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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News

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Yankees postgame: Hughes deserved better06.27.13

Phil HughesPhil Hughes got back on track, allowing two runs and five hits across eight innings. And yet he still lost for the fifth time in his last six decisions and fell to 3-7 overall.

“He pitched way too good to get a loss,” Lyle Overbay said.

Hughes had seven days between starts and he put them to good use, working on mechanical issues and taking a step back to collect himself.

“I just felt like the last week or so really helped me,” Hughes said, “just to kind of gather my thoughts for a few days and work on some things on the side. I felt like I had better plan and better mechanics and threw the ball pretty good. … Whenever you’re trying to get through some rough stretches, it helps just to take a deep breath.”

There had been chatter about Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda waiting in the wings with Hughes struggling. But this isn’t his first bout with inconsistency.

“I don’t let the talk creep into my head,” Hughes said.

The Yankees are just 12-18 over the last 30 games, and the sporadic offense has obviously contributed. The Yankees were shut out for the seventh time, including three times this month. They were blanked only six times all of last season.

This time, Derek Holland shut them out on two hits. Do you know when the previous time was that a Rangers pitcher shut the Yankees out on two or less hits? That would be never. It hadn’t happened since the franchise moved from Washington to Texas in 1972. Joe Coleman last did it for the Senators on July 19, 1969.

“I believe we’re capable of scoring runs,” Joe Girardi said.

With this group?

“I think we can, but time will tell,” Girardi said.

On the rehab front, Derek Jeter actually drove Alex Rodriguez after their workout from Steinbrenner Field to the nearby minor-league complex, according to The Associated Press. Jeter ran outside for the first time since the second ankle fracture was discovered in April and reported no problems. The AP report stated that A-Rod took simulated at-bats. reported that Rodriguez basically told the Yankees Wednesday that he wasn’t sure when or if he will be back this season. But Jeter gave a positive review in the AP report.

“He looked good,” Jeter said. “Alex works extremely hard. He’s working hard now to come back.”

Jeter wouldn’t label A-Rod a distraction.

“Why would he be a distraction?” Jeter asked.

Francisco Cervelli, according to the AP, has been doing his hitting indoors. Curtis Granderson is doing range-of-motion exercises. No swinging yet. A minor-leaguer took a swing, though, launching a homer in batting practice that deflected off the clubhouse roof and hit Granderson’s car.

Photo by The Associated Press.

Posted by: Brian Heyman - Posted in Podcastwith 108 Comments →

Girardi on the lineup10.11.11

Joe Girardi spent a lot of time talking today about luck, a whether luck plays a role in a five-game series. Clearly the Yankees had a good offense this season (second-most runs in baseball) and clearly they had a productive offense in the division series (they outscored the Tigers 28-17) but some hits didn’t come at the right time.

“Please, make no mistake, Detroit wasn’t lucky,” Girardi said. “Detroit beat us. But some of your at-bats can be a product of just good fortune. You can get jammed and get a base hit, or you can hit a rocket and it gets caught. The bottom line is you have to have good at-bats. I thought our guys had some good at-bats. I do. We just didn’t get that big hit when we really needed it, whether it was the last day or Game 2 or Game 3. We just never got the one hit that kind of put us over the top. I’d have to go back and look at every at-bat to say whether it was a good at-bat, but the bottom line is we didn’t have enough good at-bats because we’re sitting here talking.”

Today, when Girardi talked about his pitchers, he talked a lot about next year. When he talked about his hitters, he focused on this year. He sounded like a man expecting to have more or less the same lineup next season.

Here’s the audio from today.

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On whether he thinks Alex Rodriguez can play 145-150 games next season
“I do. His meniscus tear is kind of a freak thing. That’s not something that you necessarily worry about. If it’s a ligament or something that’s stretched, yeah, you worry. But meniscus tears happen all the time, people come back, and it’s something that can never happen again. But he is older, and it’s something that, as the manager, I have to manage. I have to manage his playing time.”

