American League Championship.Yankees Rewrite Script With Outburst in Eighth

 

Barton Silverman/The New York Times

The Yankees’ Marcus Thames lined a single to left field in the eighth inning. More Photos »

October 16, 2010

 

Yankees Rewrite Script With Outburst in Eighth

ARLINGTON, Tex. — The Rangers still have never won a home playoff game, a truth their fans may find difficult to comprehend had they not suffered Friday night through one of the most torturous innings in the franchise’s 39 seasons in Texas. A crowd that pulsed with excitement fell silent in the eighth, when the Yankees crushed the Rangers’ visions of a superlative start to their inaugural American League Championship Series by pummeling five Texas pitchers in a five-run rally.
When Marcus Thames lined the go-ahead single that provided the margin of victory in a 6-5 win, the Yankees’ dugout erupted with joy, with players practically falling over the rails. Thames, the seventh straight Yankee to reach base, clapped as he jogged toward first, the comeback complete. The 50,930 people at Rangers Ballpark, standing much of the early innings, slouched lower into their seats. Smiling afterward by his locker, Thames said, “I heard a couple guys say we stole one tonight.”
That is one way of putting it. Six outs away from potentially forcing the Yankees to reconsider starting A. J. Burnett in Game 4, the Rangers instead watched a parade of relievers, each less effective than the one before, spoil an impressive outing by the left-hander C. J. Wilson and reaffirm the Yankees’ reputation as comeback kings. For the third time in four playoff games, the Yankees stormed back to win, and this victory most closely resembled that from their division-series opener in Minnesota, when they also bailed out a shaky C. C. Sabathia. That night, they trailed, 3-0, heading into the sixth. On Friday, they trailed, 5-0, after six.
“It’s a bigger win for the Yankees,” said Brett Gardner, whose leadoff single after sliding head-first into first base ignited their eighth-inning outburst. “I’m not sure how they’re feeling or really worried how they’re feeling. I’m not feeling sorry for them. It was a tough game.”
Just ask the dignitaries sitting in the front row, next to the camera well beside the Rangers’ dugout: former President George W. Bush and Nolan Ryan, one of the team’s new owners, who stewed, arms folded, as the game unraveled merely a few feet away. It all must have looked so painfully familiar to Bush, a former managing partner and minority owner. Their glory years of the 1990s, punctuated by three division titles, ended each time with first-round losses to the Yankees, who have now won 10 straight playoff games against Texas.
One of those, Game 3 in 1996, collapsed after the departure of Darren Oliver, who, now in his second tour with Texas, relieved Wilson on Friday with a runner on second, nobody out and the Rangers leading, 5-2. He walked Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira to load the bases for Alex Rodriguez, who smoked the first pitch from the side-arming right-hander Darren O’Day past third baseman Michael Young for a two-run single.
In came Clay Rapada, one of two left-handers added Friday to the Rangers’ bullpen, to face Robinson Cano. In his last at-bat, Cano had homered off Wilson for the Yankees’ first run. When Rapada grooved a fastball, Cano drilled it back up the middle to score Teixeira with the tying run. “Good thing he threw me a fastball on the first pitch,” Cano said. With Thames due up, Rangers Manager Ron Washington could have brought in a right-hander, a move that Yankees Manager Joe Girardi almost certainly would have countered by pinch-hitting Lance Berkman. Instead, he summoned another left-hander, Derek Holland, and Thames delivered his second game-winning hit at Rangers Ballpark this season.
“During that inning, I was kind of incredulous,” O’Day said. “For all of us to have that kind of night, the same night, was an aberration.”
Or so the Rangers hope. The Yankees’ relievers, meantime, rescued Sabathia, allowing only one hit and two walks over five scoreless innings. Joba Chamberlain (one) and Dustin Moseley (two) worked the first three before giving way to the late-inning tandem of Kerry Wood, who picked Ian Kinsler off at first, and Mariano Rivera, who retired Josh Hamilton with the potential tying run on second to secure the victory. “C. C.’s picked us up all year, he’s been a horse for us all year,” said Chamberlain, who made his first appearance of the postseason. “It was our job to pick him up.”
The nine-day layoff between starts affected Sabathia, who allowed five runs in four innings — three before he even recorded an out — in his shortest start of the season. Aware that his command might suffer after going six days before his division series start against Minnesota, Sabathia adjusted his schedule, throwing five times, but it did not help.
“I just had no command,” Sabathia said. “I couldn’t execute the game plan because I couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.”
Of his first nine pitches, seven were outside the strike zone, and the 10th was lined into left-center by Michael Young for a single. Up came Josh Hamilton, who went 2 for 18 against Tampa Bay, a meager showing certainly noticed by the Yankees. The pitching coach Dave Eiland agreed with the assertion that the Rays — especially their left-handers — were successful working Hamilton away with off-speed pitches, something that Sabathia was trying to do with his 0-2 curveball.
With Jorge Posada setting up outside, the pitch broke over the inside corner and Hamilton lined it into the right-field stands for a three-run blast, the first home run off Sabathia on an 0-2 pitch since another slugging left-handed hitter, Chase Utley, did it in the sixth inning of the World Series opener last October. Sabathia’s fastball kept missing high, the result of his revisiting a familiar mechanical flaw: he collapsed on his back leg, which prevents him from using his 6 feet 7 inches to his advantage and throwing the fastball on a downward plane. Posada even reminded him, motioning downward with his hands, but Sabathia could not adjust.
“I was fearful of that tonight,” Eiland said, adding, “I’ve never seen him do that on regular rest, I’ll put it to you that way. History shows that when he has a lot of extra rest, he gets like that.”
It took a lucky bounce off the brick backstop of a wayward fastball — it caromed directly to Posada, who tossed to Sabathia for a tag of Nelson Cruz — for him to escape a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first with 36 pitches.
By comparison, Wilson needed precisely that many to plow through three scoreless innings. By his estimation, he has thrown every pitch but a screwball — “a split, forkball, side-armed, everything” — and, perhaps as proof, almost exhausted his inventory during the first. He fired 12 pitches — eight fastballs, a cutter, a slider, a curveball and a changeup — and incorporated them all with such precision and command that it recalled the mastery of the Rangers’ other overwhelming left-hander, Cliff Lee.
“Before he was here,” said Wilson, discussing Lee’s influence since his arrival in a July trade, “I was actually a right-handed second baseman.”
If only, the Yankees may have thought. Instead of doing something with his screenwriting major from college, Wilson pursued that baseball thing, and the Yankees were all the worse for it. No starting pitcher stymied left-handed hitters this season more than Wilson (.144 average), who reversed course Friday and pitched more effectively against the Yankees’ right-handed hitters, who combined to go 2 for 19 against him. One of those, Derek Jeter, doubled home Gardner to knock in the first run of the eighth, the first run of their 51st — and most impressive — come-from-behind victory of 2010.
“Like I said, I’m never really surprised,” Girardi said. “But I am thrilled sometimes.” 

  Copyright. 2010. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

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