For miracle run, Yankees of old must return
DETROIT -- There are two things that must be kept in mind, even as the outcome of the 2012 American League Championship Series appears almost certain:
1: The New York Yankees still have hope.
2: What the Yankees don't have at the moment is hitting.
Here are the Yankees, as though they were wandering in the wilderness, finding themselves alone in the land of the ultimate underdog.
The Yankees, who at times during their history have owned the postseason landscape, trail the Detroit Tigers, three games to none, in the ALCS. The third defeat was administered on Tuesday night, 2-1.
The way the Yankees are not hitting, it could be argued that the outcome was decided some time before that, when Tigers manager Jim Leyland settled on Justin Verlander as his Game 3 starter. Ordinarily, this would be a great matchup, the premier pitcher of our time against one of the best offenses in the game.
But on Tuesday night, it was no contest. The great Verlander was facing the slump-ridden Yankees. The right-hander would have had to be way off his game to lose this one. He wasn't at his absolute best, but the Yankees' offense was still away without leave. Verlander allowed one run on three hits over 8 1/3 innings. Not until the ninth could the Yankees score a run. But they couldn't find another.
The Yankees are hitting .200 as a team in the postseason. In eight games, they have scored 21 runs. In three games against Detroit, they have scored only five runs, four of them off Jose Valverde, who was demoted from his role as the Tigers' closer after the Yankees' Game 1 outburst.
So how can it fairly be said that the Yankees have hope? Their hope is in the other half of the game. On Wednesday night in Game 4, the Yankees will send their ace, CC Sabathia, to the mound. He is their best shot, although at this point, he might appear to be their last shot.
If Sabathia and the Yankees win Game 4, they would have Andy Pettitte to start Game 5. If they win Game 5, they would have Hiroki Kuroda starting Game 6. And for the cosmic comeback in Game 7? Sabathia, on short rest.
In this trio of proven postseason veterans is the promise, at the very least, of the Yankees being kept in every game. They have, in fact, pitched well enough to win all eight of their postseason games this October. But their anemic offense has led them to just three wins. Both Sabathia and Kuroda have pitched superbly, and Pettitte has certainly pitched well enough to win.
With hitting even marginally better than the Yankees have so far displayed, it would not be too much to expect this team to win games that are started by Sabathia, Kuroda or Pettitte. It is fair at this juncture, when the Yankees have scored one run in the ALCS since Game 1, to ask whether the notion of this club generating any more offense is a real possibility or a dream.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi pressed some buttons on Tuesday night. He did not sit passively and accept defeat. He did not stand pat with a losing hand, although it is a new experience, regarding the usual Yankees lineup as a losing hand.
Brett Gardner got his first start of this postseason in left field, sending Ichiro Suzuki to right and Nick Swisher, who has never done much in the postseason for this club, to the bench. Eduardo Nunez got the start at shortstop over Jayson Nix. Eric Chavez started at third over Alex Rodriguez.
This much worked: Nunez led off the ninth inning with a home run. The Yankees then went on to stage the closest thing they have had to a rally in the last two games, putting the tying and lead runs on base against interim closer Phil Coke. One of their two singles here came from Robinson Cano, who ended his record run of postseason futility at 29 consecutive hitless at-bats. Ironically, the final out, a strikeout, was made by Raul Ibanez, the one Yankees player who had been hitting the ball with some force and regularity.
The Yankees are now left with the strength of their pitching as exhibited nightly in this postseason, and their own previously demonstrated ability to rise to the occasion. Whatever confidence they retain in their hitting is strictly a matter of faith, a belief in a power that, lately, has been unseen.
"You know, the one thing about this group that I'm very proud of is they have overcome a lot this year, and there is nothing that has come easy for us," Girardi said. "You can start with the first three games of the year -- we got swept.
"And it has been a battle the whole year, and they have found a way to get it done. And that's what we're going to have to do."
The best-case scenario for the Yankees calls for continued top-shelf pitching performances. This is wholly realistic. But it would also require an element of offense that has been largely absent this postseason. The Yankees still have hope, but the hope won't stand alone without the hitting.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.