On the production of Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira this season
“Tex had 30 and 100, and Alex didn’t play for basically nine or 10 weeks this year. If he plays those nine or 10 weeks, does he have 30 and 100? He probably does. Alex is someone that we need to keep healthy. That’s first and foremost, then you can see exactly what you have. Players have to make adjustments at times, and I’m sure our players will try to make some adjustments to try to try to get their numbers back to what they’re used to having them at.”

On whether he could have changed the lineup in the division series
“These are guys that have done it for us all year. I guess I could have hit Gardy fourth, stack my lefthanders? But these are guys that have done it for you, and you expect they’re going to do it. The way it worked out, Gardy was productive where he was at, so we left him. We kept that Derek-Gardy thing together, which we like. And one of the reasons we kept the same lineup was that we faced four right-handers. Usually a lineup changes when you face right-handers or left-handers. Our lineup would have drastically changed if we faced left-handers. We just didn’t have one.
“Is there anything I would have done different? You can think about it, but you go into a series prepared, you have an idea of what you want to do. Sometimes things change because of the weather, or minor injury to a pitcher, or things that you have to do. I really liked our chances, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done. And it starts with me.”

On the idea of Gardner hitting leadoff next season
“We’re going to look at everything and how it fits the best, our lineup. Derek, you look at his second-half numbers, he did a tremendous job and did a tremendous job in the leadoff role. But Gardy’s a guy that can create a lot of problems at the top of the order, and the only time they don’t hit together is the first time through the lineup, and then they’re together. I thought Gardy grew up in the playoffs some, I did. It’s something we’re going to look at.”

On the possibility of shaking up the middle of the order; keeping Cano third
“Those are all possibilities. You have all winter to think about different ways you can put your lineup together, longer than I would like. The other thing is, are we going to add? If we add someone, how do they fit into the lineup? These are definitely things I’ll think about all winter long. As we get closer to spring training, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do because you’ll know exactly who you have.”

On whether Nick Swisher’s postseason struggles factor into the decision to bring him back next season
“I think when we sit down as a group we talk about everything. You don’t just take a two-week period or a month or two months, you look at everything and he’s been an on-base guy for us. He’s driven in runs. He’s hit home runs for us. I think he plays a better right field than people give him credit for, too. But as you look at your players and you try to improve your club and that’s something we always try to do, you have to take everything into account.”

On whether the Yankees need another Eric Chavez type to fill time at third
“I think Nuney can be that guy, because Nuney can play second, short or third. You might add a corner guy, possibly, who can play third and first and have some pop. I’m sure we’ll look at doing that just like we added Chavez this year. But I think Nuney’s a guy who can play all over for us. He might even play more positions for us next year.”

On the expectation for Derek Jeter
“We expect him to have another good year and be productive for us. To get beyond the injury he had, he came back and was sensational for us. Offensively, he played at a very high level. Defensively, he played very well for us. So you have those expectations. You hope that 5 months doesn’t necessarily change a whole lot of things. But when you’re an older player, people are always going to wonder. If he was 28, people would expect him to come back and do the same thing. But because he’s 37, people are always going to wonder. I know he’ll work very hard this year and try to keep himself in tremendous shape and be ready to go.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Misc, Podcastwith 470 Comments →

Sabathia: “Of course it’s a decision”10.07.11

Maybe the offseason officially begins when the World Series ends, or maybe it begins the day players file for free agency, or when you see that first signing rumor on Twitter.

Or maybe it started last night, the very moment Alex Rodriguez struck out and the Yankees season came to an end.

Of all the things the Yankees have to do this winter, surely there’s nothing more crucial than figuring out what to do with CC Sabathia, who can opt out and become a free agent.

“Obviously, he’s our ace so he ranks highly,” Brian Cashman said. “I can’t predict how everything goes. We’ll take this thing one day at a time. The winter’s come upon us but I’m not prepared to talk about the winter, unfortunately.”

Sabathia has said time and time again that he loves being in New York, and he said it again last night. But he also acknowledged that opting out is a possibility, and most outside observes seem to agree that it’s more than a possibility. It might be an inevitability.

“Of course it’s a decision,” Sabathia said. “It’s there so, just see (what happens). I can’t even begin to tell you what I’m thinking right now and what’s going to happen or anything like that.”

