Monday, October 1, 2012

Tied With 3 Games to Go

On Saturday afternoon, against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, Andy Pettitte took the mound for the Yankees, for the 459th time -- counting postseason play.  Not all of them have been big games, but a lot of them have.  Saturday's was no different.

He got into the 6th inning, and allowed 3 runs.  Between them, Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and David Robertson got the job done, allowing no runs.

But the Yankees didn't hit.  Ricky Romero started for the Jays, but had to leave after 3 innings due to an injury.  And the Jays' bullpen tossed 6 innings of shutout ball.

Ichiro Suzuki got 3 hits, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher each got 2, Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez 1.  But after the Yankees scored 2 runs in the 1st inning, that was it.  The Yankees stranded 2 runners in the 1st, 1 in the 2nd, had the bases loaded with nobody out but scored no runs in the 3rd, wasted a leadoff walk in the 4th, wasted a walk and an error with nobody out in the 5th, wasted a leadoff single and another single in the 7th, stranded a runner with 1 out in the 8th, and stranded another in the 9th.  A lot of baserunners, but precious little scoring -- this for a team that has been bombing the ball out of the yard all season long.

Jays 3, Yankees 2.  WP: Shawn Hill (1-0).  SV: Casey Janssen (21).  LP: Pettitte (5-4), not that it was his fault.

And the Baltimore Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox.  The Yanks and O's were now tied for first place in the American League Eastern Division, with 4 games left.

*

So now all the remaining games were critical.  The Yankees badly needed both runs and good pitching yesterday afternoon.

They didn't get the good pitching from the starer.  Phil Hughes struggled, allowed 2 runs in the 1st, and 3 more in the 5th before getting knocked out of the box.  Between them, Derek Lowe, Logan and Robertson allowed no more runs through the 8th.

Eric Chavez hit his 16th home run of the season in the 3rd, but it was 5-1 Jays going into the top of the 6th.  And the Orioles were winning again.  It was slipping away.

Cano led off the 6th with a double -- his 45th of the season.  Swisher singled him over to 3rd.  Curtis Granderson was up, and Jays' pitcher Henderson Alvarez threw a wild pitch, scoring Cano.  5-2 Jays.

Top of the 7th.  Nunez, who still can't field, led off with a single.  Jeter hit a ground-rule double.  Ichiro got Nunez home with a sacrifice fly.  5-3 Jays.  Alex Rodriguez drew a walk.  Cano hit another double, scoring Jeter.  5-4 Jays.  Aaron Loup was brought in to pitch.  He uncorked a wild pitch, scoring A-Rod.  5-5.

If the Jays were among the Playoff challengers, this would have been an epic one-inning collapse.  Alas, they are not... which is why the Yankees needed to do better than a split of the 4-game series.

Top of the 8th.  Granderson walked.  Raul Ibanez singled.  Russell Martin bunted the runners over.  Nunez hit a sacrifice fly to score Granderson.  6-5 Yanks.  Jeter singled home Gardner.  7-5 Yanks.

Top of the 9th.  A-Rod led off with a single.  Cano singled.  Swish walked.  Bases loaded, nobody out.  Can't waste it again.  Grandy singled home A-Rod and Cano.  9-5 Yanks.

Bottom of the 9th.  Rafael Soriano comes on to close it out.  Surely, he's not going to blow a 4-run lead in such a big game, is he?

He allows singles to Brett Lawrie and Rajai Davis.  And he walks Colby Rasmus.  Bases loaded, nobody out.  And the batter is Yunel Escobar, one of those pesky Blue Jays who always seems to give the Yankees trouble.  Oh, no...

Escobar hits a ground ball right to Jeter.  Double play.

On WCBS, John Sterling said, "A run scores, but the Yankees could care less." It's, "The Yankees couldn't care less," Sterling! Still, trading 1 run for 2 outs would seem to help... if, that is, Soriano could get the 3rd out.

He did: Adam Lind grounded to Cano, and it was over.

Whew...

Yankees 9, Jays 6.  WP: Logan (7-2... I know, it doesn't look right, considering all the games he's blown the last 3 years).  LP: Our old pal Darren Oliver (3-4).

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim lost to the Texas Rangers.  While this hurt the Yankees' chances of finishing with the best overall record in the AL, it also clinched at least a Playoff berth for the Yankees.  And for the Orioles, their 1st in the last 15 years.

