October 15, 2012
History could give Yankees a lift
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
DETROIT - Let's be real, here. It's hard to like the New York Yankees' chances in this AL championship series.
They're down 0-2 to the Detroit Tigers. Their offence has, inexplicably, dried up. They've lost their inspirational leader, Derek Jeter, and they're going into Detroit Tuesday to face perhaps the best pitcher on the planet in Justin Verlander with a lineup that might not be able to hit Justin Bieber.
All the Yankees have going for them is their storied past and that may be a significant weapon.
Sixteen years ago, in 1996, on a similar night and in a similar situation, the upstart Yankees went to Atlanta for Games 3-4-5 of the World Series and nobody gave them the slightest chance. The Braves had a 2-0 series lead and had outscored the Yankees 16-1 in the first two games. Now they were about to face Tom Glavine, the third ace in Atlanta's pantheon of aces. John Smoltz and Greg Maddux already had turned the New York bats to jelly.
In Game 3, Glavine dominated, but the Yanks finally got into their opponent's bullpen and pulled out a 5-2 win keyed by Bernie Williams' eighth-inning homer. In Game 4, the young Yankees overcame a 6-0 Atlanta lead, tying the game on a now-famous Jim Leyritz homer in the eighth and winning it in 10 innings. In Game 5, Maddux was magnificent. but Andy Pettitte was better in a pivotal 1-0 win. In Game 6, Joe Girardi -- yes, that Joe Girardi -- tripled to ignite a three-run uprising against Maddux. The Yanks held on to win 3-2 to capture, improbably, their first World Series title in 18 years.
That was the dawn of this latest golden age of New York Yankees baseball. They have been in the playoffs 17 of the past 18 years. They have been to the World Series eight times during that span and have won five of them.
But if that was the dawn, then their current situation has the look and feel of dusk. Of the so-called Core Four -- Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Pettitte -- the only one who can do anything to save them is Pettitte, now 40. They have C.C. Sabathia ready and waiting to pitch Game 4, but by then they might have to win four games in a row, something only the Boston Red Sox have pulled off in ALCS annals.
After being shut out Sunday by Anibal Sanchez and reliever Phil Coke, all the Yankees have going is false bravado.
"You guys thought we'd be home two weeks ago," Alex Rodriguez said to reporters. "We've gone through stretches like this before, but the one thing we've done is answer the call.
"So don't doubt us. Don't count us out."
One of the few Yanks who had been hitting in these playoffs was Jeter, who is now gone for the year with a broken left ankle. Ichiro Suzuki has been revitalized and Raul Ibanez has been other-worldly in the clutch. Those three have accounted for 25 hits, including four of the club's five home runs. The rest of the roster has 28 hits (just eight of them for extra bases) and is batting .146 in seven playoff games to date.
Their best regular-season hitter and a guy who will get some league MVP consideration, Robinson Cano, is mired in an 0-for-26 hole, and is 2-for-32 overall. Somebody calculated that Cano's 0-for-26 is the longest postseason hitless streak in Yankees history.
Nick Swisher is sitting on a 4-for-26 post-season so far as he tries to mount a case for his impending free agency. In that regard, he is spending money like a drunken sailor as his value on the open market plummets. Sunday, he was reduced to whining about the boos and the catcalls he's getting from his once-adoring fans.
"That's the last thing that I ever thought would be in this ball park, that people would get on you that bad," Swisher said. "Especially your home, where your heart is, where you've been battling and grinding all year long. It's just frustrating, man. You never want to be in that spot. It's not like you're trying to go out there and do bad on purpose. It's just tough, man.
"It hurts. Sometimes I'm a sensitive guy and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit. We're not going to go out like this. We're going to go to Detroit and give everything we've got."
Given the state of the Yankees offence, that's a rather hollow promise. If you take closer Jose Valverde out of the equation and, thankfully for the Tigers, that's exactly what Jim Leyland did after Game 1, the Yankees would have scored -- let me get out the abacus -- exactly zero runs.
And the Yankees fans have been howling their displeasure, not just with A-Rod and Swisher but with Cano and Curtis Granderson as well.
"That's just what they do anyways, right?" Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder said. "You just try to play good baseball. Unfortunately it's not like basketball. You can't make a dunk and shut the crowd up. You've just got to play baseball."