Hudson on a first pitch curve that seemed to dissect the plate. After not getting the call, Pettitte decided to go with the same pitch, but this time Hudson was waiting for it. While the Twins’ second baseman rounded the bases on his game tying blast, Pettitte could seen mouthing “stupid pitch”, while Jorge Posada walked toward the mound patting his chest as if to say “my bad”. Despite the frustration, Pettitte rebounded to retire the dangerous Joe Mauer and then induced a weak grounder from Jim Thome after Delmon Young’s triple that eluded the running try of Granderson.

As they have often done against the Twins in October, the Yankees immediately recaptured the lead by scoring in the latter third in the game. The top of the seventh began with a walk to Posada, but the focal point of the inning was the next at bat by Berkman. After falling behind 1-2, Berkman took a pitch that crossed the inside part of the plate, but received the benefit of a favorable call. Berkman then took advantage of his second life by lining the next pitch over Denard Span’s head in centerfield, plating Posada and giving the Yankees another lead. The Twins were infuriated by the turn of events and manager Ron Gardenhire was eventually ejected for arguing balls and strikes later in the inning. However, lost amid the outcry was the fact that the second pitch in the bat was called a strike despite being well off the plate. In other words, the count was exactly as it should have been, even if it took two missed calls to get there.

The Yankees eventually added an additional run in the seventh and ninth on RBI singles by Jeter and Granderson, respectively, but the extra insurance ultimately proved to be unnecessary. After a 27-minute top of the seventh, Pettitte polished of his effort with a quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half. Then, in the eighth, Kerry Wood upped the ante by blowing away the three batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth. Finally, Mariano Rivera put a cap on the evening by earning his 41st post season save and sending the Yankees back to the Bronx needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS.

Players with a HR in First Post Season Game with Yankees

Player Date Series G# Opponent Pitcher Result
Lance Berkman* 10/7/2010 ALDS 2 Twins Carl Pavano W 5-2
Rondell White 10/1/2002 ALDS 1 Angels Jarrod Washburn W 8-5
Shane Spencer* 9/30/1998 ALDS 2 Rangers Rick Helling W 3-1
Jim Leyritz 10/4/1995 ALDS 2 Mariners Tim Belcher W 7-5
Rick Cerone* 10/8/1980 ALCS 1 Royals Larry Gura L 2-7
Roger Maris* 10/5/1960 WS 1 Pirates Vern Law L 4-6
Elston Howard* 9/28/1955 WS 1 Dodgers Don Newcombe W 6-5
George Selkirk* 9/30/1936 WS 1 Giants Carl Hubbell L 1-6

*HR came in player’s first at bat.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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You couldn’t blame someone if they thought the Yankees and Twins played their post season games from a script. After all, the last seven meetings between the teams in October, dating back to the 2004 ALDS, have all seemed to follow the same formula: the Twins take a lead only to see the Yankees comeback and win. Last night was no different.

Mark Teixeira rounds third on his seventh inning HR that gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead (Photo: Getty Images).

Although the game started just after 8:30PM in New York, it took the October Yankees a little bit longer to show up. In their place, the same team that stumbled down the stretch in September seemed to take the field for the first five innings of the game. Included among a series of miscues were the following: C.C. Sabathia failing to cover first base on a groundout, which allowed Orlando Hudson to go from first to third when Mark Teixeira had to dive toward the bag to make the putout; Jorge Posada’s passed ball, which allowed a run to score; and Brett Gardner failing to take third base on a bobble by Delmon Young. Meanwhile, Sabathia, who may have been dealing with the rust of an eight-day lay off, struggled with his command, as evident in the second inning when the big lefty plunked Jim Thome on a two-strike count before giving up a homer to Michael Cuddyer on a 2-0 fastball right down the middle.

In fairness to the Yankees, part of their lethargic look was directly attributable to the performance of Francisco Liriano, whose electric slider made batter after batter look silly. The normally patient Yankees lineup was able to work the count, but just could not lay off the pitch, which would start out over the plate before darting out of the strike zone. Through 5 1/3 innings, Liriano had only allowed two hits and two walks while striking out six, making the Twins 3-0 lead look almost insurmountable. Almost.