All things being equal, would Sabathia want to be back with the Yankees.

“I can’t really even answer that right now,” he said. “I’m just thinking about tonight, what happened. I’ll take the next couple of days, relax, hang out with the family and make a decision.”

Here’s Sabathia speaking briefly last night.

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Associated Press photo

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Postgame notes: “It’s a really empty feeling”10.07.11

Obviously these next few days are going to be spent looking back on what exactly happened this week, and what might happen going forward. For now, there was only disappointment in a Yankees clubhouse that not so long ago celebrating a division championship.

“It’s terrible,” Joe Girardi said. “We only accomplished one goal when the season ended. We had to fight like crazy to get there. It’s a really empty feeling. It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room, and it hurts.”

The problem was the offense, but that was largely a problem of timing rather than raw production. The Yankees outscored the Tigers 28-17 this series, and 28 runs were the second-most in franchise history for a single division series. The Yankees scored at least nine runs in each of their two wins.

Problem was, they scored a total of nine runs in their three loses. The Tigers won those three games by a total of four runs.

“I tell you every time you go to the playoffs, it’s about pitching,” Derek Jeter said. “You’re not going to sit back and hit home runs, score 10 runs. I mean, we scored a lot of runs two days ago, but it was really one inning. You don’t just come out here and take BP in the playoffs. Teams you’re facing have good pitching. That’s why they’re at this point. So you can get away with a lot of things in the regular season that you can’t get away with in the playoffs.”

As in, a team can get away with its fourth, fifth and sixth hitters going a combined 9-for-55 during a five-game stretch in the regular season, but that doesn’t work in a five-game series. Of course the Tigers pitching has a lot to do with it, and of course guys like Max Scherzer and Joaquin Benoit deserve plenty of credit, but Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher were clearly frustrated (or frustrating, depending on your point of view).

When those three failed to get a big hit with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, that was basically the turning point of the game and the story of the series.

“It was 3-1 and I said, ‘I’m going to get a pitch to crush right here,’” Teixeira said. “You almost start thinking about the bases clearing, the crowd cheering. I walked there, but it wasn’t enough. Not enough to get the job done… If we were one at-bat better, we might win the game. If we get one hit with the bases loaded, but every single game you play, there’s going to be five or 10 things you can look at and say, ‘If we did this’ or ‘If we did that.’ Unfortunately, we had a couple of those this series.”

As I said, I’m sure the next few days will be spent diving deeper into how the Yankees got here and where the go from here. For now, though, this is the end of the road.

“Some days you just get beat,” Girardi said.

Here’s Girardi’s postgame.

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• Ivan Nova said his forearm got tight in the second inning. He didn’t feel it at all during the first inning, so it was a non-factor on the home runs. “We didn’t like the way the ball was coming out of his hand,” Girardi said. “I think it was directly related to that. Some of his fastballs were cutting, and we never saw that. So I had to make a change, and I had to, you know, try to get our bullpen through it.”

• Nova said he’ll go for an MRI tomorrow.

• Nova was the first Yankees rookie to start a winner-take-all postseason game since Mel Stottlemyre in the 1964 World Series against St. Louis. “It’s hard,” Nova said. “We lost and we’ve got to go home now. You don’t want to be in this situation. You want to keep going, going to the World Series.”

• Rodriguez hasn’t been productive since coming back from knee surgery, but he said health was a non-factor this series. “Everything this postseason is on me,” he said. “Let’s make that crystal clear. There’s no excuses for what happened these five games. I was healthy enough to do whatever I needed to do.”

• The Yankees went down in order in the ninth inning. Really, their last gasp was the ball that Jeter drove to the wall in the eighth inning. Off the bat, I thought he might have hit it out. It would have been a go-ahead, two-run homer with Mariano Rivera coming in to shut the door in the ninth. “I thought it had a chance,” Jeter said. “It was too high, but you never know here.”

• CC Sabathia seemed especially dejected at his locker. He’d never pitched in relief and said he tried not to change his usual approach. “I try not to,” he said. “I tried to get ahead with the fastball, and that didn’t really work, so I went to my secondary pitches.”

