Jeter—coming off a performance that epitomizes his career as a playoff hero—and the New York Yankees try to push Verlander and the Detroit Tigers to the brink of elimination as their AL Division Series continues with Game 2 Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The teams were scheduled to play Wednesday night. But with tens of thousands in attendance, and little rain falling, the game was postponed after a delay of nearly two hours.
Verlander went to left field and starting throwing but never went to the bullpen mound. He said the biggest challenge would be calming down Wednesday night to get ready to pitch Thursday.
“It might be pretty tough to get sleep tonight, you know, once I got up for the game tonight,” he said.
Mike Mussina, who starts for New York, never warmed up.
“It rains all the time when I pitch so it’s not that big of deal,” he said. “This is routine for me. Rain, it’s always routine.”
The Yankees head into this game hoping not to have lost any momentum created in Game 1 by Jeter.
A four-time World Series winner, Jeter went 5-for-5 with two doubles, a solo homer and three runs as the Yankees began their bid for their first title since 2000 with an 8-4 victory Tuesday night.
While becoming the sixth player in postseason history with five hits in a game, Jeter continued to show the hustle and solid fundamental play that has marked his career. He started a key inning-ending double play defensively in the third inning, and got into scoring position by stretching singles into doubles during rallies in the third and sixth innings.
“The thing is, every at-bat means something,” said Jeter, who joined teammate Hideki Matsui among the five players with five-hit postseason games. “You know, you’re not always going to come through. There’s been plenty of times that I haven’t.
“But when I’m in that situation, I feel as though I’m going to produce, or if I come up with a hit or make a play. It’s big for us, but it means absolutely nothing unless we win (Wednesday) night.”
The veteran shortstop raised his career playoff average to .315 and is hitting .376 with nine homers and 20 RBIs in 43 AL division series games, hitting safely in 35 of them.
“He just seems to relish this atmosphere,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He’s been so big for us for 11 years here.”
Verlander, a leading candidate for AL rookie of the year after going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, now faces the daunting task of slowing down Jeter and the Yankees in his playoff debut.
After skipping his last scheduled regular-season start to rest his tired arm, the 23-year-old left-hander is determined to be aggressive against New York’s potent lineup.
“I think that’s where you might be able to get in trouble is if you pitch differently or change your approach to these guys. There is no let-up, one through nine, they’re good hitters all the way through,” Verlander said. “You can’t tip-toe around one guy to get to the next guy. “I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done all year, be aggressive and just go after them.”
Ironically, Verlander may be drawing inspiration from his opponent in this game. Growing up in suburban Richmond, Va., Verlander had the opportunity to watch Mussina pitch in high-pressure situations with Baltimore as a teen-ager and now gets the chance to face him.
“You know, it’s kind of an honor to throw against him. I used to watch him all the time,” Verlander said. “(He) really knows how to set up hitters and use his stuff. Obviously a great pitcher, one of the best in the league, not only this year but for a long time now.”
The 37-year-old Mussina has a 7-7 record and 3.30 ERA in 21 lifetime playoff starts and 22 overall appearances. But the right-hander has just one win in his last five ALDS starts for New York and was the losing pitcher in last year’s decisive Game 5 against the Los Angeles Angels, giving up five runs and six hits in just 2 2-3 innings.
After starting three previous playoff series for the Yankees as their Game 1 starter, Mussina is excited about the prospect of following winning pitcher Chien-Ming Wang’s strong outing.
“I always thought the second game was a pretty big deal,” said Mussina, who went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA this season. “But after Game 2, there’s three scenarios. You’re either up two, down two, or even.
“A lot of times in these series, if it’s two games to nothing, one way or the other, you feel you’re in a pretty bad spot. So I think the second game is a big deal.”
Mussina’s lone start against the Tigers this season was an impressive one, a six-hitter in New York’s 6-1 victory May 31 at Comerica Park. He is 17-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 29 lifetime starts against the Tigers, but only 2-2 with a 3.25 ERA in five starts while pitching for the Yankees against them and 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts at Yankee Stadium versus Detroit.
The Tigers were able to take some positives from the game, most notably rallying for three runs in the fifth to cut their deficit to 5-3 and give themselves a chance to win heading into the later innings.
Perhaps more importantly, though, was a lesson learned in the importance of manufacturing playoff runs. Detroit ended a potential rally in the second when Ivan Rodriguez failed to make contact on a hit-and-run, resulting in Magglio Ordonez being thrown out trying to steal third for the first out of the inning.
“The big thing is, you learn right away, you’ve got to manufacture as much as you can and get those runs across,” Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said. “If we go ahead and get a couple of runs across in the first, second and third innings, it’s a different story.”