Literally and figuratively, the storm clouds were gathering at Yankee Stadium this afternoon.
The Tigers had a four-run lead before the Yankees had a hit, then the rain started falling, Alex Avila slipped in foul territory, the tying run reached base and Robinson Cano came to the plate. This one had the potential for a wild walk-off that would give the Yankees a flood of momentum heading into Detroit. Instead, Cano hit a ground ball to second, and the Tigers claimed home field advantage heading into tomorrow’s delayed showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.
“Tomorrow is big,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Going back to when I first got here, we always thought that Game 3 was the biggest. It’s almost like hitting; the 0-0 pitch is the most important, then the 1-1 pitch becomes the most important. Same goes for a series. There’s no need to get caught up in emotions. Whoever plays better, whoever executes fundamentals, is going to win the series. “
The Yankees seemed to have a favorable matchup against Max Scherzer, but aside from walks and a hit batter, Scherzer didn’t allow many scoring opportunities. The Yankees didn’t have a hit until the sixth, and they didn’t score until Curtis Granderson’s home run in the eighth.
Good things started happening for the Yankees in the ninth — Nick Swisher’s home run, Jorge Posada’s first postseason triple, Avila slipping and missing a potential game-ending popup — but this was never a game that felt good for the Yankees. They weren’t hitting, and the Tigers were perpetually doing just enough.
“You think that something is going to happen good for us (in the ninth),” Derek Jeter said. “But with Valverde, it’s hard enough to score a run off him, let alone four. But I thought we had some good at-bats. We battled there at the end, but we just fell short. For a moment there, you think we might catch a break.”
The Yankees did not catch a break. They didn’t create a break for themselves in the first eight innings, and they couldn’t do quite enough in that wet and rainy ninth. Sabathia vs. Verlander was the marquee matchup when this series began, and it’s the marquee matchup now that the series is tied at a game apiece.
“It’s huge,” Mark Teixeira said. “Tomorrow’s a really big game. You don’t want to go down 2-1 with them having a chance to close it out in their home park. It’s a big game for us.”
Two curious decisions by Joe Girardi tonight, each of which will surely lead to plenty of second guessing. As always, Girardi had reason behind his choices, but they didn’t workout. The question will be whether you agree with the logic.
With two on and one out in the seventh, Girardi sent left-handed Eric Chavez to pinch hit for left-handed Brett Gardner. He was hoping for a three-run home run. It’s worth noting that Gardner had lined out sharply in his previous at-bat, and that Chavez hit just two home runs tonight. It’s also worth noting that Scherzer has a tendency to give up a lot of home run.
“Gardner is fine,” Girardi said. “Just hoping (Chavez) might pop one… When you’re losing the game 4-0, you’re looking for a three-run homer is what you’re looking for, so no, it’s not a hard move.”
With the Yankees down by three runs in the ninth, Girardi elected to use Luis Ayala — essentially the last man in the bullpen — instead of going to either Dave Robertson or Rafael Soriano.
“We still have two more games in a row,” Girardi said. “And we’re down three. If we got it down to two, we were going to maek a change. Being down there runs and you know what Valverde has done all year long, we decided to go to Ayala.”
Chavez struck out in the seventh. Ayala allowed a run in the ninth.
• Jim Leyland said a lot about the production of the Yankees third and fourth hitters tonight when he admitted that the Tigers seriously considered pitching around Cano in the ninth inning to load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. “I thought about it,” Leyland said. “But that other guy has been known for the dramatics, and I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in. Something like that would happen, a groundball, a ball slips. I just couldn’t do it. He hit a ball in the infield, you get him over there, and somebody throws it away, the game is tied. It did cross my mind.”
• Rodriguez has struggled since returning to the lineup, but Girardi said he has no plans of taking Rodriguez out of the cleanup spot. “I thought he swung the bat pretty good yesterday,” Girardi said. “Today they made some tough pitches on him. I don’t have any plans in changing my lineup. It’s only two games. I’m not going to make too much of two games.”
• Most of the damage against Freddy Garcia was done by Miguel Cabrera, but Garcia was happy with his approach and his pitches to the Tigers’ best hitter. “First inning, I think that was a good pitch down and away,” Garcia said. “He made good contact. After that, I shut it down waiting for us to start hitting. It never happened, but that’s part of the game.”
• Although he allowed three hits in the sixth, Garcia said he wasn’t tired. “I’ve got like 70 pitches,” he said. “I was really good. I finished strong. Base hit here, base hit there. It’s part of the game.”
• Russell Martin is fine. The pitch that hit him got part of the bat and a little bit of the bottom of his left hand. “A little bit of acting there, but it did get me,” Martin said.
• Boone Logan’s balk didn’t matter — he struck out the next two batters — but he was embarrassed by it. Mid-delivery, Logan heard someone shout behind him and thought timeout had been called. The result was a sudden halt in his motion. “It was probably the worst balk in the history of baseball,” Logan said.
• Jeter on his costly error in the sixth: “I had no problem catching it, I just threw it low. With Austin (Jackson) running, you really don’t have much time.”
• Chavez on his approach pinch hitting for Gardner: “That’s not really my thought process to hit a home run there. I’m just trying to put the barrel on the ball and have the same approach every at-bat. I don’t think I go up there trying to do one thing or the other other than put a good swing on the ball.”
• Jeter said he thought, once Posada got between first and second in the ninth inning, that there was no way Posada was stopping until he got to third. “I don’t know about that,” Posada said. “I can’t get thrown out there. My run doesn’t mean anything.”
• It was the first postseason triple of Posada’s career.
• You don’t see Jeter arguing with a home plate umpire too often, but Jeter had a lengthy conversation after striking out looking in the seventh. He said he thought the ball was outside. “I was just asking him if he knew the weather forecast for the rest of the game,” Jeter joked.
• Everyone in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to mention Scherzer’s changeup, which doesn’t seem to a pitch you hear about very often with him. “He was really good, best I’ve ever seen him,” Teixeira said. “Great fastball, his changeup was really, really good. The numbers don’t lie, he dominated us.”
•• Posada gave an honest evaluation of Pettitte’s first pitch, calling it low and away. “I think it was a ball,” Posada said, laughing.
Associated Press photos