• Sabathia had gone 370 consecutive appearances in the regular season and postseason before finally pitching out of the bullpen. Among the pitchers whose first career relief appearance came in the postseason, Sabathia had the third-longest streak. Mike Mussina went 400 starts before pitching in relief in the 2003 ALCS, and John Smoltz went 380 starts before his first relief appearance in the 1999 NLCS.

• Sabathia wouldn’t commit one way or the other about his opt-out. “I can’t even wrap my head around that right now,” he said. “I’m just thinking about what I didn’t do to help us win. In the next couple of days, next couple of weeks I’ll think about that and we’ll see what happens.”

• Of course Sabathia felt he could have pitched longer. “It was just up to them,” he said. “I felt great. If you give me the option, I’ll pitch as long as I can. It was just up to them.”

• Robinson Cano set a Yankees division series record with nine RBI. The previous record was seven by Paul O’Neill. It’s the most RBI by a Yankee in a single postseason series — any round — since Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams had 10 each in the 2004 ALCS.

• Jorge Posada had a .579 on-base percentage this series. He batted .429, his third-highest single-series postseason batting average behind the 2006 ALDS (.500) and the 2001 ALDS (.444).

• Rivera lowered his career postseason ERA to 0.70, the lowest mark all-time for a pitcher with at least 30 postseason innings. This was his 96th career postseason game, passing Kenny Lofton for sole possession of seventh place on baseball’s all-time list (pitcher or position player).

• Rivera threw eight pitches this series and got four outs. All of his pitches were strikes.

• Weird situation with Benoit and the band-aid on his face. Jim Leyland said it was an in-grown hair, and the band-aid was to keep it from being infected. Girardi asked the home plate umpire to have it removed. “I’m not trying to play a mind game or anything,” Girardi said. “But it was pretty big band-aid and it was somewhat distracting, I think. It’s hard not to look at. And I’m sure he had a legitimate reason, and it’s not something I necessarily wanted to do, but to me it would have been a distraction.”

• This once, the final word goes to the opposing manager: “The Yankees are so good that I would be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little extra satisfaction to be able to do it here in the fifth game,” Leyland said. “I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I mean that respectfully. It gave me a great thrill to be able to do it here in Yankee Stadium in Game 5. Unbelievable. I was just talking to Dave Dombrowski, other than the American League pennant and that time in the World Series, this will be a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “You’ve got to win this one”10.06.11

Jim Leyland had a story to tell, and so he sat at the podium before today’s decisive Game 5 and began speaking before anyone asked a question.

“I have an announcement to make,” he said. “This will explain why you think I’m so old and grumpy and messed up. I got a telegram today from a professor from a prominent university. These are my instructions for tonight… I am supposed to pitch Valverde the first five innings tonight, then I’m supposed to pitch Verlander the last three, quote, ‘the seventh and eighth.’ So that’s where we’re at.”

Everyone, you see, has an approach to Game 5.

What interesting is that Leyland and Joe Girardi are approaching this Game 5 very differently. Leyland has shuffled his lineup again, going with the hot hand in Don Kelly at the top. Girardi has stuck with his regulars, whether they’re struggling or not. Leyland has talked about wanting to get through this game with a select group of rested relievers. Girardi has entertained the notion of every key reliever pitching more than an inning.

Mostly, Leyland and Girardi have differed in the way they plan to use their aces.

Leyland says Justin Verlander won’t pitch at all. In fact, Verlander already threw a bullpen this afternoon so that he’s prepared for a possible ALCS Game 1.

“I’m not going to use Verlander,” Leyland said. “I am not under any circumstances… You can argue till the cows come home, I’m not going to do it. I don’t think it’s a wise decision.”

Girardi has told CC Sabathia to be ready. Girardi’s thinks he could throw a “couple” of innings, and he brought up the idea of going to Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning, saving Sabathia to get the final few outs if Rivera runs out of gas before the end of the ninth.

