NEW YORK — On a cool, dark autumn night, the stars shined bright and brilliant in the Bronx. But the biggest ones in pinstripes watched the dramatic conclusion from afar — New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter injured and third baseman Alex Rodriguez benched — while Detroit’s finest, Miguel Cabrera, scored the winning run for the Tigers in extra innings.
It took them a bit longer than they’d hoped, but the Tigers scored two runs in the 12th inning to nab Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, 6-4, in front of 47,122 fans at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.
For their efforts, the Yankees will enter Game 2 on Sunday afternoon with a pair of giant question marks: Rodriguez can’t seem to hit, and Jeter will not play again this postseason, after fracturing his ankle in the 12th inning. While the injury is not career-threatening, it carries a three-month recovery period and the Yankees’ 38-year old captain will not take the field again until the spring.
“I have to tell you, I don’t want to be without him,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “Nobody in that room wants to be without him, but we have to move on. And I don’t say that in a cold way, but [we’re] trying to win a series here.”
While the Tigers celebrated an early win on the road, the theme in the home team’s clubhouse was simple: Someone will have to step up. On Saturday, Jeter and Rodriguez were a combined 1 for 8, and it was again the most unlikely of heroes, Raul Ibanez, a 40-year old Nissan in the Yankees’ garage of luxury vehicles, who further etched his name into the franchise’s thick tome of October baseball.
New York was held scoreless for most of the night and trailed 4-0 heading into the ninth. But Ichiro Suzuki’s two-run homer cut the Tigers’ lead to two and woke up a docile Yankees crowd. After Robinson Cano struck out swinging and Mark Teixeira drew a walk, Ibanez drilled Jose Valverde’s second pitch over the right field wall to tie the game.
Ibanez’s blast came on the heels of his heroics in the American League Division Series against Baltimore, where he almost single-handedly won Game 3, tying the game with a pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning and then winning it with another shot in the 12th.
In the 12th, though, Cabrera led off with a walk for the Tigers, and he advanced to second on Prince Fielder’s groundout. He then scored on designated hitter Delmon Young’s double to right-center. Pinch-runner Don Kelly gave the Tigers a bit of breathing room, scoring on Andy Dirks’s infield single.
“It 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.”
The Yankees had plenty of opportunities early, but the team’s highest-paid star was again drowned out by the burning lights of baseball’s postseason. With each postseason game, Rodriguez's complicated place in the baseball universe has grown less certain. His career arc defies genre and has touched all the bases: drama, tragedy, tragicomedy and most recently, an excruciating home movie that no one can bear to watch.
After benching Rodriguez in Game 5 of the ALDS, Girardi said he “went with my gut” and put the three-time MVP back in the lineup Saturday. Unfortunately for the Yankees, that decision placed Rodriguez 60 feet away from his personal kryptonite: a warm-blooded right-handed pitcher. In the first inning, the Yankees loaded the bases — aided by a pair of walks by Tigers' starter Doug Fister — and Rodriguez strolled to the plate with two outs.
He went after the first pitch, hitting it sharply toward short. Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta made a diving stop and barely nipped Ibanez at second. Rodriguez sprinted through the base and slammed his helmet in frustration.
The Yankees again loaded the bases in the second inning, again with two outs. This time, Cano, another slumping Yankee who was 2 for 22 in the ALDS, stepped to the plate. He hit a bullet up the middle that bounced off Fister's leg and went right to Peralta, who barehanded it and fired to first. Umpire Rob Drake called Cano out, though a video replay suggested otherwise. Cano also spiked his helmet hard into the ground and would finish the night 0 for 6.
When the Tigers had their opportunities, they made the most of them. Center fielder Austin Jackson led off the sixth with a triple down the first-base line. New York pitcher Andy Pettitte intentionally walked Cabrera, choosing Fielder as the lesser poison. Fielder proved to be just as dangerous, singling to center to knock in the game's first run. The next batter, Young, then singled in Cabrera, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead. Young later added a solo home run in the eighth and finished the night 3 for 6 with three RBI.
“He seems to hit with confidence here for whatever reason,” Leyland said.
Fister struck out five in 61 / 3 scoreless innings for the Tigers, while Pettitte gave up seven hits and two runs while striking out five and walking three in a 62 / 3 innings for New York. The Yankees went through eight pitchers on the night, and the Tigers needed six. Rookie reliever Drew Smyly pitched two scoreless innings in relief to pick up the win for Detroit.
Before Smyly threw a single warmup pitch, New York had squandered several opportunities. In the bottom of the sixth, Rodriguez stepped to the plate with runners on second and third, another opportunity to jump-start his postseason.
“We need this guy to be Alex. That’s the bottom line,” Girardi had told reporters before the game. “If we want to make some noise, we need this guy to be Alex.”
What they actually needed was A-Rod, the superhuman slugger who filled the seats and scared the opposition. This guy — Alex, a 37-year old mortal who happens to have five years remaining on his contract and is owed $114 million — came to the plate in the sixth with two runners in scoring position. He struck out on three pitches, his 10th strikeout in 19 postseason at-bats.
He was due up again in the eighth, but Leyland called for a right-hander out of the bullpen. Girardi had no choice. He pulled Rodriguez from the on-deck circle and for the third time in four games, sent in a pinch hitter, casting uncertainty on the future — both immediate and long-term — of a slugger who not long ago was the game’s very best.
While Rodriguez will surely step to the plate again in this series, Jeter will have to watch from the dugout. After the Tigers’ go-ahead run crossed the plate in the 12th, Jeter fielded a sharp grounder to his left, falling awkwardly to the ground and grimacing.
“He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t getting up,” Teixeira said. “So you knew something was wrong.”
When Jeter was finally helped to his feet, he was unable to put any pressure on the ankle. He had to be helped off the field by Girardi and team trainer Steve Donahue. “He’s as tough as they come,” said New York General Manager Brian Cashman. “So when you see that, you know it’s serious.”
X-rays confirmed their fears, and they’ll have to shuffle the lineup heading into Game 2. Rodriguez will not get a shot at short, Girardi said, and the Yankees will activate infielder Eduardo Nunez.
“We have to have guys step up. It’s kind of been the theme all year,” Teixeira said. “If one team is used to having guys step in to take someone’s place, it’s us."