NEW YORK -- You don’t expect to hear a Yankee say “we just didn’t have any luck tonight” after another game-tying ninth-inning Raul Ibanez home run. But when Mark Teixeira said it early Sunday morning after the Yankees’ 6-4 loss to the Tigers, you could see where he was coming from. They left the bases loaded three times, they let their would-be magical comeback go to waste and exhausted their bullpen, and while all that could be shrugged off as just one game, they saw Derek Jeter lying on the field, his ankle fractured, done for the season.
There is a lot of very understandable exhaustion among baseball fans, even some Yankee fans, at hearing about how great Derek Jeter is. The Yankee Captain may be that rare example of an all-time-great first-ballot Hall of Fame player who still, somehow -- and through no fault of his own -- manages to be overhyped. Players and fans and the media can be so over-the-top about his leadership, his “intangibles,” his gritty-clutch-graceful-ambassador-for-the-game blah blah blahness, especially during the postseason, that is easy to roll your eyes. He’s a great ball player, not Mahatma Gandhi.
But, unlike Gandhi, Jeter is in fact an all-time-great first-ballot Hall of Fame player, and one with a whole season’s worth -- an amazing 158 games, and as of Saturday 200 hits -- of top-level postseason play and ludicrous game-winning October highlights. Eduardo Nunez, who now returns to the roster, is not what you would call a fair trade. And so the Yankees had the wind knocked out of their sails, inflated just a few innings earlier.
After the game, which lasted 12 innings and nearly five hours, Joe Girardi talked about Jeter like he was terminal instead of just out for three months -- but on Oct. 14, three months more or less is terminal, baseball-wise. “I’m sad for him,” Girardi said, “but he would tell us, ‘let’s go.’”
The Yankees said exactly what you would expect them to say: “We’ll take this one day at a time.” “One game at a time.” “Just fight through it.” “Get through it.” “Push through it.”
The Tigers, for their part, proved to anyone who was unsure that the Yankees don’t have a monopoly on crazy comebacks, even at Yankee Stadium in extra innings in games in which they have already had crazy comebacks. Still, Jeter’s injury made exuberance over the win unseemly, and closer Jose Valverde’s implosion in the ninth (on the heels of a similar blown save in Oakland) made the need for extra-inning derring-do a bit alarming. Reporters in Jim Leyland’s postgame conference referred to “The Valverde Crisis” as if it involved communist missiles pointed at American soil, and Leyland refused to say that Valverde was still his closer, only that he and his staff would discuss it.
Doug Fister, who loaded the bases and wriggled out of it in both the first and second innings (helped tremendously by good defense and luck) before settling down for six-plus scoreless -- referred to having “grown up watching Derek Jeter play,” and Delmon Young -- who continues to feast on New York’s pitching when not being arrested for misdemeanor hate crimes -- said “we’re all big Derek Jeter fans since we were younger.”
Delmon Young is 27. Derek Jeter’s been doing this for a long time.
If there is any good news for the Yankees, aside from the fact that whatever white or dark magic Raul Ibanez may be using on the baseball gods continues to be effective, it is that at least they seem to be starting to hit again. They stranded 13 base runners Saturday night, which, granted, might not seem to be a great stat, but at least they got 13 runners on base. All throughout the Division Series, the Yankees collectively -- with the notable exception of Ibanez -- could not have hit their way out of a paper bag … and, if that paper bag was in a canoe and they fell out of it, they could not have hit water. There were signs of life on Saturday.
On the other hand, Hiroki Kuroda, already tired down the stretch after a long season and pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his American career, goes Sunday in Game 2, backed by a tired bullpen. Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez will be the options at short. Alex Rodriguez is still being pinch-hit for at key moments.
Anibal Sanchez, Sunday’s starter for Detroit, has plenty of his own concerns, including an ERA vs. New York this year of 21.00, earned over three disastrous innings. Jose Valverde, backed by Detroit’s alarming fielding, continues to be a recipe for ninth-inning miracle comebacks for opposing teams.
“Take it one game at a time” is, for those of us without the ability to bend the space-time continuum, advice we can’t help but take. But if these games are going to continue in a vein as crazy as Saturday’s, one at a time will be plenty.