“You can’t tell when you’re going to go to that move,” Girardi said. “There’s not an exact scenario.”

But would he be hesitant to use Sabathia, wanting to save his ace for Game 1 of the next round?

“You’ve got to win this one,” Girardi said. “(Otherwise) there is no Game 1.”

Here’s Girardi’s pregame press conference.

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• What’s the limit or Rivera tonight? “It’s more pitches than anything,” Girardi said. “You start to get around 35, 40 pitches you start to get into a gray area and you start to worry… That might be a situation where you have CC behind him. It could be something like that.”

• Girardi said it’s “very possible” that he’ll use Dave Robertson and Rivera to pitch the final three innings.

• A.J. Burnett is available if this game gets extremely crazy, but right now the plan is to have him in the rotation should the Yankees advance. “I imagine I would start him,” Girardi said. “I haven’t thought that far along, but yeah.”

• Girardi did not give any sort of pregame speech, and he didn’t ask a player or a member of the coaching staff to do so either. “I kind of watch what our guys are doing, and if they need something, they need something,” Girardi said. “I told you, I thought they were very loose the other day going into Game 4. I’ve seen some of the guys now, and they seem loose to me. I didn’t say anything magical to them in Game 4.”

• Today would have been a bullpen day for Sabathia, but he hasn’t thrown one yet. If this game becomes a blowout, and Sabathia starts to get loose, Girardi said that could be nothing more than a bullpen to prepare for the ALCS.

• Leyland explaining his Verlander decision: “One thing you have to remember, he went a little longer than CC the other night. He also was throwing 100 miles an hour in the eighth inning. He’s also thrown a lot of pitches under stressful circumstances. And I also remind you that Scherzer did a pretty good — he has more rest and he did a pretty good job against the Yankees. So Scherzer would be my first guy tonight if I needed a long guy.”

• Despite Leyland’s vow not to use Verlander, Girardi is approaching this game as if Verlander is available. “I know what Jim said,” Girardi said, laughing. “Sometimes circumstances change. You get into a crazy game and he might be the last guy. I’m not saying he’s going to put him in there, but I’m just saying, you get into an 18-inning game, you’re not putting Wilson Betemit out there, you know what I’m saying?”

Associated Press photos

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Granderson’s glove shines in Game 410.05.11

Derek Jeter said he wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t surprised to see Curtis Granderson finally get a good read on the ball in the first inning, wasn’t surprised to see him start to go back on it, and wasn’t surprised to see Granderson make a leaping catch that might very well have been the turning point of the entire game.

“I think he’s made that catch against me here when he played for Detroit,” Jeter said. “He’s very familiar with this ballpark, but that was a very, very important part of the game. If that gets over his head, three runs score. It was definitely a very, very important part of the game.”

Before last night’s game became a blowout, two Granderson catches changed everything. The leaping catch in the first inning might have saved an inside-the-park grand slam. The diving catch in the sixth took away what might have been an RBI double that would have brought the tying run to the plate with a runner in scoring position.

First inning
Low line drive to center field by Don Kelly
“Right away I thought he hit it right to me,” Granderson said. “I took a step in and froze. It started to get some air. At least for my perspective, it kind of went up. I was like, ‘Oh man.’ I was able to go ahead and not be committed one way or the other. I ended up having to leave my feet, which I didn’t want to. I ended up reeling it in finally at the end. Don Kelly came up to me later in the game and he goes, ‘How did you do it?’ I said, ‘You hit it that hard. If you didn’t hit it that hard, it would have fell in and been a base hit.'”

Sixth inning
Hard-hit ball to the left-center gap by Jhonny Peralta
“The (catch) with Peralta started just because of positioning,” Granderson said. “I flet he was a guy that was going to hit the ball to the right-center gap, so that’s where I was shading him. Sure enough, he ended up hitting the ball to the left-center cap, so I ended up having to go a lot further for it. Looked a Brett Gardner, he wasn’t there yet, so I decided to a lay out for it, ended up holding onto the ball. The reason I was slow getting up, I ended up knocking the wind out of myself, and I think I hit my head a little bit because I had a little headache afterwards.”

