Major League Baseball and A.J. Burnett owe Curtis Granderson a dinner, not necessarily in that order of indebtedness. A leaping catch by Granderson in the first inning of ALDS Game 4 Tuesday -- isn't panic a wonderful motivator? -- kept Burnett in the game and out of Yankee infamy. What it also did was just about guarantee baseball the rarity of the winner-take-all postseason game.
The Tigers and Yankees are heading to a Game 5 Thursday at Yankee Stadium -- win or go home for both clubs -- a treat that has come around far too infrequently, especially in recent years.
This is only the second winner-take-all game among 18 postseason series played in the past three years (the other being Game 5 of last year's ALDS between the Rangers and Rays). Since 1995, it is only sudden death game number 26 out of 119 chances -- just a 22 percent payoff when it comes to seeing a series go the distance.
Ah, but tonight we still have the Diamondbacks and Cardinals trying to force an ultimate game in their NL Division Series. And if even one of those teams does get to a Game 5, we will have two sudden death games in the same postseason for the first time in seven years. Yes, folks, we are due.
So based on what has happened in the wild card era when postseason series go the distance, what we can we assume about a sudden death Game 5?
• The game will be close. Fifteen of the previous 25 sudden death games were decided by one or two runs.
• The home team has the edge. Home teams are 14-11 in these games.
• Derek Jeter is probably involved. Of the 26 wild card era sudden death games, Jeter will have been a part of nine of them (though he was in uniform but not active for one, 1995 ALDS Game 5). Jeter is a .357 hitter in sudden death games (10-for-28). The Yankees are 3-5 in wild card era sudden death games, including 2-1 at home. In their postseason history, the Yankees have won just five sudden death games in the Bronx:
2003 ALCS Game 7: The Yankees stage a memorable comeback against Pedro Martinez in the eighth and beat the Red Sox in the 11th on Aaron Boone's walk-off home run.
2001 ALDS Game 5: Oakland's Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson can't beat New York, which overcomes a 2-0 deficit in the series and in the decisive game.
1981 ALDS Game 5: A Reggie Jackson home run helps the Yankees rally past the Brewers.
1976 ALCS Game 5: Chris Chambliss hits a pennant-winning home run off Kansas City's Mark Littell in the bottom of the ninth.
1947 World Series Game 7: The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the first of four World Series Game 7's matching the two intra-city rivals between 1947 and 1956.
Strike-thrower Doug Fister is likely to pitch well as the Tigers starter in Game 5. But here are some issues that will be working against him and Detroit based off Game 4:
• Reliever Al Albuquerque, who came into this series as a key setup man for Jose Valverde, has been so bad he cannot be used in a meaningful spot. He has given up three earned runs and recorded just one out in his two appearances, an 81.00 ERA.
• Detroit third baseman Wilson Betemit, a key bat against right-hander Ivan Nova, looks so lost at the plate that manager Jim Leyland may have to go with his better defender at third base, Brandon Inge.
• New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez is taking much better swings and looks to be about one pitch away from breaking out. (He has no home runs in his past 57 postseason at-bats.) The guy is healthy -- he has played fine defense at third -- so it's only a matter of getting his reps at the plate.
Now, about that Granderson catch . . . think about the ramifications if Granderson just misses the baseball on what was a hard line drive hit by Don Kelly.
• Burnett is out of the game (Cory Wade was warming) after having lasted just 2/3 of an inning in an elimination game and becomes even more vilified in New York.
• The Tigers hand a 3-0 lead to Rick Porcello, 22, the youngest pitcher ever to start a postseason game for Detroit.
• "That one play changed the entire game," Leyland said.
Here's one other development that changed the game: Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild went back to the clubhouse with Burnett after the catch by Granderson. A wild Burnett had missed with 14 of his 21 pitches that inning. Rothschild told Burnett he was moving his hands too quickly at the start of the delivery -- the trigger mechanism before he takes the ball out of his glove. It's a common checkpoint Rothschild uses with Burnett. In this case Burnett was moving too quickly because of the excitement of the elimination game. Rescued by Granderson's catch and Rothschild's suggestion, Burnett started pounding the strike zone and lasted into the sixth inning.
Keep an eye on the battles between Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt tonight in NLDS Game 4. They have been going at one other since both came up to the majors in 2001, Pujols with the Cardinals and Oswalt with the NL Central-rival Astros. The two of them have faced off 102 times, including 10 matchups in the postseason. Pujols is hitting .316 off Oswalt with seven home runs, 17 RBIs and a .611 slugging percentage.