Playoff narratives are rarely cut and dried. October baseball is usually complex and unpredictable in a way that beggars prediction or pigeon-holing. But the 2012 Yankees managed to meet expectations to a T in their 3-2 loss to the Orioles in Game 2. The loss, which evens the series at 1-1 with the remaining three games at Yankee Stadium, was a carbon copy of so many frustrating Yankee defeats this year, save for a gritty performance by Andy Pettitte.
I’ve typed this so many times this season that I need a shortcut key, but I’ll type it again: The Yankees failed to get the job done with runners in scoring position.
In 17 of 18 innings so far this series, the Yankees have been a Dennis Green punchline: “They were who we thought they were!” Yankee fans dreaded a continuation of the team’s lackluster performance in clutch situations this season, and that’s exactly what happened. The Bombers were 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and the Orioles were 3-for-6. In a related story, the Orioles won.
At this point, it’s not enough to wearily note that the Yanks are 3-for-13 with RISP for the series if you take out their five-run ninth inning in Sunday’s 7-2 Game 1 win. It’s not enough to mention in passing that the Yankees again had a runner on third with one out and failed to score, or that they went 0-for-4 with RISP and two outs in Game 2, or that Nick Swisher is 1-for-34 with RISP in the playoffs in his career. No, let’s break down each at-bat in Game 2 where the Yankees had at least one RISP.
A-Rod (runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs): A-Rod falls behind 1-2 but battles to stay alive, then lines a shot up the middle that is stabbed by a diving Robert Andino, who doubles Jeter off second for a double play.
Good At-Bat? Yes. Hard to quibble with a hard-hit ball — just a great defensive play by Andino.
Swisher (runner on 2nd, two outs): The aforementioned anti-clutch Swisher also falls behind 1-2 and grounds out weakly to shortstop to strand Cano at second.
Good At-Bat? No. Swisher was never in this at-bat, despite the fact that Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen had given up three hard-hit balls to the Yankees’ first four batters.
Cano (runners on 1st and 2nd, two outs): Cano falls behind 0-2 (fouling off a very hittable 0-1 fastball) and eventually taps weakly back to Chen for the third out.
Good At-Bat? No. Cano had a 93-mph fastball in the middle of the zone teed up for him on the 0-1 pitch and missed it. Some would argue that he juuuust missed it, which is true. But as my old basketball coach used to say: “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
Granderson (runners on 1st and 2nd, one out): Granderson gets ahead in the count 2-0 for a change and serves a 2-1 pitch back up the middle for a single that loads the bases.
Good At-Bat? Yes. Great approach by Granderson here — took a strike on 2-0 because he knew that even in a 2-1 count, Chen would have to challenge him for fear of walking the bases loaded. Only Teixeira’s bum calf kept him from scoring on the play.
Nunez (bases loaded, one out): Falls behind 1-2 after getting jobbed on a 1-1 offering from Chen that was three inches inside, eventually pops out weakly to short, no runners advance.
Good At-Bat? NO NO NO. Ugh. I get that the at-bat was dramatically altered by the strike call on the 1-1 pitch, but if you’re Nunez you cannot, CAN NOT pop out. Your speed on the bases makes a double play unlikely, so the two worst things you can do is strike out and pop up in the infield. Mission (un)accomplished, I guess.
Jeter (bases loaded, two out): Grounds weakly to third on a 1-1 pitch, inning over.
Good At-Bat? No. Chen successfully pounded Jeter inside, inducing one foul grounder and one groundout. Instead of laying off the 1-1 pitch and forcing Chen to give him something over the plate or outside (which he could hit to right field), Jeter rolled his hands over and ensured that the Yanks would roll over in another clutch situation.
Jeter (runner on 2nd, none out): Again, Jeter fell behind Chen, this time 0-2. But he fouled off two pitches and slapped a single to left to score Nunez and cut the Orioles’ lead to 3-2.
Good At-Bat? Yes. Probably the best at-bat by a Yankee with RISP for the game, as Jeter battled with two strikes, got a clutch hit and opened the door for a potential game-changing inning. Except…
Swisher (runners on 1st and 2nd, two outs): The first pitch of the at-bat was wild, allowing A-Rod and Cano to move up to 2nd and 3rd. Now a base hit gives the Yankees the lead and a potential hammer-lock on the series. Instead, Swisher takes two strikes looking — looking! — and flies out to left to end the inning.
Good At-Bat? ABSOLUTELY NOT. You’re up in the biggest at-bat of the game and you fly out to left on your only swing of the at-bat? Nothing good about that.
For those scoring at home, that’s three good at-bats out of eight, none of which came with two outs. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ two-run third inning came after there were two outs and no one on base and featured four hits and a walk. That’s a good month with RISP and two outs for the Yankees. That’s why the Orioles won despite having 8 baserunners to the Yankees’ 11.
I could go on, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to a truly impressive effort by Andy Pettitte. The Yanks’ veteran went seven innings and threw 98 pitches, by far his longest effort since he returned to action in late September. Yes, his hiccup in the third inning proved fatal. But Pettitte did everything he could to keep the Orioles at bay and give the Yankees a chance to come back, and he succeeded. The Yankee offense just failed to pick him up. If this is the last start for Pettitte, who is reportedly torn about coming back for one more year, then it was a performance worthy of the gutsiest postseason starting pitcher I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. Good on ya, Andy. Hopefully you can show your stuff again in the ALCS.