Yankees, Cano Power Past Tigers in Game One

After the near 23 hour rain delay, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers were finally able to resume game one in the bottom of the second inning. Doug Fister started slowly, allowing a leadoff single to Jorge Posada, followed by a Russell Martin double. But, a Jorge Posada baserunning mistake and strikeouts of Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson allowed Fister to escape unscathed. From there until the fifth inning, Fister and Yankees reliever/starter Ivan Nova would provide a pitching duel that usually marks a game one of a playoff series. In the fifth inning, Fister’s pinpoint control began to betray him as he started missing spots and the Yankees started to make better contact. Robinson Cano doubled home a run in the the fifth, but Fister was able to escape trailing just 2-1. Fister’s control betrayed him in the sixth as he walked two, gave up three hits and left with the bases loaded in the sixth. Jim Leyland chose to bring in Al Alburqurque to face Cano, who promptly hit a grand slam. Nova would cruise and the Yankees would go on to win game one 8-1.

The second inning start did make for a different vibe. Although the score was tied, it was Jorge Posada leading off the inning. Justin Verlander’s pitching line was being read in the background of the pressbox. But, Doug Fister and Ivan Nova were the story of the early part of the game. Fister was never a strikeout pitcher. He came into the season averaging just 5 strikeouts per nine innings, which is barely a total sustainable in order to be an average Major League pitcher. Since coming to Detroit in a mid-season trade with the Mariners, Fister has dramatically increased his strikeout total, striking out 7.3 batters per nine innings. He did strikeout 6 in 4.2 innings. Fister, however, is a pitcher who relies on pinpoint control in order to compensate for sub par stuff. For his first three innings of work, he was able to hit his spots. He began to show signs in the fifth as the Yankees’ were noticeably aggressive and making better contact. Fister showed the positive and negative of his game in the start. He’s one of the most well prepared pitchers in the game, which helps him attack hitters. But, his stuff doesn’t allow for mistakes. The final line–4.2 innings, 6 runs on 6 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts–is ugly and doesn’t indicate how well he pitched in his first few innings.

Meanwhile the Yankees’ Ivan Nova’s poise was noticeable in his first playoff experience. He’d throw two clean innings before running into trouble in the fifth inning. He walked Alex Avila, which was followed up by two singles. On the second single, Avila tried to score, but was called out as a result of a perfect relay from Curtis Granderson to Derek Jeter to Russell Martin. Nova would walk a batter in each of the next two innings, but would limit the damage from there. After the fifth inning, Nova was staked to a big lead, but his poise during the tie game gives an indication of his makeup, even if he couldn’t finish the game. The Yankees’ rookie would get the win with 6.1 innings, allowing 4 hits, 4 walks, and 5 strikeouts.

Nova would have to fight the typical nerves that all pitchers face with their first playoff appearance. ”I was excited and had to slow down everything,” said Nova, ”A quick inning like in a situation like today just lets you know that everything is the same (as the regular season).”

His Manager agreed.  ”I thought he controlled his emotions well. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he pitched to contact was able to give us a great game. He almost allowed us to not use or bullpen,” said Joe Girardi.

Game one may have been the moment the world finally got to know Robinson Cano. Cano has been an All-Star for the past two seasons. He finished third in last season’s MVP voting. But, Cano has been one of the game’s best players for the past few seasons. It has been a while since a single player dominated a playoff game. Robinson Cano dominated game one of the Division Series. Cano drove in the Yankees’ second run with a double off the top of the left field wall. In the sixth inning, he hit a 0-1 pitch  out for a grand slam. He would double in the Yankees 9th run in the eighth inning with another double. His 3 for 5 day contained 2 doubles, a homerun, and 6 RBI was just the type of night to give a National audience a glimpse into the player Cano has been for the past two years.

The lone questionable decision of the game was Jim Leyland’s choice to bring in Al Albuquerque, a right hander,  to face Cano in the sixth inning with the bases loaded. While the situation may have been suited for a left handed reliever, it didn’t matter with someone such as Cano. The Yankees’ second baseman performs equally with a .314/.354/.525 slash line against southpaws compared to a .296/.347/.537 against right handers. Cano isn’t a hitter where a Manager would choose a specialist. Instead, he chooses the best reliever. Leyland brought in Albuquerque who pitched 43.1 innings during the regular season while allowing just 21 hits, 9 runs, 29 walks, and 67 strikeouts. Most importantly, he hadn’t given up a h0merun all season. The move was the proper one. Cano just did what elite hitters do; they hit anyone.

“That’s one for everyone to second guess. To me, it was a no brainer. Lefties are hitting .177 against him. Cano is hitting .314 against left handers. That’s why he’s (Albuquerque) so valuable for us. He gets both right handers and left handers out. If Granderson gets a hit, I bring in Schlereth, but Alberquerque has been one of the best in the game at stranding runners.”

For Cano, the ascension the central part of the Yankees’ attack is complete. Joe Girardi saw this coming. “You look at what he’s done for us the last few years for us, he’s been a force. You look at the damage he did last year in the playoffs. We’ve talked about moving him up, but we’ve had players blocking him. He’s blossomed into a great player,” said the Yankees Manager. Girardi does deserve credit for moving Cano to the third spot in the order at the end of the season. If not for the move, Cano doesn’t have the opportunities. With Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez struggling, the same result isn’t guaranteed.

The move to the third spot hasn’t changed Cano at all. It is merely a conclusion from mastering and honing his skills. ”I think he’s learned to pull the ball, drive the ball, and I think he’s learned how to hit in big situations,” stated Girardi. The Yankees Manager also likes that Cano hasn’t changed anything. ”It (his success) tells me that he doesn’t change his approach, which is what you want from him”

The Tigers tried to make it interesting in the ninth by scoring 2 runs in the ninth, but Joe Girardi did something a bit different. At the start of the inning, Mariano Rivera was tossing in the bullpen. It was probably just the beginning of a side session to get some work in, but with the bases loaded and a six run lead, Rivera was ready quickly. He struck out Wilson Betemit to end the game.

Down by one game, the Tigers will turn to Max Scherzer, a high strikeout pitcher who is flyball prone. Originally, he was to start game three in Detroit, a much better environment rather than the homerun haven of Yankee Stadium. Scherzer averages 8 K/9 and was 2-0 in his two starts against the Yankees. Those starts show the best and worst Scherzer has to offer. He struck out 15 batters in 13 innings, but allowed 4 homeruns and 6 runs in the process. He’ll be opposed by the Freddy Garcia, the former power pitcher turned crafty veteran. Garcia isn’t a strikeout pitcher (5.9 K/9), but he is someone who relies on change of speed and location to be successful. In his one start against the Tigers, he allowed 10 hits and 4 runs in 7 innings. He did, however, strike out 8 batters. Garcia also might have fared better in Detroit, but he’s thrown to a 3.98 ERA in 13 starts at Yankee Stadium.

Although the Yankees won the first game, game two is likely very important. Joe Girardi hinted at that after the game, “They are a dangerous club and we know that. It’s always nice to win the first one, but tomorrow is an important game.” Tomorrow is an important game because of the rainout aftershocks. The Tigers already adjusted their rotation. Girardi announced his after the game. ”Right now, we are planning on CC on Monday and AJ on Tuesday,” said Girardi. That means the Yankees have a Garcia for game two, followed by the marquee match up in game three and A.J. Burnett in game four. There is quite a bit of uncertainty with Verlander having the ability to dominate the Yankees bats and Burnett being so inconsistent. The Yankees needed game one, but game two looks to be even more important.