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New York had chances on Monday, including in the ninth inning when they advanced the tying run to second base, but the offense was once again unable to come through. Now, they find themselves in a difficult hole, needing to win four straight games to avoid elimination. The term "must-win" gets used too often in sports, as Andrew Mearns of Pinstriped Bible noted, but that is exactly what New York now faces.
Despite the big hole, Yankee fans aren't ready to give up just yet. They are taking a one game at a time approach and Wednesday New York will have its ace CC Sabathia on the mound. As Mearns said, the focus isn't on winning Game 5, 6 or 7, but instead winning the next game.
Focus on tomorrow. Perhaps don't wait until the ninth inning to start putting good at bats together against Tiger pitching (it will be Max Scherzer, who pitched to a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings during the Division Series last year). Scratch some runs out for the ace, and to quote Terry Francona "win every inning." Winning those innings can lead to something greater if you can do it. The 2012 Yankees did not win 95 games by luck. They have the ability to do it. They have their ace going tomorrow.
It's not over.
The comeback attempt begins Wednesday in Game 4 with first pitch scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on TBS.
In Game 3 of the ALCS, Raúl Ibañez struck out to end the game, with a left-hander on the mound and Alex Rodriguez on the bench. Did Joe Girardi simply forget to manage in the ninth inning?
The Tigers took Game 3 behind characteristically strong pitching from Justin Verlander, taking a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.
Thanks to the Yankees' bullpen and Eduardo Nunez's ninth-inning home run, the Yanks were able to put a real scare into the Tigers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. But with two Yankees aboard in the top of the ninth inning, lefty reliever Phil Coke struck out Raúl Ibañez to seal the Tigers' 2-1 victory, and push the Yankees to the brink of elimination.
With Verlander working on a two-hit shutout, Nuñez led off with a line-drive home run after a long battle. Verlander then retired Brett Gardner, but he'd thrown 132 pitches and manager Jim Leyland decided that was enough.
With closer Jose Valverde struggling terribly this month, Leyland instead summoned Coke from the bullpen. He got Ichiro Suzuki on a grounder, but Mark Teixeira singled and Robinson Cano -- busting an 0-for-29 slump -- did the same.
Which brought up Ibañez, who'd already done so many dramatic things lately. Coke started Ibañez off with two outside fastballs, which Ibañez took for balls. But then they started really battling, and it ended when Coke struck out Ibañez with a big slider.
The Tigers now own a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, and the Yankees will try to something that's been done only once in major-league history.
Leading off the ninth inning against Justin Verlander -- who was working on a two-hit shutout -- Eduardo Nunez fouled off seven pitches before getting a pitch he could really handle and doing ... this:
That made it 2-1, Tigers. Jim Leyland walked to the mound, had a short chat with Verlander, and went back to the dugout.
Verlander retired Brett Gardner on a little grounder, but that came on Verlander's 132nd pitch, matching his highest pitch count of the season. And so out came Leyland again, and this time he summoned Phil Coke, who's apparently the Tigers' new closer.
And so here we go, with Coke on the mound and the meat of the Yankees' order coming up, looking to score at least one run and stay in this game.
Justin Verlander just keeps cruising. Through eight frames, he's given up only two hits, both of them line-drive singles off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. In the top of the eighth, Verlander retired Russell Martin on a hard-hit grounder to third base, Eric Chavez on a fly to center field, and Curtis Granderson on a fly to short left field.
In the ninth, the Yankees will send Eduardo Nunez -- or perhaps a pinch hitter; Nick Swisher or Alex Rodriguez, anyone? -- to the plate, followed by and Ichiro. Verlander's thrown 115 pitches, but would Jim Leyland really tempt fate by going to his bullpen? Nine times this season, he threw at least 120 pitches, maxing out at 132. It seems highly likely that Verlander will start the ninth, but with someone warming in the bullpen just in case he gets in a spot of trouble.
Meanwhile, Jhonny Peralta led off the bottom of the eighth with a line drive to left field, but Brett Outfielder made a fantastic play in Comerica Park's rain-soaked left field. After Boone Logan -- who wound up pitching two innings of shutout ball in a great bit of clutch relief -- retired Alex Avila on an easy play for Gardner. Joe Girardi, still managing, brought in Joba Chamberlain to face Omar Infante, who lifted a routine fly to center to end the eighth.