Here’s Granderson talking about his big night with the glove.

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Associated Press photo

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Postgame notes: “That’s just how A.J. is”10.05.11

It took A.J. Burnett exactly six pitches to walk his first batter tonight. Larry Rothschild went to the mound after five hitters, Cory Wade was throwing in the bullpen before the third out, and the only thing that let Burnett escape the first inning was a leaping, falling catch by Curtis Granderson.

That was the beginning of Burnett’s biggest start of the year, a game that saved the Yankees season and salvaged some of Burnett’s.

“That’s A.J.,” Russell Martin said. “He wasn’t that erratic. That’s just how A.J. is, really. I didn’t have to say anything to him. I gave him a little neck message, and he went back to work … Gave him a little rubdown, sort of like a boxer in his corner.”

It was occasionally a high-wire act, but like Martin said, that’s A.J. He walked four and gave up four hits, but he also gave the Yankees 5.2 innings on a night they gladly would have accepted four. After Wade got loose in the first inning, the Yankees didn’t have to use a reliever until the sixth.

“A lot of times, for starters, that first inning is the toughest inning to get through, and you kind of get your feet wet,” Joe Girardi said. ” He hadn’t started a game in a while, in about eight or nine days. But he got through it, and then he pitched really well.

“… I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year. I’ve said all along, the Tigers swing the bat. To be able to shut them down, he gave up the one solo homer and gave up a double and proceeded to get out of that inning. We were all excited for him and very proud of what he did.”

For Burnett it was redemption. No one rips A.J. Burnett quite like A.J. Burnett, and even tonight he was a little bit hard on himself — said he should have pitched deeper, gave the defense a ton of credit — but he also stuck with his mantra of staying positive.

“Maybe it took me 25 to 30 (pitches) to get loose,” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know. I was just letting it go, and if it didn’t go for a strike, it didn’t go. I wasn’t worried about it. I got the ball and was able to do it again. I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm after that. It was a little nerve-racking in the first. I hadn’t been out there in a while.”

The Yankees didn’t plan to have him out there this time, but Friday’s rain forced their hand, and Burnett forced a winner-take-all Game 5. It started out nearly as bad as the Yankees could have imagined, but on night of redemption and second chances, Burnett got it going and kept the Yankees alive.

“I knew I was overthrowing, but I wasn’t going to think about it,” he said. “When you think about it, that’s when it goes more south… I wasn’t going to let little things bother me. I didn’t care if I walked eight, whatever. How many hits, how many homers you give up, I was just going to get the ball back and let it fly. I took that approach tonight, and it worked.”

Here’s Burnett.

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Here’s Girardi.

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• Burnett said it more than once, and it was true every time: “We don’t win tonight without defense.” A double play, Derek Jeter snagging a line drive, a few nice plays by Alex Rodriguez and — of course — Curtis Granderson’s pair of run-saving catches in center field.

• Granderson said it was his second catch, the Superman dive into left-center, that was the more difficult of the two. “Because of the distance I had to go,” he said. “The first one, I didn’t have to move too far, but I did have to freeze on it. It does make that play very difficult. Once you end up on your heals, now it’s hard to go ahead and generate some speed. For the second on, to have to go as far as I did and then to have to leave my feet like that, the good thing I thought if I do miss that one, Gardner is there. For the first one, if I miss that one, there’s nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy.”

• No surprise, but Girardi committed to Ivan Nova absolutely getting the start on Thursday.

• Girardi also said CC Sabathia will be in the bullpen on Thursday. “I plan on him being available to us,” Girardi said.

• With Cory Wade up in the first inning, Girardi said he was fully prepared to make a move that early. “I can’t tell you that I was going to take him out, I can’t tell you I was going to leave him in,” Girardi said. “But I had the guy up in case that first inning got away from us a little bit.”

• Girardi wasn’t sure what he would have done if there were another base runner after Jhonny Peralta’s double in the fourth inning. “Very possible I make a change there, yes,” Girardi said. Burnett struck out the next two batters and stayed in the game.