In the post game press conference, Teixeira confidently stated that with a lineup like the Yankees, the team never feels as if all hope is lost. In the sixth inning, the Yankees first baseman helped put those words into action. Teixeira’s one out double into the left field corner not only seemed to snap the team out of its doldrums, but was also an important hit for the first baseman, whose 2009 post season left something to be desired. Following the double, Arod worked a tough six pitch walk after which Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada sandwiched a Marcus Thames strikeout with RBI singles that finally put the Yankees on the scoreboard.

With the lead now cut to 3-2, Curtis Granderson was next to face Liriano, against whom he had been hitting .182 entering the game. That statistic played into Ron Gardenhire’s decision to let his ace lefty face on more batter, but Granderson bucked the trend and hit a towering fly ball off the right centerfield wall for a two-run triple. Before the hit, you can bet more than a few Yankees fans were wondering something like “what would Damon or Matsui do in this situation”. By coming up with the big triple, Granderson put most of those doubts to bed early in his Yankees’ post season career, which could bode well for his performance going forward.

The Yankees didn’t have the lead for long. In the bottom of the sixth, Sabathia retired the first two batters, but then lost the plate, walking three batters around a Cuddyer double that was almost turned into an out by Brett Gardner, who made a full body dive to glove the ball, but then surrendered it upon hitting the ground. After walking Danny Valencia to force in the tying run, Sabathia did rebound to strike out JJ Hardy on a changeup, but the big lefty expressed his displeaure by slamming his glove in the dugout.

Last post season, Teixeira’s struggles were camouflaged by the historic performance of Arod, so getting his first baseman off on the right foot had to be high on Girardi’s list. And, that’s exactly what happened. Teixeira immediately vaulted the Yankees back into the lead with a two run blast that just stayed within the right field foul pole. Before the game, it was revealed that not only did Teixeira battle a broken toe in September, but he had also received a cortisone shot on his thumb. Judging by his performance in game 1, the slugging first baseman may finally be healthy at just the right time.

With a second crack at the lead, Girardi turned the game over to his bullpen, which had emerged as a relative strength of the team in the second half of the season. Boone Logan was first out of the pen, and he succeeded in retiring the first two batters in the seventh before giving way to David Robertson after a single by Joe Mauer. Robertson thwarted Girardi’s strategy by walking the right handed hitting Delmon Young, but then struck Jim Thome out on three outstanding curveballs.

The eighth inning went to Kerry Wood, who established himself in the role by pitching to an ERA of 0.69 since coming over at the trade deadline. Once the Twins put the tying run in scoring position (on a walk, infield single and groundout), however, Girardi went to his security blanket and called on Mariano Rivera for another big post season save, the 40th of his remarkable career.

In September, Rivera had struggled, blowing three saves during the month, but the Yankees’ legendary closer has owned October. After retiring Denard Span on a weak grounder to short, Rivera then coasted through the ninth, breaking the bats of Hudson and Mauer before retiring Delmon Young on a low liner to Greg Golson in right. Unfortunately, right field umpire Chris Guccione missed what everyone else saw and ruled that last play a trap. As a result, Thome was afforded another at bat as the tying run. Blown call aside, the Hall of Fame confrontation was the perfect way to end what was a tense ballgame. In his usual calm and collected fashion, however, Rivera defused the situation by inducing a harmless pop out to third on the very first pitch.

Although the Yankees “need” to win game 1 was overstated, the importance of taking the series opener can not be denied (since the Yankees lost the 2006 ALDS to the Tigers, every division series has been won by the team taking the first game). Not only does the victory snag the much talked about home field advantage that was such a point of contention, but it also gives Andy Pettitte a little bit of breathing room. Game two is next…hopefully the Twins stick to the script.

Mariano Rivera’s Post Season Performance

  W L ERA G SV IP H ER HR SO WHIP
15 ALDS 2 0 0.34 35 17 52 2/3 25 2 1 42 0.589
8 ALCS 4 0 0.99 30 12 45 2/3 31 5 0 33 0.832
7 WS 2 1 0.99 24 11 36 1/3 27 4 1 32 0.963
Total 8 1 0.74 89 40 134 2/3 83 11 2 107 0.772

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Blue Jays honored retiring manager Cito Gaston before last night’s game (Photo: AP).

The Toronto Blue Jays paid tribute to retiring manager Cito Gaston with an on-field ceremony before last night’s game and then gave him a proper sendoff by not only setting the franchise record for most home runs, but also besting the Yankees in a season series for the first time since 2000.

