October 04, 2011
DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers' 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees on Monday night was the best kind of postseason game: A never-ending chain of 73 plate appearances, each one a little more important than the last, some being won and survived by the batter and the rest being won or survived by the pitcher. With Monday's winner being awarded a chance to advance on Tuesday, the drama made it impossible to turn away.
And, like any great ballgame, Game 3 of the ALDS at Comerica Park came right down to the end — with the tying run on second, the go-ahead run at first and Derek Jeter(notes) coming to the plate with two outs in the ninth.
That Valverde would admit to getting aggressive with the Yankees' aging star is not a shocking statement on par with his "it's over" guarantee after Game 2. The only base he could afford to give up was third and, even if Valverde surrendered it for his third walk of the inning, he or another reliever would have to move on to face Curtis Granderson(notes). And then maybe Robinson Cano(notes), Alex Rodriguez(notes) and, well, who knows where it would all end up. Not getting Jeter would probably mean not getting a chance to shut this whole series down on Tuesday without heading back to New York for a Game 5.
And so Valverde came at Jeter.
The first pitch was a 94 mph fastball. Jeter got a good look at it, but ripped it past the backstop. The crowd gasped as though Valverde had just gotten away with something, though Jeter would later say that the strike was a little too high for him to hit the three-run homer that someone in the pressbox claimed he had just missed.
"If I didn't swing at it, it was a strike anyway," Jeter said.
The second pitch was a 94 mph fastball. Jeter watched it go by and the Yankees were down to their final strike. The Comerica Park crowd grew louder.
The third pitch was a 94 mph fastball. This is what it looked like:
"I missed it," Papa Grande later said, claiming that his intentions were pure. "He has been playing for too long [for me to come so close]."
Valverde may not have been telling the whole truth here, but when you stand high over the plate like Jeter does, you're susceptible to being buzzed. As the owner of an 0-2 count, Valverde had a pitch to burn in the name of space and the result as a jackpot for the TBS director who showed all angles of the brushback as Valverde and Jeter got ready for their next round.
The fourth pitch was an 85 mph splitter that just missed the bottom of the zone. Perhaps it would have been a strike for others, but not for Derek Jeter and especially not for Derek Jeter in the top of the ninth with an elimination game just one pitch away.
The fifth pitch was — you guessed it — a 94 mph fastball. Jeter swung through it and the series of battles was officially over. Valverde danced near the mound. Jeter made for the dugout and said he was already thinking about the first at-bat he'll take on Tuesday.
"It's over with, done with, you want to get a hit but it didn't happen," Jeter said. "We play again in a few hours so you have to have a very short memory."