Easy to imagine hypothetical scenarios. What if Raul Ibanez pinch hit in the eighth, not the ninth? If only Brett Gardner had started in center instead of Curtis Granderson? Maybe if Robinson Cano were the No. 3 hitter, Derek Jeter were batting cleanup and the Yankees had never traded away Jesus Montero.
The bottom line is this: The Yankees went 7-for-44 tonight. That’s a .159 team average. The Orioles didn’t hit much better — just .174 with more strikeouts and fewer walks — but in a game when either team could have won with a single timely hit, the Yankees couldn’t get one and the Orioles finally did.
Blame David Phelps for throwing the pitch to J.J. Hardy. Blame Joe Girardi for never pushing the right button. The reality of this game falls squarely on the shoulders of an offense that’s hit .216/.280/.333 this series. Believe it or not, the Orioles lineup has been worse, which means the Yankees would have locked up a spot in the ALCS if they’d just hit a little bit.
“You can come over here and say, you’re struggling to score runs,” Derek Jeter said. “You go over there in the other clubhouse, and they’re talking about how well they pitched. It goes both ways. It seems like every year I tell you guys the same thing: Good pitching is going to beat good hitting. That’s just how it goes. In the postseason it’s going to be tough because pitchers are going to bear down and you try to make good pitches. We need to find ways to score more runs obviously.”
Tonight’s worst offender? Take your pick.
Robinson Cano was 0-for-6. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson were 0-for-5. Swisher hit into a double play and flied out to strand the go-ahead run at third. Granderson struck out three times.
“I’m chasing a couple of balls out of the zone, so I’ve got to go ahead and swing at some more strikes and then continue to stay aggressive and continue to attack,” Granderson said. “… That’s just a part of not recognizing and attacking the pitches that I want to hit. For whatever reason it happens to be, but definitely no reason about pressing by any means.”
The Yankees were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. It was just the fourth time in their 373 all-time postseason games that the Yankees were held hitless in nine or more at-bats with runners in scoring position. Whatever offensive life the Yankees were showing at the end of the regular season has clearly flickered to nothing.
“It’s playoff baseball,” Girardi said. “The games are extremely tight. Usually the difference in these games is one hit. That’s basically been the difference. It’s been very good pitching. They controlled the bats for the most part, and it’s come down to one hit.”
• Joba Chamberlain was hit in the right elbow by a broken bat head in the 12th inning. X-rays were negative, but Chamberlain was pulled because of swelling that Girardi worried could lead to command issues. Girardi didn’t completely dismiss the idea of putting Chamberlain on the disabled list, which would mean losing him for the next round. “It probably depends on how he feels tomorrow,” Girardi said.
• Chamberlain seemed to think he’d dodged a bullet because he didn’t get hit by the jagged end. “I heard it break,” he said. “… I was just trying to react and hope it didn’t hit me in the head, and that’s better than the other (end) hitting me in the head, so that’s a positive.”
• Jeter said he expects to be at shortstop tomorrow. “As far as I know yeah,” he said.
• Although Jeter fouled two balls off his left foot, he said neither one hit him in the same spot as last night’s foul ball. “I was missing it, man,” Jeter said. “I hit my shin. I hit my heel. I hit pretty much everything but the same spot.”
• Girardi would not comment on any potential lineup changes for tomorrow. “Go home and study the pitcher,” Girardi said. “I know our guys, and I’ll make decisions tomorrow. We play a little bit earlier so I’ll have to study a little bit sooner, but I’ll make decisions tomorrow.”
• Girardi on the decision not to pinch hit for Rodriguez in the eighth inning: “I know if I pinch hit, they’re going to walk the lefty that I bring in, and you’ve got O’Day that’s got the sinker. The one thing I want to try to stay out of is a double-play situation. You’ve got the infield in, you just want to put a ball in play. You’ve probably got to get a run and we weren’t able to do it.”
• Here’s Rodriguez on his strikeout that inning, which left runners at second and third. There was only one out, so a ball in play might have scored the go-ahead run. “I’m thinking get one run in, at least,” he said. “Get a ball to the outfield, give us a one-run lead. … I actually felt pretty good at the plate today, especially after the walk and I hit a pretty good ball over the shortstop’s head. O’Day seemed to have everybody’s number tonight. I certainly didn’t see him very well today.”
• Granderson said he wasn’t surprised when he was asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth. He didn’t get it down and struck out instead. “I’m disappointed in myself for not getting that bunt down,” he said. “Nine times out of 10 I always get that bunt down no matter what the situation happens to be.”
• Strong start from Phil Hughes, who certainly gave the Yankees a chance to win but was disappointed he didn’t last through the seventh. “I was trying to find myself command-wise early,” Hughes said. “Fastball was a little bit all over the place, but I was fortunate to escape a couple of jams which was good, and kind of felt a little more comfortable as the game wore on.”
• Phelps said he didn’t feel rattled by entering the game in such an odd situation. “It’s no different than warming up out in the bullpen except it’s the mound you’re going to pitch on,” he said.
• Both hits off Phelps were on misplaced sliders. “I wanted (the Hardy pitch) down in the dirt so I could get either a roll over or a swing and miss,” he said. “I just left it over the plate. Same thing to Machado. The ball’s got to be down and away and I just left it over the plate.”
• Probably goes without saying, but just in case: “It’s all hands on deck tomorrow,” Girardi said.
• We’ll give the final word to Granderson: “Of course you want to go ahead and do as much as you can. Any time you get a chance to swing the bat, you want to try to go ahead and do something productive to help the team out. When you can’t, you’re looking for the next opportunity when you get a chance to get back up there. Obviously everybody on this team – whether it’s the guys that are starting or the guys coming in off the bench – they want to go ahead and do something big when they get up there at the plate.”
Associated Press photos