Entering the game, the Jays had belted a league leading 244 round trippers, which matched the total established by the aforementioned 2000 team (for those interested in cosmic links, a Batista, minus the “u”, also led the Jays in homers that season). It didn’t take long to break that link to the past, however, as Travis Snider, who along with several teammates sported a fake mustache in honor of Gaston, belted Javier Vazquez’ fourth pitch of the game deep into the right field stands. With the home run, Vazquez also wrote his name into the record books, but not on a page he’d like to see it. The Snider blast was the 30th homer surrendered by Vazquez, making him the only pitcher in franchise history to allow at least as many in two different seasons.

Yankee Pitchers Who Surrendered More than 30 HR in a Season

Player Year HR G W L IP ERA
Ralph Terry 1962 40 43 23 12 298.2 3.19
Orlando Hernandez 2000 34 29 12 13 195.2 4.51
Javier Vazquez 2004 33 32 14 10 198 4.91
Randy Johnson 2005 32 34 17 8 225.2 3.79
Jim Bouton 1964 32 38 18 13 271.1 3.02
Javier Vazquez 2010 32 31 10 10 157.1 5.32
Dennis Rasmussen 1987 31 26 9 7 146 4.75

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Both Vazquez and the Jays added to their history making efforts later in the game when John Buck launched a solo blast in the second and Aaron Hill sent Vazquez to the showers with a three run shot in the fifth. Although his concerns are likely elsewhere, Vazquez can take some solace in knowing that he wasn’t alone on the team in helping assist the Jays with their record setting performance. The Yankees surrendered 33 home runs to the Jays in 2010, 21 of which came courtesy of Vazquez, Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett.

On a more positive note, Alex Rodriguez made some history of his own by belting his 30th home run of the season in the sixth. Like Vazquez, the number had special meaning for Arod because it gave the Yankees’ third baseman a record setting 13th consecutive season with 100 RBIs and 30 homers, not to mention an all-time best 14th such season overall. Despite missing over 20 games for the third consecutive season, a late surge once again carried Arod across the milestone’s finish line. Last year, it was a historic 2 HR and 7 RBI inning in Tampa that turned the trick, while this season it was a more methodical 9 HR and 26 RBI September that cinched the accomplishment.

30 HR/100 RBI Seasons

Player Seasons
Alex Rodriguez 14
Manny Ramirez 12
Jimmie Foxx 12
Babe Ruth 12
Barry Bonds 11
Albert Pujols 10
Rafael Palmeiro 10
Hank Aaron 10
Lou Gehrig 10

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

While history was being made all around the ballpark, the Yankees were squandering another golden opportunity to leap back into first place. Another Rays’ loss to the Orioles once again opened the door, but the lousy pitching of Vazquez quickly slammed it shut. After Arod’s historic blast, the Yankees did mount a rally that saw Nick Swisher come to the plate with the bases loaded as the tying run, but after a double play ball the air was completely let out of the game. Meanwhile, Brett Cecil pitched another gem against the Yankees, upping his season record against the Bronx Bombers to 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. In keeping with the theme of the night, Cecil’s four victories against the Yankees made him the first lefty to accomplish the feat since Chuck Finley did the same in 1996 (with a remarkable 0.57 ERA).

Last Five Lefties to Beat Yankees Four Times in a Season

Player Year GS W ERA IP SO
Brett Cecil 2010 4 4 2.93 27 2/3 15
Chuck Finley 1996 4 4 0.57 31 1/3 32
Floyd Bannister 1984 4 4 4.18 28 15
Geoff Zahn 1979 4 4 1.59 28 1/3 7
Mike Flanagan 1978 4 4 2.37 30 1/3 14

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Not only did Vazquez help to pitch the Yankees out of the division title, he probably also pitched himself off the post season roster. On the other hand, Royce Ring may be slowly pitching his way onto it. In the fifth, Ring was summoned to face lefty Adam Lind and retired the slugger on a ground ball to third. Granted, Ring’s appearance lasted only one batter, but if promoted to the post season roster, that’s exactly the role he would occupy. Carrying a second lefty specialist might be too much of a luxury for the post season roster, but it’s getting to the point where the Yankees can simply not afford to trust a playoff game to the cadre of righty long men who might otherwise fill the slot.

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