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Game 1 of the Yankees-Tigers ALDS resumed on Saturday night in the bottom of the second after a 23.5-hour rain delay. For the first several innings, it looked as if Ivan Nova and Doug Fister would deliver a CC Sabathia–Justin Verlander-style pitchers’ duel, but the Bombers broke the game open in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out, two-run single by Brett Gardner followed by a grand slam, courtesy of Robinson Cano. The Yankees won 9-3.
As expected, the game began (or rather, resumed) on a bizarre note; both pitchers were announced as entering the game “in relief” of their ace teammates. Fister pitched first and Jorge Posada led off. The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the second, but Fister overcame his nerves and did not allow a run. Nova followed with a 1-2-3 inning, and the rookies combined to deliverer a scoreless fourth. The question became: Who will break first?
In 6.1 innings, Nova allowed 4 hits and 2 runs, walked 2 and struck out 5 (his runs came from players left on base when he exited in the ninth). SuperNova showed no fear against Tiger Miguel Cabrera, who won the AL batting title this year. He struck him out in the fourth, and held him to an 0-3 night with one walk.
Fister showed an equal amount of confidence for his first few innings,working out of trouble and striking out Yankee sluggers such as Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Fister ended up pitching 4.2 innings, allowing 7 hits and 6 runs, walking 2 and striking out 6. He was relieved by Al Alburquerque in the sixth inning. More on that relief appearance later.
Both teams had a base-running blunder that proved costly. Posada began the game with a single, and after a double by Russell Martin, the Yankees were set up with two men in scoring position and no outs. Posada was then thrown out trying to come home on an infield ball hit by Gardner. The play, well-executed by the Tigers’ Brandon Inge, seemed as if it would loom large in such as close contest. The Yankees’ tendency to strand men on base has been the most significant flaw of their otherwise strong offense this season. This inning was no different, as New York stranded two.
Later in game, in play that actually proved to be game-changing, the Yankees returned the favor by throwing out Alex Avila as he charged home on a Jhonny Peralta single. Granderson threw a perfect ball to Derek Jeter, who relayed it to Martin. The catcher was able to apply the tag and avoid the collision.
The Yankees also flashed some impressive leather in the top of the sixth, when Magglio Ordonez grounded to Cano, who deftly threw to Teixiera for the double play (it’s worth noting that Ordonez hit the ball directly to Cano). The broadcasters were so enamored with the second basemen’s effortless throw that they missed Nick Swisher’s diving catch to end the inning.
The Yankees’ go-ahead run came on a long two-out double by Robinson Cano in the fifth inning to bring Grandy home. Cano missed a home run by mere inches; his ball was actually reviewed by umpires, and they upheld the call on the field.
Yankee bats woke up in the sixth inning, with Gardner’s two-out single to center field, which scored Posada and Teixeira. Fister was knocked out after giving up a hit to Jeter and walking Granderson. To everyone’s surprise, including Cano, Jim Leyland chose to bring in a righty, Albuquerque, to face the lefty Home Run Derby winner with the bases loaded. As the TBS broadcasters pointed out, in the last two seasons, Cano is 19 for 36 with the bases loaded, including five grand slams. This at-bat made it six, as Cano crushed a ball into deep right.
Cano would get one more RBI, driving home Jeter in the bottom of the 8th. He had six RBI in the game, which tied a franchise record. He was 3-5 on the day.
Leyland later noted that he chose Albuqurque because the reliever has a high strike-out rate, and Cano has an almost equal average against righties and lefties. For Detriot, it was a failed experiment.
After six scoreless innings, Nova pitched into a jam in the ninth; he loaded the bases with one out (these were the first hits he’d allowed since the fifth). Joe Girardi pulled him to a rousing ovation from the crowd.
Luis Ayala, who gave up six runs to the Rays in the 8th inning of the Yankees’ final regular season game, once again came into the game with the bases loaded. He induces one ground-out, which scored a run, and the Tigers followed that with two hits. As Detroit loaded the bases again, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to Wednesday, a game which didn’t matter, but was painful to watch nonetheless.
Girardi, clearly wanting to end the game quickly without using any other relievers, brought in Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation. The Sandman got the final out of the game by striking out ex-Bomber Wilson Betemit on three pitches.
Nova worked out his jitters (if he had them) and was outstanding. After the game, Girardi said of Nova: “If he was able to control his emotions, I thought he could pitch pretty well … I thought he did a very good job … I loved what he did today.”
Nova did admit to being a little nervous as the game started (resumed), but he appeared cool and collected, showing his trademark confidence. He told the press: “When you throw a quick inning in a game like today, that lets you know that everything is the same.”
Before the outing, Nova had playfully told reporters that coming in to pitch most of Game 1, he felt like the number one starter. (His belief in himself is tempered with a healthy dose of humility, though. In a pre-taped interview on YES, the young pitcher told Kim Jones that he went home and cried after Joe Girardi confirmed that he would start in the postseason.)
Nova’s poise combined with his fantastic final line in his first ever postseason appearance bodes well for the Yankees rotation moving forward. As a result of the rainout, Sabathia will not be available to pitch game 5 as originally planned; the Yankees have reason to be confident in SuperNova as his replacement.
The Yankees bullpen is, for the most part, spared. Nova’s pitching and the Yankee offense afforded Girardi options in the ninth inning. Unfortunately, Ayala could not get the two outs he needed. I wonder whether he will remain on the roster for the ALCS, if the Yankees win this series.
The fact that Rivera notched the final out in just three pitches means that he will likely be available for Sunday and possibly Monday’s game. David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and the rest of the pen are still fresh as well. If Freddy Garcia, now the Bombers’ Game 2 starter, can pitch 5-6 strong innings on Sunday, Girardi has a full battery of relievers to use.
Moving Cano to the three-hole was inspired. Toward the end of the season, teams were walking or throwing around Cano, who was hitting fifth, to face Nick Swisher instead. Not only were the Yankees essentially losing Cano’s bat, but they were not hitting well after Cano’s walks. Girardi decided to move his best hitter to third in the batting order, with Rodriguez and Teixeira hitting after him. The manager had avoided making the move before because Cano is an aggressive hitter with a relatively low on-base percentage (.349). Rodriguez went 0-5 in Game 1, but he sure did his job of protecting Cano.
Robbie Cano showed why he is considered the best hitter on the Yankees and set himself up for an MVP-style postseason. In the press room after the game, Girardi spoke of how the second baseman has changed as a player: “I think he’s learned how to hit in big situations … it’s not a guy that when he goes up there and there’s a runner on, he’s just trying to get a hit. He’s trying to do damage.”
When it was Robbie’s turn, he appropriately mentioned A-Rod taking him to the field to practice hitting when he first came up. He couldn’t hold back a little smile when a reporter asked him about the responsibility of hitting in the three-hole, but ultimately, he held the Yankee line: “It’s not about one player, its about the whole team.”
Girardi announced after the game that CC Sabathia would start Game 3 and A.J. Burnett would likely pitch Game 4 (the manager confirmed Burnett’s start on Sunday).