• How wild was that first inning? Girardi said he thought it was Wade he had getting loose, but he wasn’t sure. After all that happened tonight, he was perfectly willing to believe it was Phil Hughes.

• Speaking of Hughes, he finally got in a game with a scoreless eighth inning. Jesus Montero also saw his first division series action with two hits, including a pinch-hit RBI single in his first career postseason at-bat.

• Alex Rodriguez got his first two hits of the division series. They both came in that six-run eighth when struggling Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also had hits. “I said our guys are having decent at-bats,” Girardi said. “They have a pretty good pitching staff here. There was a lot of talk about it. I talked about Adrian Beltre today. It doesn’t take much for a guy to be a huge impact. I thought Al had a huge RBI after getting down 0-2 in the count, I thought that was a big RBI.”

• Jeter on his two-run double that put the Yankees on the board: “I actually thought he caught it. After seeing the replay, the ball bounced right back up to him, and he bare-handed it. From my vantage point, all I saw was his back. That’s why I stopped at second. I thought he had caught it and that was double play. Austin has run down a few of my fly balls over the years. But fortunately for us, that one fell in.”

• Two more hits for Brett Gardner who’s having a nice series. His batting average is up to .385 in these first four games.

• We’ll give the Captain the final word tonight: “We enjoy playing at home,” Jeter said. “If you are going to win a championship, you have to play well at home, you have to play well on the road. We were fortunate to get a split here and bring it back to New York on Thursday. I’m pretty sure our fans will be vocal, excited and so will the Tigers. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Hopefully we can win one more game.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “I’m sure there will be some adrenaline”10.03.11

After he took heat last night for using Luis Ayala in the ninth inning of a three-run game, Joe Girardi was asked today whether he thought about skipping CC Sabathia tonight and pushing his ace to Tuesday’s Game 4. In theory, the strategy would have conceded that tonight’s game is a tough one to win, and Sabathia would help the Yankees chances in a potential must-win Game 4.

Girardi’s response had more to do with Game 5.

“We felt he was ready to pitch, and if he’s ready to pitch, we’re going to use him,” Girardi said. “The other thing is, you figure you can use him in the bullpen maybe if you need him (in Game 5) if he feels OK on Thursday. And it lines up for next series. I just felt that he was ready, and I was going with him.”

So we have the much-anticipated matchup that was supposed to shape this series in the opener, and will instead determine which team faces elimination tomorrow.

“I probably feel the same way the Yankees felt when they had CC on the mound for the opening game in front of that crowd in New York,” Jim Leyland said. “It’s a great match-up. It’s one that everybody was anxiously awaiting in Game 1. It didn’t turn out. You always worry about the hype and all the stuff that goes on and postseason is pretty draining really, to be honest with you… I’m sure there will be some adrenaline flowing.”

Girardi admitted that, had he known it was going to rain in the second inning, he never would have sent Sabathia to the mound in Game 1. He would have saved his ace for Game 2, or for multiple innings after a rain delay.

“Probably not, no,” Girardi said. “They told us there might be some light rain, and that’s what they expected. Obviously that changed dramatically.”

This series has changed, and tonight’s the biggest game yet.

Here’s Girardi.

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• Girardi once again committed to Alex Rodriguez in the cleanup spot, despite the fact he’s hitless in the first two games and hasn’t done much since returning from knee and thumb injuries. “I don’t make too much of yesterday,” Girardi said. “I know everything gets magnified when you have a zero in front of your name, people are going to talk about it, but I thought he had good at-bats the first game. The second game, their starter shut us down.”

• Was Girardi surprised to hear the Yankee Stadium boos for Rodriguez yesterday? “I’m not surprised because I think our fans want us to win so badly,” Girardi said. “I think they always expect big things from Alex. With his name and the things that he’s accomplished, there’s high expectations.”

• Russell Martin his fine after last night’s hit by pitch. “No complaints from him,” Girardi said.

• No matter what happens tonight, the Yankees are 100 percent committed to A.J. Burnett starting tomorrow’s game. That’s going to happen whether it’s a potential clincher or a potential elimination. “Who would I go to, Mo?” Girardi said.

