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How'd it go so wrong? Count the ways
The list of things that went wrong towered over the Yankees like a skyscraper — too many to count, too high to measure, so no one really bothered. Instead, the dethroned world champs quietly packed up and prepared for the last plane ride of 2010, every one of them in varying states of shock.
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“I’m kind of speechless,” is what Alex Rodriguez said at the end of night. “This is going to hurt for a while and it should. “
Many Yankees uttered similar expressions of disbelief, although others didn’t have to — the thousand-yard stare was enough. After all, what’s there to say about an ALCS that ends in a virtual blowout, a 6-1 loss to the Rangers that no one in the organization dared to admit was hatched all the way back in Game 1?
Except for their six-run rally in the eighth inning of the ALCS opener, the Bombers were so completely outplayed, they surrendered without even facing Cliff Lee a second time.
That might’ve been the most remarkable element of the series, how Colby Lewis became only the seventh pitcher in history to beat the Yankees twice in the same postseason series. To a man, the Bombers were convinced they were headed to a Game 7 showdown with Lee, betting that between Andy Pettitte and the law of averages, they’d end up with their second pennant in two years.
But three factors destroyed the dream.
First: the Yankees never recovered from Joe Girardi’s decision to use Phil Hughes instead of Pettitte in Game 2. Not only did it allow the Rangers to salvage a split in Arlington, and keep the Yankees from generating momentum going into their home park, it kept Pettitte in the dugout while the season was being decided in Game 6.
Second: Despite the finishing the regular season as the American League’s top run-scoring machine, the Yankees were never able to establish much in the way of an offense. They batted .201 for the series, including weak performances from Rodriguez (.190), Derek Jeter (.231), Mark Teixeira (0-for-14) and Nick Swisher (.091).
Even Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ solitary hitting star (.348) was no match for Lewis on Friday, unable to get the ball out of the infield in four at-bats.
Third: Girardi made another set of strategic mistakes in the fifth inning, once again paying the price for an over-reliance on numbers. The moment Hughes allowed Vladimir Guerrero a two-run double, giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead, it was the manager’s mandate to navigate out of trouble.
This was the game, alright, boiled down to Girardi’s next set of choices. The Yankees were so impotent against Lewis, it was obvious they couldn’t allow another run. Girardi rightly concluded he needed a new arm. Only, who?
He could’ve chosen Kerry Wood, who’d already warmed up in the inning. CC Sabathia, who’d been designated as the long man in relief, was also available. Incredibly, however, Girardi went to David Robertson, who’d struggled through the series.
Why? Because, as Girardi explained, Robertson “had good numbers” against Nelson Cruz. What the manager didn’t explain, however, is that he was drawing from the smallest-possible sample size.
Robertson and Cruz had crossed paths only three times in their respective careers, a mere 0-for-3 that Girardi decided was enough data on which to base his decision.
Just once, Girardi should’ve tossed the loose-leaf away and tapped into his reservoir of baseball instincts. He should’ve asked: Who’s the best available arm with all hands on deck? In that prism, Robertson was not the answer. In fact, he became an integral part of the blowout, offering up a middle-of-the-plate fastball that Cruz simply destroyed.
The ball cleared the wall in center by plenty, enough to turn Rangers’ Stadium into a war zone, and send the Yankees down in flames. There were still 12 outs left in the Bombers’ season, but they’d taken their last breath. That much was obvious when they were retired on eight pitches in the top of the eighth, including Jeter’s one-pitch at-bat.
No wonder GM Brian Cashman said, “we got man-handled.” Forget about the number of games the Yankees won, how many innings could they claim in the entire ALCS?
Then again, maybe this Game 6 blowout would’ve been less of a trauma if it was Lee on the mound instead of Lewis. But the right-hander put the Yankees on notice in the very first inning that it would his game, his night, his chance to bring the Rangers their first American League pennant in franchise history.
Lewis did it without even hitting 90 mph on the radar gun to Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Cano, instead changing speeds, hitting the corners, making it impossible for the Yankees to get comfortable. They didn’t get their first hit until the fifth inning, at which point it was obvious Lewis’ dominance would be unbreakable.
“It’s not like he did anything fancy or has great stuff, but he did everything right,” Lance Berkman said. “He did everything a pitcher is supposed to. I thought I saw the ball well against him, but you ended up walking away thinking, “he’s a tough at-bat.”
Maybe there’s some consolation to the Yankees knowing there were no bad calls that beat them, no freak plays. Berkman is right when he says, “they flat-out beat us.”
The more experienced Yankees will understand that baseball’s tide moves in strange and unpredictable ways in October. This time, it flowed toward the Rangers, who many players believe will end up winning the World Series.
But that’s not to say anyone made peace with the idea that, outside on the field, the Rangers were still celebrating.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Jeter said quietly. “It’s tough to deal with this.”