A week ago, many wondered what the Yankees would do for an encore after a dramatic comeback and how the Texas Rangers would respond in the wake of blowing a five-run lead.
The answers were delivered when the Rangers decisively clinched their first American League pennant with a resounding 6-1 victory over the Yankees in Game 6 Friday night.
“On behalf of the New York Yankees I want to congratulate the Texas Rangers, Chuck Greenberg, Nolan Ryan and their entire ownership, staff and organization on winning their first American League pennant,” managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “They played liked champions and we wish them the best of luck representing the American League in the World Series.”
“It all stinks,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s no fun to be in this situation. It’s no fun to be sitting here after the loss. We take this extremely serious. It stinks.”
Josh Hamilton took home ALCS MVP honors after overpowering Yankee pitchers with four home runs and a .350 batting average. The Yankees were so fearful of being beaten by Hamilton that they intentionally walked him three times in Game 6, which ultimately led to their downfall and earlier than expected start to the offseason.
After Phil Hughes (4 2/3 innings, four runs, four hits, four walks) issued his second free pass to Hamilton in a 1-1 game, the road toward the offseason began. Vladimir Guerrero roped a hanging curveball just out of Curtis Granderson’s reach in deep center field to score two in the fifth.
“It’s really empty feeling right now especially after last year,” Hughes said.
It spelled the end of Hughes’ uneven season and it was only getting worse for the Yankees. The Rangers ended all hopes for the Yankees’ drive for No. 28 when David Robertson served up a Nelson Cruz homer a few moments later.
“We put a lot of hard work and effort into the season,” Derek Jeter said. “When you fall short of your goal it’s tough to take.”
It also was symbolic of a series that the Yankees were even lucky to have extended to six games. They were six outs away from a 5-1 loss in the series opener and were outscored 25-5 in losing the next three games. Then the Yankees managed to send the series back to Texas by surviving an outing by CC Sabathia where the lefty put 11 runners on in six innings and the Yankee bats did enough.
The eighth inning last Friday and Game 5 were the only times the Yankee bats did enough. After leading the AL in several major offensive categories and hitting .314 in a sweep of the Twins, the Yankees were shut down as they batted .201 with a .300 on-base percentage in the ALCS and a horrendous .151 mark with runners in scoring position.
Robinson Cano was the only Yankee to truly hit as the second baseman batted .348 and hit four home runs but even he was silenced by Colby Lewis in Game 6. Lewis needed just eight pitches to retire the regular-season MVP candidate on a pop-out, double play grounder and a strikeout. The righty, who went 12-13 in the regular season, beat the Bombers twice and lasted eight innings for the first time since early June.
Mark Teixeira was hitless in 14 at-bats as the effects of other injuries led to his season-ending hamstring injury in Game 4. Alex Rodriguez finished a 4-for-21 series by helplessly flailing at a strike three by Texas closer Neftali Feliz and Nick Swisher went 2-for-22.
Lewis, Texas’ other guy with the initials C.L, needed 94 pitches to mow down the rest of the Yankees. Lewis, who returned to the team that drafted him after two years in Japan, held the Yankees to one run (on a wild pitch that scored Alex Rodriguez in the fifth) and three hits in eight innings.
That ensured a date with Cliff Lee, who figures to be the top pitching free agent target of Brian Cashman, would not occur. Lee was slated to pitch Game 7, but when Lewis starting mowing down the Yankees and Hughes could not deliver, the Rangers were on their way to the Fall Classic and the Bombers were on their way to a long offseason of questions, as Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte are among the team’s impending free agents.
Not only did the Yankees get out-hit, they were out-pitched. Pettitte’s seven innings of two-run ball in Game 3 were the best performance of a pitching staff that produced a 6.58 ERA and a 7.11 ERA by starting pitchers.
“We didn’t accomplish what we set out to,” Girardi said. “As I told my guys, this hurts. I’ve been through it as a player, I’ve been through it as a coach and now I’ve been through it as a manager. … They beat us. They out-pitched us. They out-hit us. They beat us.”
The next step for the Yankees will figure out ways to avoid this from happening again. One thing that appears certain is Girardi will get a new contract at some point in the offseason.
Jeter likely will get one too as will Mariano Rivera. Pettitte probably will get one if he decides to put off retirement after a year in which he missed two months with a groin injury.
The rest of the everyday lineup likely and the Yankees will focus on improving a pitching staff that made the playoffs with Sabathia winning 21 games, Hughes winning 18 based mostly on run support, Pettitte missing two months, A.J. Burnett being five games under .500 and Javier Vazquez’s second stint in the Bronx being a disappointment.
Those are decisions for November. For now, the Yankees will sit back and watch the rest of October.
“They beat us straight up,” Swisher said of the Rangers.