The New York Yankees returned home for an elimination game on Thursday, facing the Detroit Tigers with a spot in the ALCS on the line. A date with the Texas Rangers hung in the balance, and Thursday's matchup provided plenty of drama, with the Tigers taking the early lead, then hanging on by the slimmest of margins to advance with a 3-2 win.
Here are a few of the highlights from the Baseball Nation live-blog.
As Rob Neyer noted, Thursday was also a painful anniversary for the Tigers. Two years ago, Detroit completed a collapse by falling to the Minnesota Twins in a one-game playoff -- in extra innings, no less.
In recent memory, the toughest Tiger loss happened exactly two years ago today.
In 2009, the Tigers owned a seven-game lead in the American League Central in early September. But then the Twins got hot, and at the conclusion of the schedule the two clubs both were 86-76. So on the 6th of October, they played a one-game playoff for the division title.
So the Tigers had a chance to turn to a sad anniversary into a happy day, facing Ivan Nova in a decisive Game 5 at Yankee Stadium. Nova retired the first Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera in the first inning, but there was one small problem with the start to his outing.
In between, he allowed back-to-back solo home runs. But if were successful 50% of the time as a hitter, everybody would be sooooo quick to praise him. You people are so glass-half-empty.
With back-to-back solo shots from Don Kelly and Delmon Young, the Yankees suddenly found themselves in a 2-0 hole before even stepping to the plate. Not exactly the start manager Joe Girardi was hoping for.
On the other side of the field, the Tigers sent Doug Fister to the mound in Game 5. Fister's journey is an interesting one, as Jeff Sullivan described.
Those were a lot of numbers. Here's the quick summary: between 2008 and 2009, Doug Fister stopped walking people. Between 2010 and 2011, Doug Fister started striking people out. That's an extraordinary development curve, and that's how Fister went from being a non-prospect to being a guy in whom the Tigers have a lot of confidence in their biggest game of the season.
As Doug Fister found his groove early, Joe Girardi tinkered. He tinkered a lot, in fact, playing matchups and going to his bullpen repeatedly early on. First it was Phil Hughes, then Girardi began to play matchups, and everyone weighed in with an opinion.
I usually agree with Cliff Corcoran, but agree more usually with Dave Cameron, including this time. Why wouldn't Girardi use every pitcher at his disposal to stay close? He's got the luxury of playing early-inning matchups because he's got CC Sabathia in the bullpen, ready for (presumably) two or three innings of work. You play matchups early, then Sabathia, then Soriano and Robertson and Rivera late.
We later learned Nova had a forearm injury, prompting Girardi's decision to pull him early. As Jeff Sullivan explains, the injury forced Girardi's hand, but it's not like he wasn't prepared to yank Nova anyway.
Now, it's important to note that Girardi had Phil Hughes warming up in the top of the second, presumably before he knew that Nova hurt. Maybe Nova didn't hurt yet. So it's not like Girardi wasn't prepared to pull Nova in the early going if he continued to struggle. But he came out after a scoreless second, and now we know it wasn't because Girardi is an avid reader of FanGraphs. It's because his pitcher had an injury.
Meanwhile, Doug Fister continued to roll, or at least keep himself out of trouble, until the fifth inning, when Robinson Cano took a 2-2 slider and deposited it in the upper deck in right. Suddenly the Tigers' 3-0 lead became a 3-1 lead, and the Yankees began to crawl back into the game.
Fister gave way to Max Scherzer, who shut down the Yankees in the sixth. In the seventh, Young made the final out of the inning with a pop-up, then stayed in the dugout with some kind of injury. Grant Brisbee put on his rhyming shoes and hazarded a guess about the extent of Young's injury.
No word on what it could be, but Young did make the last out of the previous half-inning. It was a pop-up, so he wasn't exactly burning down the line. I'm not a doctor, but I do have a metric crap-ton of student loans, so I feel pretty qualified in guessing that it was a freak tweak of the ol' oblique.
Alex Rodriguez. A moment in time.
A number of moments, actually. It took a while, but Benoit eventually struck out Rodriguez on a sharp change-up.
Two outs. Bases still loaded. Mark Teixeira. Another moment.
Okay, another number of moments, but ultimately Teixeira drew a walk to plate Jeter and draw the Yankees within one run.
Still two outs. Bases still loaded. Nick Swisher.
Who Benoit struck out on a high fastball.
At that point, the Tigers still held a 3-2 lead with six outs to go. Benoit made it through the eight with the lead still in tact, despite a long fly ball by Derek Jeter, and the Yankees were three outs from elimination. Jose Valverde came on to pitch the bottom of the ninth, and did so with little drama, putting away the Yankees as the Tigers advanced to the ALCS with a 3-2 win.