October 15, 2012
NEW YORK — In the backs of their minds, the Yankees knew this day was coming. They've known it for a long time and viewed it with the kind of dread we normally reserve for old age, increased taxes and the occasional basement flood.
Derek Jeter wasn't in the dugout on Sunday, and you could feel the uneasiness in every corner of Yankee Stadium, especially the clubhouse at the end of a 3-0 loss to Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers.
Sanchez should have been the story in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. He and Hiroki Kuroda hooked up in a great pitchers' duel — the kind the Yankees have had too many of this month.
Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager, had a quaint way of praising his 28-year-old starter, acquired from the Marlins for top pitching prospect Jacob Turner in late July. He said he sometimes threw this when the Yankees were looking for that, and sometimes threw that when they were looking for this.
Kevin Long, the hitting coach for the misfiring Yankees, offered strong praise for Sanchez, who pitched the Tigers to a 2-0 lead in the series.
"Four pitches today, fastball up to 94, 95,'' Long said. "His slider was good, his changeup was very good. He's got the same arsenal as (Game 3 starter Justin) Verlander. We've got an uphill battle. We have to scratch and claw and try to turn it around.''
Sanchez's performance was much more than a footnote. But this game will be remembered most for the absence of Jeter, who broke his left ankle while fielding a grounder by Jhonny Peralta in the 12th inning on Saturday night, and possibly for Joe Girardi's postgame plea for instant replay in the playoffs. Oh, yes, and also a little for Girardi heading out afterward to attend his father Jerry's funeral in Peoria, en route to Detroit.
The start of the ALCS raised more questions than it answered, and the only ones it answered were about who should face the National League champ in the World Series. The Tigers are in great position to be that team.
For most, the lasting question is whether Jeter and his franchise will ever be the same after his injury.
Can the Yankees and their captain put the pieces back together? Will they ever be as strong together as they were at the start of the division series against the Orioles, before Jeter fouled a ball off his foot and developed a limp that caused him to come out of Game 3 and left him as a designated hitter in Game 4?
You hope Jeter can recover and finish his career in good shape. But there's very little history of 38-year-old shortstops — guys who need their lower body for quick reactions and the strength to get off strong throws — recovering from broken ankles to pick up where they left off.
And what about Jeter's ankle? Why did it snap on a seemingly innocuous grounder into the hole — the kind he has fielded over and over throughout a career in which he has stood for integrity in a sport rocked by repeated steroid revelations?
Jeter wasn't at Yankee Stadium to answer questions Sunday. He was undergoing tests and scheduling a visit to foot specialist Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., whom he will see while his teammates are in Detroit. He may need surgery.
The Yankees haven't disclosed the treatment he received during the division series, but did a cortisone shot compromise the ankle?
Girardi didn't address that question but backed away from saying this was a completely new injury, which he had said after Saturday's 6-4 loss.
"Maybe the soreness from the (previous) injuries that he had had something to do with this,'' Girardi said. "We have seen that happen a lot of times.'
With Mariano Rivera sidelined since destroying his right knee shagging BP flies in early May, Sunday marked the first time they played a postseason game without either Jeter or Rivera on the roster since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series, when they lost to the Dodgers (their shortstop then was Larry Milbourne, their closer Goose Gossage).
Journeyman Jayson Nix had an uneventful day replacing Jeter, who led the majors with 216 hits. But the Yankees got only four hits against Sanchez and lefty reliever Phil Coke, which was partly why Girardi was so upset when second base umpire Jeff Nelson missed a call that should have ended the eighth inning.
Nelson called Omar Infante safe at second base when replays showed Robinson Cano tag him before he got back on the bag after Nick Swisher threw behind him. Pinch hitter Avisail Garcia and Miguel Cabrera then drove home runs, and during a pitching change Girardi was ejected.
He said umpires had missed calls that could have changed the first two games and argued that it's time for baseball to use replay to get calls right. He meant what he said. He had a point. But he didn't have his father and he didn't have his 13-time All-Star shortstop.
Everything else must seem like a blur.
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