It's officially do-or-die time for the New York Yankees. Their backs are against the wall, there is no tomorrow, and they've got to do the impossible. They have to take it one game at a time, and overcome the odds, but they're playing with house money tonight so all that's left is to go out and do it.
Did I cover all the cliches for the 0-3 hole the Yanks are in? Good. Glad that's out of the way. In all seriousness, the Yankees are in the best possible situation they could be for a must-win game tonight. They're got their ace on the mound, they've got their 2 best relief pitchers rested and available for 2 innings apiece if needed, and they've got a lineup that at least showed the ability to battle last night against the best pitcher on the planet. That doesn't change the fact that a win tonight only guarantees them one more day of must-win-ness, but it's something.
It's as simple as it could possibly be. The Yankees need to win tonight or their season is over. No stats needed to support that, no arguments for or against anything, and no looking ahead to the next situation. Win tonight or it's curtains.
Updated Starting Lineups (4:25PM)-
NYY: 1) Ichiro- LF, 2) Swish- RF, 3) Cano- 2B, 4) Teix- 1B, 5) Ibanez- DH, 6) Chavez- 3B, 7) Martin- C, 8) Gardner- CF, 9) Nunez- SS
DET: 1) Jackson- CF, 2) Infante- 2B, 3) Cabrera- 3B, 4) Fielder- 1B, 5) Young- DH, 6) Peralta- SS, 7) Dirks- LF, 8) Garcia- RF, 9) Laird- C
CC Sabathia (17.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 16 K in 2 postseason starts) vs. Max Scherzer (5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K in 1 postseason start)
3 Things to Watch For:
1) Small Changes
After just 1 run last night, scored in the 9th inning, of course all the talk about lineup changes was going to come up again for tonight's game. But if I were Joe, I wouldn't erase the drawing board and start from scratch tonight. I'd stick with the same general lineup he rolled with last night, with maybe some slight edits here and there. Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki were productive at the top of the order last night, Teix and Ibanez are still putting good at-bats together behind them, and even Robinson Cano got a hit in the 9th to snap his record-setting hitless streak. If anything, I would put Swish back in right and bat him 8th, move Ichiro back to left, sit Curtis Granderson, and play Gardner in center. Everybody else can and should stay where they were in the lineup last night.
2) Aces & 8s
I'm not saying I want CC to wear a mask, pretend he's in a biker gang, and talk through a voice modulator, but he needs to be on his A-game again tonight. With there still being no signs of real life offensively, the Yanks have to approach this like it's going to be a low-scoring game. And to be on the winning end of that low score, they need their ace to come up bigger than he has in his first 2 postseason starts. 8 innings from CC would be ideal, more than that if he's got the gas in the tank for it, and 2 runs allowed is the absolute max. You always have to like your chances with your ace on the mound, and CC needs to set the tone with another lockdown performance tonight.
3) A Sign Of Life
Something, anything. It was another exhibition in lackluster, lifeless baseball last night until the 9th inning, when Eduardo Nunez's at-bat against Verlander and subsequent HR sparked a rally. If that late-game comeback did anything to carry over into today, it needs to show early. There needs to be some energy to the Yankees' game from the time the first pitch leaves Scherzer's hand. Every inning that a 0 goes up on the Yankees' side of the scoreboard is good for Detroit and puts more pressure on the lineup. They really need to get some runs, put the pressure on Scherzer and the Tigers for a change, and give CC something to work with.
And on Nunez, I know with CC and his groundball tendencies back on the mound tonight there is a case to be made for putting Jayson Nix back at short, but I think Nunez has to stay because of what he brings to the table offensively. He can be the spark plug this team needs, and Joe has to take a chance on possible defensive mishaps to get that offensive payoff.
Players To Watch:
New York- Gardner
He didn't look overmatched or rusty at all last night after not starting a game since mid-April. Gardner did what he always does, he battled. He saw 23 pitches in 4 plate appearances against Justin Verlander last night, taking 7 pitches for balls and fouling off another 7. His contact skills weren't pinpoint, there were probably a few pitches in his 4th-inning at-bat that he could have squared up, but his overall pitch recognition was there and so was his plate discipline. Gardner also looked smooth and easy in the field, something that can almost never be said about Curtis Granderson, and I for one want to see Gardner get the start in center tonight and Curtis get a night on the pine. It'll be another tough task for Gardner tonight against Scherzer, but if he can continue to work counts and find a way to get on base a few times, he can cause some havoc.
Detroit- Delmon Young
I don't understand how he's doing it either, but Young just plays big in the postseason. He's got 3 XBH and 5 RBI in the first 3 games of this series, hitting the ball hard against both the lefty Andy Pettite and the righty Phil Hughes. He comes into tonight's game just 6-24 lifetime against CC, with 3 doubles and 6 strikeouts, but CC won't be taking him for granted. Approaching Young intelligently and not letting him get going is a must for tonight, and I expect to see a lot of fastballs down and away from CC to try to get ahead and to set up the slider for the strikeout pitch. We'll see if Young has learned anything about going the other way from Miggy.
If the sun is going to set on the 2012 New York Yankees tonight, at least they'll go down with their best out there. I'm only slightly more confident in them tonight than I was last night, and that's only because of CC, so we'll see if this team has any heart or life left in it. There's only one way out of the mess they're in, and that's to win tonight.