So here we go to the ninth, with Verlander looking to put the Yankees in a hole from which very, very, very few teams have ever escaped.
Woe be to the team needing a win against Justin Verlander right now. He allowed his second runner of the game in the seventh inning, which is about all you need to know about how the game is going for the Yankees. The runner in question was Ichiro, who singled for the second time in Game 3. He hasn't advanced past first.
After Ichiro led off the seventh with a single, Mark Teixeira flew out to medium-deep left field. That brought up Robinson Cano, who is in the middle of a still-active playoff record for hitless at-bats. Here's how his at-bat went against Verlander:
Uh. That put Cano at 0 for his last 29. Robinson Cano is getting into Eugenio Velez territory, which is surely the first time that sentence has ever been typed. Raul Ibanez grounded out sharply to Prince Fielder to end the inning.
Verlander is at 101 pitches through seven innings, and he's struck out three without a walk. The Yankees have a few hard-hit balls on the night, but things aren't really going the Bombers' way right now.
Okay, maybe it's just time to realize that yes, while nobody's perfect or unbeatable and the New York Yankees still have a great deal of talent in that lineup, no: the Yankees are not going to beat Justin Verlander in this game.
After a 1-2-3 fifth inning and a 1-2-3 sixth, Verlander has a) allowed exactly one baserunner, and b) thrown only 81 pitches. One anomaly: Verlander, after striking out 22 Athletics in only 16 in their Division Series, has K'd only two Yankees in Game 3.
Nobody cares about strikeouts when you're throwing a one-hitter.
In the bottom of the sixth, with right-handed sidearmer Cody Eppley on the mound, Alex Avila led off and struck out, but Omar Infante singled and Austin Jackson drew a walk (this time unintentional). That did it for Eppley, who was of course replaced by another sidearmer, lefty Boone Logan.
Jim Leyland responded with a pinch hitter, righty-hitting Avisail Garcia. And the move paid off big when Garcia lined a single into center field to load the bases.
Well, it could have been big. Miguel Cabrera was up next, with a big chance to essentially end Game 3.
Instead, he shot a hot grounder toward third base, where Eric Chavez made this happen:
and just like that, the Yankees were out of the inning. And with the score still 2-0, they're still in this game and they're still in this series. If just barely.
The Yankees are snake-bit like no other team in this playoffs. Alex Rodriguez isn't in the lineup because he's so danged snake-bit, and neither is Nick Swisher. Derek Jeter is out for the year, and in the bottom of the fourth, starting pitcher Phil Hughes left with a herniated lumbar disc, which probably means he's out for the postseason, too.
And if the news isn't good with the offense or the injuries, well, it's not much better when it comes to the pitching or fielding, either. Quintin Berry reached on an error by A-Rod replacement Eric Chavez to start the fifth, setting things up for Miguel Cabrera, who did this:
That chased reliever David Phelps, and it put the Tigers up 2-0. Clay Rapada came in and got Prince Fielder to ground out. After an intentional walk to Delmon Young (not as funny as it used to be), Andy Dirks grounded out for the second out of the inning, and right-hander Cody Eppley came in to retire Jhonny Peralta on a fly to center.
The Yankees are down 2-0, they're going against Justin Verlander, and everyone is either hurt or stinky. IF they end up winning this series, this is the second plot point at the end of act two, where everything is at its bleakest.
Phil Hughes is possibly out for the rest of the postseason, as he left Game 3 with a herniated disk.
But in the fourth, Hughes first gave up a run and, just moments, was forced to retire from the game.
Delmon Young led off the frame, and cranked Hughes' fourth pitch over the left-field fence. Watch how quickly this one gets out!
Andy Dirks came next, and Hughes walked him on four pitches.
A flashing red warning sign? Perhaps. With Jhonny Peralta up, Hughes quickly got ahead in the count, no balls and two strikes ... after which Joe Girardi and the Yankees' trainer came to the mound. And a moment later, Hughes was on his way back to the dugout, apparently with a herniated lumbar disk in his back, a situation that's afflicted Hughes before.
Phelps had all the time he wanted to warm up, threw three straight balls to Peralta, but finally got his man on a fly to deep center field.
Okay, so if the Yankees ever mount a serious threat against Justin Verlander, maybe we'll remember to give just a smidgen of credit to Brett Gardner. No, Gardner didn't become the Yankees' first baserunner when he led off the fourth inning. But with Verlander throwing only 33 pitches in the first three innings, maybe it will wind up meaning something that in the process of fouling out to lead off the fourth, Gardner did suck nine pitches from Verlander's (granted, considerable) tank.
