Classy Leyland on the ALCS, "And if someone told me we would sweep the Yaankees, I would have said you were crazy."— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) October 19, 2012
That quote about sums up this American League Championship Series. The New York Yankees' 2012 season ended tonight in an 8-1 blowout at the hands of the newly-crowned AL champion Detroit Tigers, who became the first team to sweep the Yankees in the playoffs since 1980. The game, like the series, was not even close. The Yankees never led in this game, nor did they lead in any game of the series.
The Yankees have not been so thoroughly dominated in a playoff series since the 1963 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, another series in which they never held the lead. With all due respect to the Tigers though, only Justin Verlander is even close to Koufax/Drysdale levels. Still, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Verlander, and Max Scherzer pitched their tails off. It's a fine pitching staff that combined with that potent offense undoubtedly has a good chance to give Detroit its first championship since 1984. Hats off to the Tigers; they thoroughly outplayed the Yanks.
After seven straight superb pitching performances, the Yankees inevitably suffered a bad one, albeit from an unlikely source. CC Sabathia dominated the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS with 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings, but the Tigers hit him hard for six runs on 11 hits in just 3.2 innings of work. He did not get much help from his defense, as Mark Teixeira made a couple uncharacteristic miscues that led to two runs in the third, but Sabathia's breaking ball looked flat from the get-go. Detroit jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on three singles in the first with the RBI coming from ALCS MVP Delmon Young (yes, this is real life). Young rebounded from a poor .267/.296/.411 season to once again hit the Yankees hard in the playoffs.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised since he's done this three years in a row now. Young struggled to a 1-for-12 in the Yankees' three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins in 2009, but in '10 he improved to .333/.385/.500 in another three-game Yankee sweep of the Twins before truly getting his revenge in '11 with three homers, including the game-winner in Game 3.
This year, Young hit .353/.444/.765 in the four-game sweep with two homers and the go-ahead RBI in each of the four games. The Yankees held Prince Fielder to a .235 and Miguel Cabrera to human-like levels, but Young was the main cog of the Tiger offense that beat the potent Yankee pitching staff. It was a little embarrassing that they let Young beat them, but do not for one second blame this series loss on the pitchers. The only Yankee pitchers to really struggle in the ALCS were CC, Derek Lowe, and David Phelps. Other than a few blips, they were stellar.
The game fell apart for the Yankees in the fourth inning. Omar Infante singled to center with one out, and Miggy did his Miggy thing, pounding a long two-run homer to make the score 4-0. Fielder struck out, Yankee-killer Young singled again, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta belted a two-run homer of his own to give Detroit a seemingly-insurmountable six-run lead. Since the Yankees had score only five runs in the entire series up to that point, it did not look great. Andy Dirks doubled after that, and CC was gone from the game. A second homer from Peralta (against Lowe) and one from Austin Jackson (against Robertson) finished up the Tiger scoring. It was not pretty to watch.
Offense? Don't talk to me about offense. Ready? Here's the Yankee offense against Scherzer tonight: walks to Ichiro Suzuki and Jayson Nix, a triple to Eduardo Nunez, and a run-scoring double from Nick Swisher. Nunez also reached on a routine grounder that was fumbled by Fielder. Scherzer was no-hitting them with nine strikeouts through five before Nunez's triple, and only Swisher's double saved them from being shut out again. The Yanks really only had two scoring opportunities in the whole game. Fielder's error, a steal by Nunez, and Ichiro's walk put runners on first and second with two outs, and Swisher struck out looking on a pitch that missed the strike zone by a foot. It was only 1-0 at the time, so that was disappointing.
The other chance knocked Scherzer out of the game after he lost his no-hitter. Robinson Cano (he of precisely one hit in the series and an .056/.056/.056 line) grounded out, and Teixeira walked, putting runners on the corner with two outs for Alex Rodriguez, pinch-hitting for Raul Ibanez with lefty Drew Smyly in the game. A three-run homer would have made the score competitive at 6-4, but it was not meant to be. The southpaw on the mound didn't help A-Rod finally get that decisive hit he was looking for, and he flew out to center.
Nix walked against new reliever Octavio Dotel to lead off the seventh, and he was the last baserunner to get on base this year for the Yanks. Dotel whiffed pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson (because this ALCS wouldn't be finished without another Grandy K, amirite?) and Grandy's replacement in center, Brett Gardner, before getting Nunez on a fly ball. For the remainder of the game, they went down in order against former Yankee Phil Coke, who is good now for some reason. Nix popped up to Fielder in short right field to end it. The Yankees had two hits. Yippie.
The Yankees' 2012 season is over, but this season was not a failure. Allow me to quote my post from the night the Yankees clinched the American League East for the 13th time in 17 years:
A 10-game division lead in mid-July vanished. The Yankees lost the greatest closer in the history of baseball, their best weapon on defense and baserunning, and the big young pitcher they acquired in the offseason in exchange for their top prospect. Russell Martin hit under .200 for most of the season. Ibanez and Andruw Jones wore down from overuse in the outfield as a result of the injury to Brett Gardner, and their once-hot bats went silent for months. Alex Rodriguez missed about a month after Felix Hernandez broke his hand with a pitch, and Mark Teixiera was absent for almost the entire stretch drive due to a calf injury.
Despite a franchise-record 245 homers, the team constantly struggled with runners in scoring position and only won one game when trailing after eight innings all season long, their 161st game. Andy Pettitte's amazing comeback was stunted on a Casey Kotchman line drive that broke his leg and forced him from the team until September. Ivan Nova had a horrible follow-up to a terrific rookie campaign and finished with a dismal 83 ERA+, and Freddy Garcia had to make 17 starts long after his "smoke and mirrors show" from 2011 had fizzled. Joba Chamberlain didn't throw a pitch until August due to a freak trampoline injury, Cory Wade's arm went dead in June, and Chad Qualls pitched 7.1 innings (okay, maybe the latter was not such a big deal).
Even with all that going on, the Yankees finished with the best record in the AL and toughed out a hard-fought five-game ALDS with the upstart division rival Orioles to be one of four teams left standing. The fact that they lost their captain and one of the league's top hitters to a broken ankle in Game 1 certainly did not help matters. The expression "heart and soul of the team" tends to be overused by sportswriters, but when someone is as vital to the Yankees as Derek Jeter, it must be applied. Unlike with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano, there was no viable replacement for Jeter. Nunez hit .333 with a triple and a homer in his absence, but Jeter's impact on the team goes beyond that and everyone knows it. More importantly, Nunez, Ichiro, and Ibanez were the only real contributors on offense in this series.
Regardless, the Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball in 2012, and to say otherwise is simply false. Does the team need to make some difficult decisions in the off-season to make improvements? Damn straight. Given all that this team went through though, calling it a failure is folly. We'll always have those Ibanez postseason heroics, #HIROK mania, CC's DS, and Jeter's 225 hits to remember the season.
Thanks for continuing to read Pinstriped Bible as the site underwent a dramatic overhaul throughout the season, from layout to staff and even name. Stay tuned for more awesome content to kill your time as we await Opening Day 2013. If you need something to help you smile about, we should finally be able to see good ol' Mo back on the mound again.