Jeter's injury more devastating to Yankees' hopes than Game 1 loss
NEW YORK -- The daily interplay between the manager and his ailing star has gone a little something like this.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "Are you okay?"
Yankees captain Derek Jeter: "I'm great, let's go."
The matter is thus settled. Despite the bruises and the aches, Jeter will play. "He never tells me what is bothering him -- ever," Girardi said.
So when the shortstop fell to the infield dirt while ranging left for a ball and didn't get up, something was clearly wrong for reasons far worse than the infield hit or even the Tigers' one-run lead in the 12th inning, which would eventually become a 6-4 Detroit victory in ALCS Game 1.
As every player and fan extended their thoughts to Jeter -- the living legend who had collected his 200th career postseason hit in the second inning -- he thought of the team and situation around him. From the ground, he flipped the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano, just in case.
That, however, will be Jeter's last on-field contribution to the 2012 Yankees' campaign. After the game, Girardi announced that Jeter had a fractured left ankle that would require three months to heal.
"Jete has always been as tough as a player as I've ever been around," Girardi said. "And you know, that's what he showed, was toughness. I mean, even when I went to the field and I was going to carry him in, he said, 'No, do not carry me.'"
The premature end to his season is far more devastating to the Yankees' postseason chances than losing the ALCS opener to the Tigers. Jayson Nix will likely start in Jeter's place; Eduardo Nunez will replace him on the roster.
Jeter, who was 8-for-22 against the Orioles, was one of the few Yankees, along with Raul Ibañez and Mark Teixeira, to hit well in the AL Division Series despite struggling with a bone bruise in his foot.
"I always knew what a great player he was," Ibañez said of competing against Jeter before this season, "but I didn't know how big his heart was with what he was going through and still competing."
"The job is to find a way over every obstacle," general manager Brian Cashman said. "The way to honor Derek more than anything else -- these guys know this -- is to get the job done in his absence."
The Yankees' Core Four remained intact for so long that their respective absences this season are especially jarring. Catcher Jorge Posada retired before the year, and the other three all suffered major injuries: closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in a fluke batting practice incident; starter Andy Pettitte suffered a leg fracture after a line drive struck him on the mound; and now Jeter broke his ankle.
Not seeing Jeter play shortstop -- he started 154 consecutive games there before serving as DH in ALDS Game 4 -- is incongruous with what we've come to expect on cool October evenings at Yankee Stadium. Then again, the evening wasn't the same even before his injury; the atmosphere lacked, to borrow a phrase, the customary mystique and aura.
Three times the Yankees filled the bases, which is more than could be said about the stadium stands (they were a couple thousand shy of a sellout), and not once did they even hit the ball out of the infield in those situations, much less drive in a run. Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin all failed to come through.
That was all part of a dismal first eight innings marred by the season-long scourge of poor situational hitting, exacerbated by the escape artistry of Detroit starter Doug Fister, who kept New York off the scoreboard for 6 1/3 innings despite allowing six hits and four walks.
The legend of Raul Ibañez grew -- three nights after he pinch hit for Alex Rodriguez to hit the game-tying home run against the Orioles in ALDS Game 3 and the game-winning homer three innings later -- as he again tied the game in the ninth. This time he turned on an 0-1 splitter just enough to loft a deep flyball that parachuted into the early rows of the right-centerfield bleachers, to complete New York's four-run comeback off Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
The timing, which came soon after Ichiro Suzuki's own two-run homer (his third of four hits on the night), was apropos given the tenor of this postseason, which has been headlined by four division series that went the maximum five games (a first) and now eight playoff games settled by a team in its final at-bat.
The Yankees have scored more runs in the ninth inning or later (11) this postseason than in the first eight innings (nine).
"If we are going to be good enough, we have to be able to take a punch, and we took a big punch," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We took a right cross in the ninth inning, but we survived it."
Their late rally was keyed when Delmon Young, who had homered in the eighth, doubled home a run past a diving Nick Swisher in right field. Add in 11 scoreless frames from Fister and the relievers not named Valverde, and the Tigers took a big early step in this series.
And now the Yankees have played into the 12th inning three times in their last four games, amidst a stretch of playing five straight days thanks to a quirky schedule with an expanded postseason retro-fitted into the old format. It could rear its ugly head in Game 2, with right hander Hiroki Kuroda starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career a day after New York used seven relief pitchers.
Bullpen depth might be the least of the Yankees' worries. It is now probable that they will be start an infield in Game 2 lacking both Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, whose postseason struggles continued with an 0-for-3 night that dropped him to 2-for-19. Girardi sent up a pinch hitter in his place for the third time in his last three starts; Rodriguez, who did not start ALDS Game 5, may not again in ALCS Game 2.
Rodriguez has born the brunt of the criticism, but he's also not alone in his offensive misery. Five Yankees in Game 1's starting lineup batted .176 or worse in the ALDS. Their strikeout rate was 20 percent higher than it was in the regular season, which is a troubling trend.
The opportunistic Tigers -- whose .286 average with runners in scoring position -- didn't have anyone even reach second base until the sixth inning. Austin Jackson golfed a pitch from Pettitte, slicing it barely inside the right-field line where the ball had so much spin it found the angled wall halfway between the base and foul pole, where it stopped for one of the shortest triples you'll ever see.
After an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder smacked a line drive to center field for the game's first run, but the second run scored on a pop-up to shallow right where a charging Swisher appeared to pull up early on what might have been a catchable ball.
New York had won Game 1 of its last four playoff series and nine of its last 11 before Saturday night, yet now will have to rally without Jeter, the Yankees' pinstriped heart and soul -- and, notably, their most productive hitter.
"It's tough, really rough," Swisher said, "but we've got to keep pushing on. We don't have a choice. The show goes on."