When the lineup was posted for the New York Yankees prior to Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, the first question should have been, does it matter? With Justin Verlander the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP on the mound for the Detroit Tigers it was a resounding NO, it didn’t matter. Though it did get interesting.
The Yankees manager Joe Girardi changed 1/3 of the lineup from Game 2; Brett Gardner would play left and lead off, pushing Ichiro Suzuki to right field thus benching Nick Swisher. Eric Chavez replaced Alex Rodriguez at third base, and in only move that made a difference, Eduardo Nunez was inserted at shortstop instead of Jayson Nix. More on that later.
Swisher has been miserable for four straight postseasons so who could blame Girardi for that move? Chavez for Rodriguez was mostly about A-Rod’s recent inability to hit anything a right-hander throws, let alone Verlander. Despite the fact that A-Rod was 8-for-30 with three homers (two this season) against Verlander, Girardi felt having a lefty hitting would give the Yankees a better chance to win. Chavez came into the game 0-for-11 with 6 strikeouts during the entire postseason, but had a .908 OPS against righties this season. He went 0-for-3. Gardner went 0-for-4.
Phil Hughes started for the Yankees and held tight with Verlander for the first three innings but allowed a home run to Yankee killer Delmon Young. Hughes exited with a stiff back in the fourth inning and David Phelps allowed an unearned run, after a Chavez error, in the fifth making it 2-0 Tigers.
In the top of the ninth Nunez put together one of the more impressive at-bats you’ll see against Verlander. He fouled off six pitches along the way, including back-to-back 99 mph fastballs, with some vicious cuts until he unleashed on a 2-2 curveball which he lined over the left field wall cutting the lead to one run. Verlander got Gardner on a slow grounder back to the mound and that was the end of his night at 132 pitches. Verlander tossed 8 1/2 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks. He benefited from an exceptionally wide strikezone and was never threatened in this game until the Nunez homer.
Phil Coke came in and retired Suzuki on a grounder to second base. Mark Teixeira singled up the middle to keep the inning alive and brought up Robinson Cano, who was in the midst of a 0-for-29 slump. Cano finally ended the awful display with an opposite field single putting the tying run at second. Raul Ibanez was up and the Yankees were hoping for some more magic from the 40-year-old DH. Unfortunately it was not meant to be as Coke threw a gutsy slider on a 3-2 count striking out Ibanez, helping the Tigers put a stranglehold on the series.
The Yankees will look to avoid the sweep on Wednesday with CC Sabathia on the mound as he will face Tigers righty Max Scherzer. Sabathia has been fantastic in the postseason and he’ll need another great start as the Yankees offense despite the small rally is still suffering. We’ll see if they can finally break out of it and it will be interesting to see who will be the Yankees in the lineup to back Sabathia.