• Brett Gardner didn’t finish the season especially strong, but Girardi said that had no impact on his decision to pinch hit Eric Chavez last night. “I was just taking a chance with Chavez,” Girardi said. “What he’s done with runners in scoring position for us this year has been really, really good, and you’ve got a short right field fence that he’s more than capable of hitting is over. I took a shot.”

• Girardi was also once again defending the decision to pitch Luis Ayala last night. “If I used Soriano or Robertson, they would say why did you use him?” Girardi said. “That’s the nature of this. You calculate what’s going to happen. You’re not always going to be right, you don’t have a crystal ball, but being down there runs, I can go with these guys earlier and for longer today and tomorrow.”

• As for the decision to have Freddy Garcia pitch to Miguel Cabrera in the sixth: “He had struck him out the time before and he had struck out Martinez twice and gotten Avila once or twice,” Girardi said. “There is no great matchup for Miguel Cabrera; it’s not like you bring in anyone and it’s a guarantee. That’s how good this guy is. I took a shot with him.”

• Leyland on his decision to go with a different lineup than he had for Game 1. “To be honest with you, neither Jhonny or Raburn have hit CC at all,” he said.

• No one seemed especially wrapped up in Jose Valverde’s comments after last night’s game that the division series would be won by the Tigers before it came back to New York. “It might excite a few (players),” Girardi said. “But the one thing I said is you can’t let your emotions take you out of your game.”

• Leyland compared Valverde’s comments to the pregame videos shown at Yankee Stadium. “He admitted it was tongue in cheek when he said it,” Leyland said. “Second of all, I didn’t take offense to the video at Yankee Stadium when they were talking about the World Series, like we were the junior varsity and they were getting ready for the World Series. I didn’t take offense to that at all. In fact, I thought it was great. That’s what they should be talking about. I don’t really think that.”

Associated Press photo

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Sabathia and Verlander, take two10.03.11

Justin Verlander had no luck convincing Jim Leyland to let him pitch on Sunday.

“It went along the lines of, ‘Hey, Skip, I can go on Sunday,'” Verlander said. “‘No, you’re going on Monday.’ ‘Okay.'”

CC Sabathia had no more success convincing Joe Girardi.

“There was no conversation,” Sabathia said. “He told me I was pitching today. I think everybody knows, of course, if he would have asked me, I would have tried to persuade him to have me pitch today. But he just said flat out, ‘You are pitching on Monday.’ That’s what it is.”

So the rematch will happen tonight in Detroit, a Game 1 scenario pushed to Game 3 because of rain.

When this division series started, it was the matchup of Sabathia and Verlander that stood out. With two of the top five pitchers in the American League going head-to-head, it seemed entirely possible that this series could hinge on which ace pitched the best. Now their impact is limited to one game, and it’s a big one.

“They’re all big games at this point in the season,” Sabathia said. “So I’ll try to go out and get off to a good start, pound the strike zone and hopefully pitch well… I felt like my fastball command was a lot better (on Friday). That’s something I had been struggling with the last month of the season. It was only two innings, but it was definitely a lot better than it had been.”

Neither Sabathia nor Verlander can seal the series, but they can put one team on the verge of clinching. Whoever wins tonight needs just one more victory to advance, and each team is pitching its very best.

“I think it’s going to be a big game no matter what, whether it’s Game 1 at Yankee Stadium or Game 3 in Detroit,” Verlander said. “Obviously there will probably be a little bit more publicity now for Game 3 because of what occurred and all the news that encompassed it with me and CC facing off again. Either way you look at it, it’s going to be a swing game.”

Said Sabathia: “I know the game plan. We went over it a couple of days ago. I’ll just try to go out and execute.”

Here’s Sabathia.

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Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “We always thought Game 3 was the biggest”10.02.11

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.”

Here’s Jeter.

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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.

Here’s Girardi.

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• 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.”

• Garcia said the sixth-inning pitch that Cabrera looped into center field for an RBI single was a split. “I was trying to make a great pitch and I did,” Garcia said. “But great hitters do that.”

• 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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 672 Comments →

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