That last at-bat said a lot about the state of this Yankees lineup. Raul Ibanez hit .197 with two extra-base hits against left-handers this season, yet there was little question his matchup against Phil Coke was about as good as the Yankees were going to get in that situation.
“It’s definitely tough as a ballclub right now,” Ibanez said. “But everything can turn around with one swing of the bat and one inning. Things can turn around. I’ve seen it happen. We’ve all seen it happen. Tomorrow, we’re going to fight. … You have no choice but to fight. Fight all the way back.”
Give the Yankees offense credit for this much: They’ve fought. Eduardo Nunez’s home run off Justin Verlander set the stage for what might have been yet another ninth-inning rally for the Yankees. They had two hits all game before getting three hits in the ninth, putting the tying run in scoring position and getting their most dangerous hitter to the plate.
But the ninth inning hasn’t been their problem. Neither has pitching. And despite two bad plays in tonight’s fifth inning, neither has defense. Joe Girardi has now started every position player on the roster except Chris Stewart. He’s benched Alex Rodriguez, put Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot and dropped Curtis Granderson to eighth in the order. Yet the second-highest-scoring offense in baseball just can’t hit.
As a team, the Yankees are hitting .200/.265/.317 in the postseason.
“If we played five, 10, 15, 20 more games, there’s no way we could continue to struggle this way for an extended period of time,” Gardner said. “For whatever reason, we’re not getting the job done right now. You look at it from the other side and our pitching has been phenomenal. … It’s not like we’re losing 12-4 or anything like that. They’re giving us a real good chance to win and we’re just not getting the job done.”
Tomorrow, the Yankees have their ace on the mound, but tonight the Yankees pitching staff allowed just two runs through nine innings. How much better could Sabathia have done on short rest, and how much better can he do tomorrow? It’s the lineup that put the Yankees in this situation, and the lineup is going to have to get them out of it.
“You look at this and it could be a number of different things besides 0-3 for us,” Joe Girardi said. “We have gotten good pitching all the way throughout the playoffs, and we will need it again tomorrow if we want to live another day. … I am (surprised), but you have to put it all behind you. What has happened has happened, and you have to find a way to score runs tomorrow. And you have your ace on the mound, and you see what happens. Win a game tomorrow, and then let’s see what happens.”
• Perhaps most puzzling of all the Yankees offense struggles is Robinson Cano, who snapped an 0-for-29 streak with his two-out single in the ninth. “I wasn’t thinking about that,” Cano said. “You just have to do what you have to do to get on base, especially when you want to keep the inning alive. You need to get a hit or get a walk. Get on base however.”
• Obviously a big home run by Nunez. Given the way some of these games have gone, it really felt like that might be the kind of thing to wake up this offense. “I know he wants to get me out with some breaking ball pitch,” Nunez said. “I was looking for it down, and he missed up. … I thought we would come back. After the homer, just down one run, nobody out. I think it’s going to be exciting and win the game, but we lost.”
• Coke showed Ibanez a lot of fastballs in that final at-bat, then he got him with a curveball. It was the first offspeed pitch of the bat. “Is it surprising?” Ibanez said. “He’s a good pitcher. He had thrown a lot of fastballs and he made a good pitch. I didn’t hit it. I didn’t get it done.”
• Verlander only struck out three, a surprisingly low number considering his overall dominance. The Yankees actually seemed to have better at-bats than they’ve had in a long time, but until Nunez homered, they’d put just two men on base. “You’re fighting for your life out there,” Russell Martin said. “Whatever you can to try and get on base, make something happen.”
• Mark Teixera on the unusual version of Verlander the Yankees faced tonight: “I don’t want to say he let us hit it, but he wanted to live on the corners. Sometimes he tries to strike you out every at bat. Tonight we didn’t really strike out a lot but he was living on the corners. He pitched really well.”
• Phil Hughes said it was near the end of the third inning that his lower back began to feel stiff. He didn’t think it affected his pitches, but the fourth inning was going badly and the Yankees didn’t take any chances. “It was just the circumstances of the game, and what was going on,” Hughes said. “I think they just wanted to make the best move for the team, not necessarily for my health at the time.”
