Though Ivan Nova’s injury was a serious blow for the Yankees, the most significant blow was delivered by an offense that consistently failed to deliver the coveted big hit.
The Yankees can now begin planning for next season in the wake of a 3-2 loss to the Tigers in Game 5 of the ALDS.
“It’s disappointing,” captain Derek Jeter said. “There’s no other way to put it. We came here to try to win. We didn’t get the job done.”
Six relievers held the Tigers to one run after Nova’s tight right forearm forced him out through two innings. Before departing, Nova allowed back-to-back solo home runs to Don Kelly and Delmon Young in the first.
The other run was allowed by CC Sabathia, who pitched 1 1/3 innings for his first career relief appearance and allowed a Victor Martinez RBI single in the fifth that ultimately was the go-ahead run.
“Nobody can feel good about it,” Nova said. “We had a chance to win. It’s hard right now.”
“It’s terrible,” manager Joe Girardi said. “As I said, we only accomplished one goal when the season ended. We had to fight like crazy to get there. It’s a really empty feeling. It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room, and it hurts. You’ve just got to remember this feeling, and we’ll be determined next year.”
The Yankees fell behind just seven pitches in and never could overcome it despite having numerous chances.
“We didn’t play our best baseball this series,” Nick Swisher said. “Right now it’s kind of like that numb feeling that really, really unsatisfied type of feeling.”
Twice they left the bases loaded and the Yankees will head into an earlier than expected offseason after stranding 11 and going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees lost three games by a combined four runs while winning the two by a combined 15 runs because of an offense that batted a deceiving .260 – 14 points higher than their four-game ALDS loss to Detroit five years ago.
“Players aren’t going to make excuses,” Girardi said. “Neither am I. The bottom line is we lost some really close games to them. We lost two one-run games and a two-run game. As I said a hit here and a hit there and it’s a different series.”
The three most notable instances occurred in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings.
In the fourth, the Yankees loaded the bases on an Alex Rodriguez walk and consecutive one-out singles by Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada. Posada’s single was hit too hard and it kept Rodriguez at third.
Rodriguez stayed there when Russell Martin popped out to first base and Brett Gardner fouled out to third base on a full count.
After Robinson Cano homered off Doug Fister, the Yankees put together another tease in the seventh off Joaquin Benoit.
They loaded the bases on Cano’s infield hit, but Rodriguez looked lost on a strike three splitter. After Mark Teixeira’s walk made it a one-run game, Nick Swisher swung through a 96 mile per hour fastball.
The Yankees had another chance in the eighth when Gardner singled to left. On the next pitch as Gardner took off, Derek Jeter flied out to the warning track in right field. Girardi, and the crowd, thought it was going out.
“I did – I did,” Girardi said. “And I think it got to the wall, is my guess. Then, I couldn’t really see. We had everyone standing up in the dugout. But you talk about a game that, a lot of times, it’s a matter of a foot here or a foot there, and it’s the difference of the game. This situation could have been the difference in the series.”
The final out was delivered by Rodriguez, who capped a 2-for-17 series by doing nothing against Jose Valverde.
Rodriguez looked at strike one and two on the outside corner and then took ball one. Then he struck out swinging on a fastball to a cascade of boos as the Tigers raced onto the field to celebrate beating the Yankees for the second time in five years.
“There’s no excuse,” Rodriguez said. “I was healthy enough to do what I needed to do.”
Last stand for Posada
If this was Jorge Posada’s last appearance in pinstripes, he had a quite a series.
Posada led the Yankees with a .429 average and his .579 on-base percentage was his third-highest single-series postseason batting average (.500 vs. Detroit 2006 ALDS and .444 vs. Oakland 2001 ALDS).
Afterwards he struggled to keep his emotions when discussing the fans and his future.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “That’s a tough one. We’ll see. I don’t want to look at it like that. We lost. We’ll see what happens in the offseason.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.