NEW YORK-It was a gruesome looking end to Derek Jeter's 2012 season, but not, according to first reports from Yankee team physicians, to his career. The captain's left leg wobbled and buckled underneath him as he broke to his left to field a groundball in the top of the 12th inning. The report is he has suffered a broken left ankle and the prognosis is for at least a thre-month recovery period. It was an ugly injury and a devastating loss.
“He will not be playing for us any more this year,” a subdued Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. “Jeet has always been as tough a player as I've ever been around. Even when I went to the field and I was going to carry him, he said, 'No, do not carry me.' That's the kind of guy he is. You could see the disappointment in his face. Everyone knows how he is.”
The Tigers win wasn't as simple as it should have been, but in the end, after 12 innings of baseball and five hours of elapsed time, after blowing the lead in the ninth, Detroit came away with a 6-4 victory and leads the ALCS one game to none. The key hit was a Delmon Young double to right centre field past a diving Nick Swisher in the 12th. The Tigers added a second run and the Yankees were unable to mount another miracle rally.
Some will say the Jeter injury should never have had a chance to happen because the 12th inning should never have been necessary. They would be right. The Yankees trailed by four runs into the bottom of the ninth, but found a glorious extra-inning life taking advantage of the continued failings of Tigers' closer Jose Valverde.
There was the dramatic pair of two-run homers, the first by a notorious singles hitter acquired at mid-season, Ichiro Suzuki, the second a game-tying blast by a resurgent Raul Ibanez, who six months earlier feared his power was gone and now is becoming a Yankee legend. With the game on the line and hope slipping away, each man clubbed a ninth-inning two-run homer off Valverde as the Yankees stormed back to send it to extras.
If the game had just gone nine innings, Jeter would no doubt still be playing. Now, not only is his October in doubt, but his future at the age of 38 must be considered suspect.
“I'm sad for him, because I know how much he loves to play in these type of situations,” Girardi said. “He would tell us, 'Let's go.' It's pretty emotional. There's disappointment we didn't win the game. There's disappointment our captain, our leader went down for the rest of the year.
“But we've been through some disappointing times this year, but here we are. We've only played one game and we have the opportunity to do something great. We have to find a way to get it done, just like we have all year long.”
Girardi dismissed any thought that the struggling Alex Rodriguez might take over at shortstop. He was a Gold Glove shortstop in Seattle and for the Rangers before coming over to the Yankees and shifting to third base.
This victory had clearly belonged to the Tigers for the taking. But, instead of stepping on the Yankee throats when they were down, the Tigers exposed their own Achilles heel. The closer Valverde.
Instead of shutting down the Bombers with others in a non-save situation, manager Jim Leyland chose to go to their fraud of a closer, Valverde, who executed his finely choreographed entrance routine, then came on and surrendered a pair of ninth-inning two-run homers. Cirque de Blow-ez.
“Now is not the time to discuss it,” Leyland said of the possibility of a new closer. “He has been the closer and had a rough outing in Oakland and obviously a rough outing tonight. That's why we are going to have a discussion. We need to put our heads together as a staff and sit down and talk.”.
Valverde, who a year ago was lights out in the ninth, now performs a nightly highwire act and each night it seems to get windier and lonelier up there on the wire. By the time the Yankees had energized the crowd, 47,122 in the ballpark was down to about 30-grand.
The Yankee strategy against the Tigers seems simple and obvious. Don't let Miguel Cabrera beat you. So in the sixth inning when Omar Infante lifted a shallow flyball to Nick Swisher, with Austin Jackson holding his ground at third base in a scoreless game, catcher Russell Martin took a peek to the dugout and raised four fingers to starter Andy Pettitte.
With the intentional walk complete and the Triple Crown champ now on first, the Tigers second best slugger, off-season acquisition Prince Fielder did what he is paid to do and ripped an RBI single to centre off Pettitte. Jackson scored. Detroit led. When Delmon Young sliced a flyball just out of the reach of Swisher, Cabrera got a great read and lumbered around third, scoring easily. Yankee strategy foiled.
Whether it's the old Yankee Stadium or the new, there's something special about a post-season game in the Bronx. With the 40-year-old Pettitte on the mound, playoff games takes on even more of a sense of tradition. The classy lefthander made his first post-season start on October 4, 1995 vs. the Mariners as a 23-year-old rookie. He is one of the Yankee connections to greatness over 18 years. Jeter and Mariano Rivera are others and now both of them are injured.
Pettitte is likely on a farewell tour. He is no longer close to being a staff ace, but due to the deciding Division Series game being just the day before, with CC Sabathia having to face the Orioles, Friday, Pettitte was thrust into the Game 1 duty. It was his seventh opening game start in a post-season series, his fifth for the Yankees, with two other coming in Houston in 2005.
“I came back to hopefully help this club get into this position,” Pettitte said. “I couldn't say that I feel any more pressure. We have to have a team effort. We have to have our starters throwing the ball well, or we're not going to win this series, probably.”
Tigers' starter, Doug Fister battled. He allowed seven of the first 13 Bombers to reach base – with no runs surrendered. It was then that he settled down, duelling Pettitte into the sixth in a scoreless game. Pettitte was the first to bend, giving up the Fielder RBI and then Young. But two runs should never be enough against the Yankees.
In the eighth, Young homered into the first row of seats down the line in left against Derek Lowe. Rookie Avisail Garcia singled to centre scoring Peralta with the fourth run.
Fister pitched into the seventh before giving way to lefthander Phil Coke, a former Yankee, who did the job. The other members of Tigers bullpen got them through the eighth, then came the Valverde show. The Tigers need to look in another direction if they are going to win.