*

There are 3 games left.  The Yankees and Orioles are tied for 1st.  I'm hearing conflicting reports as to what the tiebreaker would be.  Either...

* A flat-footed tie means a one-game Playoff for the Division Title.  Or...

* A change in the rules since the introduction of the Wild Card means that, if both teams have clinched at least a Wild Card, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, which is also tied, 9-9; and the second tiebreaker is intradivisional record, which would give the O's the edge -- meaning the Yankees do not control their own destiny, and would host the Wild Card play-in game, then have the distinct disadvantage going into the Division Series and, if successful, the League Championship Series.

Since growing up in the 1980s, with memories of the late 1970s Yankees' titles but much stronger ones of the era of Dave Winfield and Donnie Regular Season Baseball, when the Yankees were a close-but-no-cigar team, I have the odd combination of being both a Yankee Fan and a cynic.  And, knowing that Major League Baseball has bent over backward to help the Red Sox and hurt the Yankees, I have this natural tendency to presume that MLB will stick it to the Yankees any way they can.  So I am presuming that a tie will give the Orioles the Division title, until I see proof otherwise.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been eliminated from the AL East race.  They and the Angels are still both in the Wild Card race, but they each have an elimination number of 1: One more win by the Oakland Athletics, or one more loss by each of the Angels and Rays, and the A's have the 2nd Wild Card spot, and visit the Yanks or O's for the 4th seed in the ALDS.

The Detroit Tigers have a Magic Number of 1 to clinch the AL Central and eliminate the Chicago White Sox, who led the race most of the way.  The ChiSox are out of the Wild Card race.

The Rangers have a Magic Number of 2 to clinch the AL West and eliminate the A's, although the Rangers-A's loser will almost certainly get one of the Wild Card slots.

The National League is almost completely set: The Washington Nationals have clinched the East, the Cincinnati Reds the Central, the San Francisco Giants the West, and the Atlanta Braves the first Wild Card slot.  The St. Louis Cardinals lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by 2 games for the 2nd.  Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies were all eliminated -- marking the first time since 2006 that the Phils will not play a Game 163, a Game 164 and a Game 165.

The Cards would visit the Braves.  If the Cards win, they would face the Nats, and the Giants would face the Reds.  If the Braves win, being in the same Division as the Nats, they would face the Reds, and the Giants would face the Reds.

In the AL, with which this blog is mainly concerned, the A's would travel to face the Yanks-O's loser.  If the Yanks-O's loser wins, they would face the Rangers, and the Tigers would face the Yanks-O's winner.  If the A's win, they would face the Yanks-O's winner, and the Tigers would face the Rangers.

Three games left: Here are the pitching matchups:

Tonight: For Yankees vs. Red Sox, CC Sabathia vs. Clay Buchholz; for Orioles at Rays, Wei-Yin Chen vs. Alex Cobb.

Tomorrow night: David Phelps vs. Jon Lester; Oriole starter TBA vs. James Shields.

Wednesday night, the finale: An all-Japanese matchup of Hiroki Kuroda vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka; Oriole starter TBA vs. Jeremy Hellickson.

The Yanks-Sox series is one of immense consequence, but, in a shocker, not for the Sox.

Based on these matchups, here is what I think will happen:

Monday: Buchholz will give the Yankees trouble, but CC will be a horse again, and the Yankees will win.  But so will the Orioles.  Tied with 2 games left -- advantage, Orioles.

Tuesday: Lester drives the Yankees crazy, and Phelps is a replacement for Ivan Nova, who has been shaky -- but the Yankees' bullpen will be up to the task, and the Sox' will not; while Shields shuts down the O's, who don't even know who their pitcher will be.  Yanks up by 1 with 1 game left -- meaning a Yankee win or an Oriole loss gives the Yanks the Division title.

Wednesday: Dice-K has had nothing for the Sox this season, while Kuroda has been the Yankees' most consistent starter.  The Orioles don't yet know who their starter will be, but I don't think it makes a difference: Yankees win, and clinch at home.  That it will be against The Scum makes it nicer, but hardly necessary.

I'd better be right.  I do not want the tiebreakers, whatever they actually are, to come into play.

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