The Tigers had a golden opportunity to clinch the ALDS on Tuesday, playing at home and facing New York's worst starter, A.J. Burnett. Instead, Burnett allowed just one run over 5 1/3 innings, relying on some huge defensive plays by former Tiger Curtis Granderson in center field. New York's lineup tagged Rick Porcello for four runs over six innings before unloading on Detroit's bullpen; by the time all was said and done, the Yankees won the game 10-1, sending the series back to New York for the series finale on Thursday.
While New York was busy dashing Detroit's hopes, Baseball Nation's writers were busy live blogging the action. Catch up on the highlights below:
• For all the grief everyone gave A.J. Burnett before the start, Rob Neyer presciently wondered whether Burnett truly is as bad as everyone claimed:
I don't mean to discount Porcello's skills or Burnett's limitations. But I strongly suspect that if you made Burnett a Tiger and Porcello a Yankee and gave them both average luck in 2011, it's Porcello that everyone would be worried about.
In hindsight, well, yeah. He's a smart one, that Neyer.
• Burnett walked three batters in the first inning alone, and it almost cost him. Almost. He can thank his acrobatic center fielder, as Jeff Sullivan noted:
With two out and the bases loaded, Burnett faced Don Kelly and fell behind with a ball. The next pitch was a fastball in the low-away corner and Kelly ripped it on a line into center. Curtis Granderson hesitated, backtracked, and made a full extension catch to save several runs. At least three would've scored had the ball cleared Granderson's head, and Kelly might have even come all the way around, given that Granderson was falling down.
It's one thing to read about an amazing catch, and it's another altogether to see it, so enjoy:
Burnett: /allows laser shot to dead center that Curtis Granderson catches somehow
Burnett: WHOOOOOO! YOU CAN'T TOUCH A.J., BABY. ALWAYS JACKED UP BURNETT, BABY.
• It's always fun to second guess managers. Neyer took issue with Jim Leyland's decision to sacrifice bunt in the first inning:
Managerial Test: Question 1
It's the first inning of a big game. Your leadoff man singles. He's really fast. The enemy pitcher regularly walks hitters and throws wild pitches. Your pitcher posted a 4.75 ERA this season, and is facing perhaps the best lineup in Major League Baseball.
a) bunt, and hope to score one run?
b) swing away, and hope to get your big boppers up with multiple runners aboard?
I'll bet you chose b. Jim Leyland chose a, and didn't even get that one run.
• Burnett gets all the margin for error he'd need for the night in the third inning when the Yankees took a 2-0 lead. From Jeff Sullivan:
Porcello's first mistake in the third was barely clipping Jorge Posada with an 0-and-1 fastball to lead off. Russell Martin then rolled a sinker back up the middle for a base hit to give the Yankees a pair of baserunners.
Brett Gardner followed and struck out looking at a very questionable high fastball, pausing to argue with umpire Dan Iassogna, but Derek Jeter then relieved any concern that the runners might get stranded by blasting a deep fly to center over the head of Austin Jackson. Both runners came around to score - Martin barely avoiding the tag of Alex Avila - on Jeter's two-run double.
Burnett was very ugly in the bottom of the first, narrowly avoiding a catastrophe. Overall, though, he's allowed just the one run in four innings, and his breaking ball's looking sharp. The Yankees bullpen was stirring again in the fourth and Burnett's up to 61 pitches, but as long as he survives the fifth, Joe Girardi will have little about which to complain.
• Remember that first diving catch by Granderson? He wasn't done, snagging this would-be hit off the bat of Jhonny Peralta in the sixth inning:
Really? Really. Oh, and he had an RBI double in the previous inning, extending the Yankees' lead. I'm starting to think he really wants to beat his old team.
• Even though his team was losing, Miguel Cabrera never lost his sense of humor:
• The Tigers trailed 4-1 entering the eighth inning ... and that's when things really fell apart. The Yankees beat up on the bullpen to the tune of six more runs, thanks to a bunch of a singles, a bases-loaded balk and a wild pitch. In other words, a complete train wreck.
Can the Tigers regroup and win on Thursday? Or will the Yankees maintain their momentum and join the Rangers in the ALCS? We'll find out soon.