Ah, momentum. For eight-and-one-half innings, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series was all about Doug Fister, the Yankees' missed opportunities, and the highly visible failures of Alex Rodriguez.
And then suddenly everything was all about Raul Ibañez. Again. Because for the second time in the last four games, Ibañez blasted a game-tying home run, just over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium, in the bottom of the ninth inning. And when you're the Yankees and something like that happens, you obviously can't lose.
Except you can lose. And they did lose. The game, and their Hall of Fame shortstop.
In the top of the 12th, Miguel Cabrera led off with a walk. After Prince Fielder hit a little dribbler up the first-base line to move Cabrera to second, Delmon Young hit a missile to right field. It seemed that Nick Swisher might have made the play. But he didn't. Young cruised into second and Cabrera scored. And Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder up the middle and Derek Jeter dived and got the ball but he couldn't make a play and also he broke his ankle and had to be carried off the field and isn't going to play again this year. Andy Dirks followed with a grounder up the middle and David Phelps tried to make a bare-handed play instead of letting his shortstop turn a double play and everybody was safe while Don Kelly scored and then Quintin Berry struck out and Alex Avila grounded out but the Tigers were ahead 6-4 and this time their bullpen didn't blow it and they won like they were supposed to, except not like this.
Andy Pettitte started Game 1 for the Yankees, and mostly cruised through the first five innings.
Things were hardly as easy for Doug Fister.
In the bottom of the first, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs. Alex Rodriguez hit a hard grounder toward left field, but shortstop Jhonny Peralta made a diving stop and had just enough time to make a perfect peg to second base for the inning-ending force play.
In the bottom of the second, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs. Robinson Cano hit a line drive that actually caromed off Fister's right (throwing) wrist, then bounced over to Peralta, whose throw to first was just in time to nip Canó. Offically, anyway; the umpire at first base clearly missed the call. Maybe he knew it, and that's why he didn't eject Canó, who shouted an expletive and slammed his helmet to the ground.
In the bottom of the third, Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play. (Just thought you would want to know.)
The fourth and fifth innings were unexciting.
In the bottom of the sixth, Mark Teixeira reached on an error and Raul Ibañez doubled, with Tex stopping at third. Up next? Alex Rodriguez, of course. He struck out on three pitches. Then the Yankees loaded the bases again, when Nick Swisher walked.
All Fister did then was strike out Curtis Granderson on three pitches, and Russell Nathan Coltrane Martin on four. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marked the first time in the Yankees' long postseason history they had left the bases loaded three times in one game.
By then, the Tigers were ahead. Austin Jackson led off the top of the sixth with a triple down the right-field line. One fly-out and an intentional walk to Prince Fielder later, Prince Fielder lined a single to center field. And Delmon Young turned Pettitte's next pitch into a base hit to plate Cabrera and make the score 2-0.
Pettitte came out of the game in the top of the seventh, but the Tigers didn't score. Fister came out in the bottom of the seventh, but the Yankees didn't score.
In the eighth, the Tigers tacked on a pair of insurance runs -- which seemed big, considering the problems the Tigers' bullpen had in their Division Series against the A's -- when Delmon Young led off with a homer into the left-field seats, and rookie Avisail Garcia later hit an RBI single.
In the bottom of the eighth, Alex Rodriguez was slated to lead off against Joaquin Benoit. Instead, Joe Girardi sent up Eric Chavez to pinch hit. Chavez made an out, but his drive to deep center field will likely make Girardi think twice (or more) about putting Rodriguez back into the lineup for Game 2.
Austin Jackson led off the ninth with a double, but he was stranded. Leaving the Yankees, who hadn't gotten a big hit all night long, with a tough chore: Get a bunch of big hits in the ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
Granted, Valverde's been struggling lately. But leaving aside Drew Storen slightly more than 24 hours earlier, it's not often that you'll score four runs in one inning off any pitcher. Let alone the closer for a first-place team.
And yet the Yankees did it.
Russell Martin led off and singled. Derek Jeter struck out. But even as a great number of fans were on their way out of Yankee Stadium (or had already left), Ichiro Suzuki hit a high liner down the right-field line, fair by a few yards, that carried into the seats for a two-run homer.
After a long battle, Robinson Canó struck out and the Yankees were down to their last out. Mark Texeira fell behind in the count, 0-and-2, and the Yankees were down to their last strike. But after another long battle, Teixeira walked.
Jose Valverde had thrown 26 pitches, and Raúl Ibañez was coming up with a chance to tie the game.
Of course you wouldn't write it that way, because nobody would believe it. Just a few nights earlier, Ibañez had tied a huge game with a ninth-inning home run; a few innings later, he hit another homer to win it. It was a wonderful story, but Raúl Ibañez had obviously filled his quota.
Now he's over. Way over. Valverde's second pitch was a fastball up, and Ibañez drove it on a line into the second row in the right-field stands. It was, as another Yankee hero might have said when he saw it, déjà vu all over again.
Mercifully, that was all for Valverde. Octavio Dotel came in, probably a batter or three too late, and struck out Eric Chavez on three pitches. After the Tigers failed to score in the 10th, Dotel held the Yankees down in the bottom of the frame, although Russell Martin did hit a long drive that curved well foul.
And then, the 11th. David Robertson held the Tigers in the top of the frame. The bottom looked a bit like the ninth. Ichiro led off, and singled on an 0-and-2 pitch from lefty Drew Smyly. Canó followed and, after yet another long, foul-filled battle, drove a fly ball to deep right for the first out; that made 22 straight hitless at-bats for Canó in this postseason. Teixeira hit a broken-bat blooper that Peralta gathered in.
Which brought up Ibañez. In Game 3 of the Division Series, Ibañez followed up his game-tying homer in the ninth with a game-winner in the 12th. Not this time, though. So on they went to the 12th. When everything changed.