Whatever the reason, when Ichiro Suzuki came up next, Verlander fell behind in the count 3-and-0. And after Verlander battled back with a couple of strikes, Ichiro slapped a change-up into left field for the Yankees' first hit, finally:
Verlander's thrown 54 pitches through four innings, and is on track to pitch for just about as long as he likes.
That's kind of the headline that Yankees fans feared. I guess it could be worse; it could be 12 pitches, or it could be 27 pitches and nine strikeouts. But no runners the first time through the order, combined with a modicum of pitches thrown, is pretty much the worst-case scenario for a game against Verlander. You know he's good for 130 tonight, and that would be around the 12th inning at this pace.
The good news is that Phil Hughes is matching Verlander inning for scoreless inning, albeit not quite with the same grace. Hughes allowed just a single through the first two innings, but he got in a little trouble in the bottom of the third. With one out, Austin Jackson hit a single to right. Quintin Berry bunted him over for the second out of the inning, which is ... kind of bizarre. It was one of those quasi-sacrifices, though, where he was trying for a hit at the same time, so it wasn't that bizarre.
What it did was take the bat out of the hands of Miguel Cabrera, whom Hughes walked. And on a 3-0 count Prince Fielder ripped a pitch, but it was right at Curtis Granderson. Threat over. Game scoreless.
One tactic for beating the Tigers when Justin Verlander starts for the Tigers: Make him throw so many pitches that he has to leave the game after, oh, six or seven innings. Because the guys in the bullpen aren't as good as Verlander.
If that's the Yankees' plan, so far so not good.
In the first inning, Verlander threw nine pitches. In the second, he threw 11 pitches. At this rate ... well, Phil Hughes will have to pitch the Game of His Life, or the Yankees are sunk.
Leaving aside the pitch count, so far so good. Hughes has thrown 29 pitches -- also a fine figure! -- but there's been just one feline baserunner; as long as Hughes is matching Verlander on the scoreboard, there is yet hope for the Yankees. Remember, it's baseball: Anything can happen and nothing is predestined.
We're heading to the third inning, and Game 3 remains scoreless.
Are you a Yankees fan feeling nervous about your team facing Justin Verlander in what's not-literally-a-must-win-but-pretty-much-a-must-win game? I don't blame you. Verlander is mighty intimidating.
But he's not invincible. I mean, he's immortal, but he's not quite perfect. And if you want to look back at the games in which he's lost to the Yankees, here you go:
The last time Verlander lost to the Yankees? He was pitching against Phil Hughes this June. If there were certainties in baseball, we'd all be rich off our gambling winnings instead of living in constant fear that Terry was going to find out that we were staying with our uncle and set the place on fire. Forget that I brought up gambling at all, actually.
And we're off!
It's a chilly evening in Detroit, but at least it's not snowing. Brett Gardner, making his first start since the Eisenhower Administration, led off the game with any easy grounder to second baseman Omar Infante. Justin Verlander, as usual, opened the game throwing lots of mid-90s fastballs; by the ninth, he'll be throwing a hundred, but 95 was plenty to fan Ichiro Suzuki for the game's second out. Finally, Mark Teixeira actually got some real wood on the ball, but his flyner to left-center was collected for Out #3.
Boy, talk about stacking your lineup. Here is Yankee manager Joe Girardi's lineup for Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, with a pitcher named Justin Verlander starting for the Detroit Tigers:
This will be the third time Yankees righthander Phil Hughes has faced the Tigers this year at Comerica Park. On June 3 he scattered four hits in a complete-game win; the only run was a home run by Fielder. On August 7 Hughes got hit hard; Detroit had eight hits and four runs, including a Cabrera home run, in 4⅓ innings. Cabrera has homered four times off Hughes in 20 career AB, as well as a pair of doubles (9-for-20 overall).
The June 3 game was a day game; the August 7 game at night, and so you might think that since Tuesday's game is a night game, that might help the Tigers -- except that Hughes had a much better ERA in 2012 night games (3.59 in 21 starts) than in day games (5.59 ERA in 11 starts).
Conclusion: inconclusive. Justin Verlander takes the mound for the Tigers, which could make the result pretty conclusive no matter how well Hughes does.
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