Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yanks Losing Pennant Feels Like Six-Game Sweep

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Saturday, October 23rd 2010, 4:00 AM

ARLINGTON - The end of it for the Yankees, the end of a four-game sweep that just happened to take six games, was the bat on Alex Rodriguez's shoulder against a kid closer named Neftali Feliz. It was 6-1 for the Rangers in Game 6 by then. The Yankees hadn't just been beaten. They had been bounced around most of the last week, Arlington to the Bronx and back, and finally been embarrassed. So there really was no need for A-Rod to take the bat off his shoulder. The Yankees had stopped playing an hour ago.

The Rangers didn't need to throw Cliff Lee at the Yankees in Game 7. There wasn't going to be a Game 7. The Rangers didn't need Josh Hamilton, whom Joe Girardi intentionally walked three times. Six-game sweep. This wasn't as bad an AL pennant defense as we got from the Yankees in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from 0-3 down. It was bad enough.

"They hit better, they pitched better, they played better," Derek Jeter said at a corner locker, his chair backed up against a wall. "What else can you say?"

You can say one more thing, on top of how the Yankees got outhit and outpitched and outplayed. They got out-managed Friday night, too. Big time. Joe Girardi got away with walking Hamilton in front of Vlad Guerrero once, in the third inning. Girardi did not get away with it in the bottom of the fifth, when the Yankee season really ended, after which they really did look as if they had quit on the game and the season and the defense of their title. All that money spent. One title in 10 years.

In the quiet, the next-season quiet of the Yankee clubhouse, I asked Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, that Reggie Jackson, if anybody had ever intentionally walked him three times in an October baseball game.

"Never," he said.

But Girardi did it again with Hamilton in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game with his team playing for its season. Did it with Mitch Moreland on third. Put Hamilton on first again. Here came Guerrero, a proud, great, veteran player, one of the great run-producers of his time in baseball. Hamilton was having a wonderful series. The Yankees never gave him a chance to chase a pitch and get himself out.

"Vlad hadn't done anything," Jorge Posada said in defense of the decision.

Sure he had. The other day Guerrero had four hits against the Yankees. And you know what? He had done plenty for a long time. You poke the bear often enough, the bear eats you. Guerrero hit a rocket up the gap in left-center that was a double as soon as Curtis Granderson started chasing.

Now it was 3-1, Rangers. The night had changed, forever. Girardi came and got Phil Hughes. Then Girardi made his second mistake on a night when he couldn't afford any. He called for David Robertson.

"All hands on deck," Girardi had said.

Fair enough. Elimination game. Somehow trying to get to the Cliff Lee game. But if it was an all-hands-on-deck game, one of those hands could not belong to Robertson in Arlington. The Rangers had already shot him out of a cannon in the ninth inning of Game 3. If you are trying to control damage here, you go right to Kerry Wood and figure it out from there. Girardi went to Robertson. And paid for that decision with his season.

Robertson did get the count to 1-2. Nelson Cruz hit a shot that was gone when it came off his bat, hit one as hard over the left-center field wall as he had hit one off Sergio Mitre in the ninth inning of Game 4. Now it was 5-1 Rangers. Colby Lewis, who was treated like some kind of speed bump back in New York, as if Hughes had the huge edge in this game, was pitching the game of his life. The defending champs were being carried out of the season now.

In the corner of the visiting clubhouse opposite from Jeter, another proud old Yankee, Posada, said this in a voice you could have scraped off the carpet in front of his chair:

"The pitch to Cruz ... it got a lot of the plate ... too much of the plate." He paused, took a deep breath, almost as if he could see the ball going over the wall again.

"He didn't miss it," Posada said.

It was 5-1 in Game 6 the way it was 5-1 for Texas in Game 1 before the Rangers blew that one, before they came right back to make it 5-1 early in Game 2. A four-game sweep masquerading as a six-game series against the big, bad, defending champion, $200 million New York Yankees. The combined score in the four Texas victories? How about 31-6?

You want to know how bad it was? Here is how bad it was: Feliz, the kid closer, never had to earn a save in this series. Not one. Maybe the Yanks can buy him in a few years to succeed Mo Rivera the way they want to buy Lee when the season is over.

By the time the kid came in to get the last three outs for the Rangers on the night when they won the pennant, the home crowd had been standing for an hour, since the Rangers had made it 5-1 and the Yankees had given up. Robinson Cano grounded to first, Feliz covering. One out away. A-Rod. Of course. Of course it had to be him. Took a called third strike. They paid him $252 million once to put the Rangers in the World Series. Now he had.

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