• Martin said he thought Hughes’ stuff was good, and obviously Hughes made some key pitches before the Delmon Young home run. “In that fourth inning I was having a tough time finishing, especially breaking balls,” Hughes said. “That one that hung to Delmon Young was just a spinner that broke back over the plate. That, along with the walk, things just weren’t going well.”
• Girardi seemed to indicate that it’s at least possible Hughes will end up on the disabled list. It would obviously raise some rotation questions down the road, but down the road might not happen. “We’ll see what we have tomorrow which will determine what we do with him,” Girardi said.
• Martin jammed his thumb on his last at-bat. Chris Stewart almost caught the eighth because Martin’s thumb was numb, but the feeling came back and he fully expects to play tomorrow. “If I couldn’t throw the ball, obviously they would have taken me out of the game,” Martin said. “I should be fine.”
• Martin could have hit in the ninth, but the Yankees were going to replace him with Nick Swisher. “They were going to Swish and I got no problem with that,” Martin said.
• Speaking of pinch hitting, as you might expect, Girardi didn’t pinch hit for Ibanez in the ninth because he knew the Tigers would go to right-hander Benoit if Alex Rodriguez came into the game. “Raul has come up in a lot of big situations,” Girardi said. “You know, you go back to September 1 and he has come through for us, and I felt great about him up there.”
• The Yankees left side of the infield was Nunez and Eric Chavez, but it was Nunez who made a terrific play to save a run in the fifth and Chavez who made the error that led to a run. “I got caught in between,” Chavez said. “When he hit the ball, I thought it was a lot softer, and I thought I had time to step back, and it had too much topspin. If I would have known it was hit harder, I probably would have come up and played it on a short hop. … It wasn’t a tough ball where I couldn’t make a decision. I had to make a decision, and it was just the wrong one.”
• Speaking of bad plays in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson took a bad route on Cabrera’s RBI double that stood as the difference in the game. “I felt like I had a read, but it just ended up going away from me and going towards the gap,” Granderson said. “Prior to it, I was talking to Gardner about the wind, how balls are getting knocked down, but a ball that ended up staying low, like that particular one, just ended up cutting through the wind.”
• As far as I know, Rodriguez didn’t speak postgame about being benched again. Swisher did and said he was taking at-bats in the indoor cage every half inning to stay ready. “You want to be in there,” Swisher said. “But Skip is the manager and I back his decision. Bring a little speed in the lineup with Gardy coming in there. I’m going to come back to the ballpark and be ready to go tomorrow.”
• Swisher said he hasn’t been told whether he’ll play tomorrow. Girardi said he won’t decide until tomorrow. “We’re just trying to find a lineup that works,” Swisher said. “I thought it was a great lineup. I wasn’t in it, but you’ve got to back your guys and support your teammates. The guys played well. We just came up a little short.”
• Gardner didn’t have any hits to show for it, but he didn’t look overmatched in his first big league start since April. He said all four balls that he put in play were changeups. “I felt great getting thrown right back in there and seeing live pitching,” he said. “I felt great in the box today. I thought I had a couple of good at-bats and I saw the ball really well. When he gets ahead in the count and has the stuff that he has, he can kind of have his way with you.”
• Speaking of Gardner, has Teixeira thought about bunting against the shift to try to spark something? “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “I tried to have some fun with you guys in spring training and said I was going lay some down. I’ve never bunted. I don’t think I’ve bunted since I was 11 years old. It’s the same thing if we needed a lefty to get someone out, I’m not gonna go in the bullpen and start throwing left-handed. That’s not what I do. I hit a couple of balls hard off Verlander, but me laying a bunt down is not gonna happen. That’d be desperate.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “The thing that you do is you keep encouraging the guys and you keep telling them, ‘Hey, find a way, find a way to get it done.’ And, you know, the one thing about this group that I’m very proud of is they have overcome a lot this year, and there is nothing that has come easy for us. You can start with the first three games of the year, we got swept. And it has been a battle the whole year, and they have found a way to get it done. And that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Associated Press photos