Postseason memories can transcend so much in the history of a franchise. Even in seasons in which you don’t ultimately end up with the crown, certain games can make their way into that special selection of top moments for any fan.
Back in 2010, as the Yankees got ready to defend their crown in facing the up-and-coming Texas Rangers in the ALCS. Things got off to an unbelievable start, and even though in the end, Texas went to the World Series (where they got manhandled by the Giants), memories of ALCS Game 1 are firmly entrenched in the hearts of every Yankees’ fan.
Final Score: Yankees 6, Rangers 5
Game MVP: Robinson Canó
The pitching matchup for this night put together a couple of southpaws, as New York sent out ace CC Sabathia to face closer-turned starter C.J. Wilson.
Strictly by the numbers, Wilson had been the best Rangers' pitcher on the season, but we all knew he wasn’t the ace of the staff. That right was reserved for coulda-been-Yankee Cliff Lee, who despite seeing his numbers take a significant dip following his trade from the Mariners mid-season was a big reason why Texas was even on this series (having twice dominated the Rays in ALDS victories).
There’s another bit of context before heading into the game details. It is important to note that despite owning a significantly better record, at 95-67, the Yankees didn’t have home-field advantage in this series. Given baseball’s format at the time, there were minimal incentives for them to play hard down the stretch after clinching a playoff spot, so they were content to let Tampa take the AL East. That meant the Yankees were the Wild Card, and after sweeping the Twins away (per their custom), they began the ALCS on the road against the 90-72 Rangers.
So, the stage was set for this ALCS. Would the Yankees advance to their second straight World Series appearance in hopes of a repeat, or would the Rangers keep their dreams of bringing a World Series to Texas alive.
The heels come off early
Wilson made quick work of the Yankees’ lineup, sitting down the top of the batting order 1-2-3, and Sabathia trotted out to face the potent Rangers offense at Glove Life Park, a notoriously hitting-friendly venue. It was a tough task, but not one likely to faze the defending ALCS MVP. However, Sabathia struggled from the get-go, allowing the first two hitters to reach base, and subsequently coughing up a bullet of a home run to eventual MVP Josh Hamilton, and in the blink of an eye, the score was three-zip.
Trouble in the first wouldn’t end there, as Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Matt Treanor all reached base, with a single and two walks, with two outs in the middle of it all, leaving Jorge Cantu to come to the plate. Then came one of many pivotal moments in the game.
With Cantu up, the bases loaded, and two outs, CC tossed a wild pitch, and Cruz, not known for his speed, broke to the plate. But the carom of the ball went directly back to Posada who made the toss to Sabathia, gunning down Cruz at home in an impressive play.
Trouble wouldn’t end there for the Yankees’ lefty, but who knows what happens if Cruz scores and the inning keeps on going?
The Yankees failed to muster much against Wilson, so the Rangers got to bolster their lead in the fourth. Coming up with two on, and two outs, veteran Michael Young drove in both and padded the Rangers’ lead to 5-0. CC was left in there to face the lefty Hamilton, despite allowing a bomb to him earlier on, and despite a wild pitch that took Young to third, rewarded the trust from Girardi, and struck out Hamilton, a very dangerous hitter, and that was it for CC on the night.
Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley held out the fort, in what could’ve easily become a night that spiraled out of control. The offense remained dormant entering the seventh inning, with Wilson still on the mound.
Robinson Canó led it off with a bang, clubbing a line-drive shot down the right-field line to make it a four-run game.
It was the first bomb of a huge ALCS for the emerging superstar, as he clubbed four homers with a 1.088 OPS. Since Wilson eliminating the next three hitters though, the home run felt more like a one-off at the time, rather than an early sign of a bounce-back. Boy, were we in for a show.
...and then came the eighth inning
After Moseley wrapped up the heart of the order in the bottom of the seventh to finish his second scoreless frame, the Yankees offense came out to see Wilson still on the mound — facing the lineup a fourth time through. Now, these days that kind of stuff is illegal in 34 states, but back then, it wasn’t much of a decision for Texas skipper Ron Washington. Wilson was rolling, and his pitch count was in check.
However, a four-run lead in baseball can go away very quickly. As Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter both reached base, with the latter driving in the former, making it a 5-2 game, Ron Washington trotted out to the mound to remove his starter, who received a standing ovation, and in came Darren Oliver.
The Rangers' lefty reliever struggled with command and walked both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, thus loading up the bases and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. These days, Wash would’ve had to stick with Oliver for at least one more batter, but back then, he was able to remove a clearly rattled pitcher.
In came Darren O’Day, and A-Rod trimmed the Rangers' lead to one, hitting an absolute missile past Michael Young at third, who reacted when the ball was already in the outfield. (That’s how fast it was.) With Canó up and the tying run in scoring position, out came Wash for yet another change, as the lefty Clay Rapada would face the Yankees’ second baseman.
Canó kept the momentum and tied the game with a single to center. The Rangers brought in Derek Holland, which for those of you keeping score, was the fifth pitcher of the inning for Texas. Future hitting coach Marcus Thames gave the Yanks the lead, with yet another single.
Just like that, a pall set in over the crowd in Arlington. Their big lead was gone and the champions were in front, six outs away from a Game 1 victory on the road to snatch away home-field advantage.
Texas legend and team president Nolan Ryan was, shall we say, not pleased:
After that, Texas was dead in the water despite one baserunner reaching in both the eighth and ninth. Trade deadline addition Kerry Wood handled the former, and the great Mariano Rivera closed the door to clinch the 6-5 triumph.
The rest of the series wouldn’t go so hot for the boys in pinstripes, who unfortunately squandered the fuzzy feelings of the comeback and lost the ALCS in six. For this retrospective, let’s not dwell on the negative though; instead, we’ll focus on the exhilarating feelings after this fantastic victory. In the moment, it was incredible.