Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yankees Come Home Trailing 1-1

Rangers own series advantage sending Cliff Lee to pitch Game 3 deadlocked, 1-1, with Yankees

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Sunday, October 17th 2010, 4:00 AM

At Target Field last week, before the start of the division series against the Twins that already seems as if it were played last season, Joe Girardi stood in the visitors' dugout and said, "We've played 200 games and still haven't settled anything." Then the Yankees swept the Twins and came back against the Rangers the way they did in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. And it looked as if the Twins weren't going to be the only E-Z Pass for the Yankees on their way back to the World Series.

Only now Phil Hughes is no better in Game 2 than CC Sabathia was in Game 1. Only now the Texas relievers don't cough it up in Game 2 the way they did the night before. This time the eighth inning was about defensive plays from Ian Kinsler and Michael Young and not big swings up and down the order from the Yankees. This time the Rangers won.

Usually in a seven-game series, you are just looking for a split if you are the road team. The Yankees are the road team because they weren't afraid of being the wild card, because they showed absolutely no interest in winning the American League East in the month of September. So they got their split in Arlington, you bet.

But if you are the Yankees Sunday morning, or a Yankee fan, the question is this: How good a split was it?

Is it the Rangers - with Cliff Lee pitching Monday night at the Stadium - who feel as if they are winning this league championship 1-1?

"I don't think the Yankees are going to do every day what they did yesterday," Nelson Cruz said on television when Game 2 was over, after Rangers closer Neftali Feliz had somehow made a 7-2 lead in the ninth feel like about half a white-knuckler.

But if you watched the Yankees against the Twins in the playoffs, if you watched Game 1 against the Rangers, you sort of do expect them to come back all the time. That is why 7-2 didn't feel safe in the eighth until Kinsler and Young dug two outs out of the dirt, Kinsler's play in particular a honey. That is why 7-2 didn't feel safe in the ninth, not with two on and one out and Alex Rodriguez himself coming to the plate and every Rangers fan in the ballpark as scared as "Scream 4" because of what had happened the night before.

But A-Rod bounced out. Cruz ran hard to the left-field wall and caught up with an opposite-field shot by Robinson Cano, who is to these playoffs so far as Chase Utley was to the last World Series. Game over, and game on.

So Sabathia and Hughes get slapped around. The Yankees have five runs in one rousing inning and three the other 17. The Yankees come home to Cliff Lee, who has lost as many postseason games in his life as the Rangers had won home postseason games before Game 2 Saturday. So you have to say there is at least a chance that the Yankees could be the ones behind going into Game 4 Tuesday night.

You saw the way the Yankees came back in Game 1 and started thinking that maybe the only game the Rangers would get in this series would be Lee's start Monday night. The Rangers were the ones who were supposed to come out and play like flat losers Saturday, still wobbly from the shots the Yankees landed in the eighth inning the night before. But they jumped the biggest, baddest team in the world again, all of a sudden it was 5-1 again.

Of course you saw Girardi on the postgame show having to field questions about whether or not A.J. Burnett was still getting the ball for Game 4, or if Girardi might think about going with his ace, Sabathia, on short, 2009-postseason rest.

The first time he got asked the question, Girardi said: "Right now we're on rotation."

Even on television, you could see that Girardi didn't want to be talking about a Game 4 starter so soon after losing Game 2.

Finally, the third time a variation of the question about Game 4 was asked, Joe Girardi said, "We worry about Game 4 before we play Game 3 and we're in trouble."

He talked more than once about the big-game resume of Andy Pettitte, the guy who goes against Lee Monday night. There was the regular-season game when the Yankees came back and won a game from Texas even though Lee had a 6-0 lead that night. Girardi saw all the nervous relievers the other manager, Ron Washington, threw at the Yankees the last two days. You wonder how they all respond, including Feliz, when it's a one-run game on 161st.

But Girardi also knows this: How close his team is to being down two games. For now the series is even. Or is it?

No comments: