Heading into Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday, Oct. 16, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave into desperation.
Preparing to face the best pitcher on the planet in Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, Girardi sat down slumping Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. He rolled the dice with Brett Gardner, who hadn't started a game since April and missed most of the season with an elbow injury, an idea that even a few days ago Girardi dismissed. With Gardner in left field, Ichiro Suzuki moved over to his natural position in right.
Eric Chavez was inserted at third base in place of Rodriguez and Girardi also sat down Jayson Nix and tabbed Eduardo Nunez to start at shortstop in place of the injured Derek Jeter.
It didn't matter. A Yankee attack that was second in the big leagues with 804 runs during the regular season continued to be completely toothless, mustering just five hits and one lone run off Verlander and reliever Phil Coke in a 2-1 loss.
It's not as if Verlander was dominant, at least not in the middle innings. Slowed by a long delay after Yankee starter Phil Hughes left with a stiff back in the top of the fourth, Verlander had trouble locating his pitches for a couple of innings, but had enough pure stuff to keep New York's bats at bay.
New York didn't score until the ninth, when Nunez belted a home run off Verlander to break up what would have been Detroit's second straight shutout in the series. Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano singled off Coke to put runners on first and second but Raul Ibanez - the Yankees' lone bright spot at the plate this offseason - struck out on a full-count curveball and that, as they say, was that.
CC Sabathia gets the task of trying to keep the Yankees afloat on Wednesday, Oct. 17, against Tiger fireballer Max Scherzer.
Rodriguez' descent into oblivion continued unabated on Tuesday. Girardi opted to leave in Ibanez to face Coke despite Ibanez's struggles against left-handers during the regular season. The lefty swinger was just 12-for-61 (.197) off left-handers this year with no home runs, even though his big game-winning homer in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles did come off left-hander Brian Matusz.
The other move would have been to pinch hit Rodriguez for Ibanez and force Detroit manager Jim Leyland into a counter-move, which would have been to bring in right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Benoit has a 5.52 ERA since the All-Star break but Girardi has so little confidence in Rodriguez' bat right now, he opted to stay with the Ibanez-Coke matchup.
Since the ALCS switched to a seven-game format in 1985, four teams have been down 3-0 and only one of those-the 2004 Boston Red Sox-came back to win. It was against the Yankees and several players, including Rodriguez, were on the roster for that debacle.
The other three teams, the Red Sox in both 1988 and 1990 and the Oakland Athletics in 2006, were all swept.
This series is down to one factor. It doesn't matter how much the New York Yankees want it. If they continue not to hit, nothing else is going to matter.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor for several daily newspapers in the U.S. for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.