Wait ‘Til Next Year
So three low-budget teams had given the one-percenters a run for their way-too-much money and made it into the postseason. Yet they were still underdogs. Vegas oddsmakers set the Rangers as 9-to-5 favorites to take the American League pennant, even though Texas still had to win a play-in game to become the wild-card team. Ha! — the Rangers lost to the Orioles (8-to-1), who would play the Yankees (5-to-2), with their legendary lineup of Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira and Robinson Cano. The A’s (6-to-1) took on the favored Tigers (3-to-1), who boasted the mighty Cabrera and the game’s best pitcher, Justin Verlander.
In the National League LDS, the Nationals, who had recorded the most regular-season wins in the majors (98), seemed to have their series against the St. Louis Cardinals wrapped when they forged a 6-0 advantage in the early innings of the deciding game. Leading 7-5 going into the top of the ninth, they allowed a four-run Cards onslaught and lost 9-7. The Cincinnati Reds, with 97 regular-season wins, fell to the San Francisco Giants by dropping the last three games at home — another historic first in the five-game playoff skein. The Giants host the Cardinals in the NL championship series starting Sunday.
The two National League series had their share of high-scoring games and blowouts — the Cards scored 12, eight and nine runs in their three victories, and one of the Reds’ wins was a 9-0 flummoxing of the Giants — but the American League LDS was an almost unbroken string of cardiac contests. Eight of the 10 games were decided by one or two runs; another game was 2-2 entering the ninth inning, when the Yankees exploded for five runs, or as many as they would score in their next two games. In fact, the Yanks, who had led the majors in home runs and on-base and slugging percentage, suffered a severe power shortage once they got to the postseason. Only Jeter, with a .386 batting average, did much sustained offensive damage against the Orioles’ stingy pitching; the eight hits he got in the first four games were as many as registered by Rodriguez, Cano, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson combined. A-Rod, for 15 years a great slugger, fell into a sorry swoon and was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning of the third game — to be replaced by 40-year-old Raul Ibanez, who hit a game-tying home run and, three innings later, the game-winning blast, making him the oldest player in baseball history to hit two homers in one postseason game. A-Rod was also benched in the final game, which the Yanks took, 3-1, on a gutty masterpiece by their mound ace C.C. Sabathia.
Against the Tigers, A’s seemed to be recapitulating their season in miniature. They lost the first game, 3-1, to Verlander, and dropped the second, 5-4, when outfielder Coco Crisp muffed a showboating basket catch that plated two Tigers runs. Returning to Oakland for the rest of the series, they won game 3, 2-0, on great pitching by the surgically corrected Anderson, and took the next game 4-3, by rallying from two runs down in the bottom of the ninth. (Cheers. Pie in the face. Marvelous madness.) Then Verlander returned and turned in what, by sabermetric standards, was the best pitching performance in a deciding postseason game. The Tigers won, 6-0, and the A’s amazing run was over. Wait till next year.
A final confession: Having lived in New York City since I came to school here in the ’60s, I am also a Yankees fan. I root for them whenever they don’t play the A’s. So I was happy when they prevailed over the Orioles — and shocked to see the pain on the stoic Jeter’s face late last night when he broke his ankle in the Yanks’ extra-inning loss, 6-4, against the Tigers. Lifted off the field by two trainers, Jeter is done for the postseason. Can the Yankees come back after losing their Most — Their Only — Valuable Player? I have the same sinking feeling I so often got when rooting for the A’s. As the old manager Sparky Anderson wisely said, “Losing hurts more than winning feels good.” And Jeter’s fractured ankle could be, for this Yankees fan, the worst break of all.