NEW YORK – Contrary to the premonitions of the noted closer Nostra Grande, who foretold of the collapse of the New York Yankees and rise of the Detroit Tigers – in four, no less – this American League Division Series persists.
"Over" doesn't mean what it used to, not with Curtis Granderson(notes) scattered across center field, or A.J. Burnett(notes) discovering his inner survivalist, or the incendiary tendencies of the Tigers' middle relievers.
The Yankees on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium enter their first winner-take-all game since October 2005, when they lost in the division series to the Los Angeles Angels, and the Tigers to their first since the 1972 AL Championship Series, which they lost to the Oakland Athletics.
Winner gets the Texas Rangers, beginning Saturday night.
Loser starts over.
In a series interrupted by rain, initiated by Robinson Cano(notes), invigorated by Miguel Cabrera(notes), incited by Valverde, incarcerated by Justin Verlander(notes), and inspired by Granderson (not to mention in shock by Burnett), someone's clearing out.
As usual, it is the Yankees with the most to lose.
[Related: Three Game 5s left in LDS]
In the final days of September, when the Yankees were coasting and the Boston Red Sox weren't, the Red Sox had all the problems and the Yankees had enough, if not all, of the solutions.
Six days into October, here's what a leisurely September, another $40 million in payroll, and a reasonable second starter will get you: Three extra home dates, presumed job security for the manager and general manager, and a pair of sudden-death games in the division series.
And that's about it. For them, that's not near enough.
The Yankees – of 97 wins, of the AL East title, of all the Red Sox weren't – risk being done a week and a day after the Red Sox were. Since the Red Sox went home, nudged aside their manager, greased the hinges on the GM's door and tried to misremember John Lackey(notes) and Carl Crawford(notes), the Yankees won two games. Win a third, have the Rangers in for a best-of-seven ALCS, and the outline of a better than decent season forms. Lose a third, and they have to think long and hard about what they've gained here, and whether the division title was their doing – or the Red Sox's.
After all, take away the five playoff games for New York, thread out the three-week brain lock and the in-game keggers for Boston, and the Yankees and Red Sox really aren't that different.
They shop till they drop, they run light on pitching, and when games have to be won neither has the rotational depth to feel the slightest bit comfortable about it.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they survived the Freddy Garcia(notes)/Burnett portion of their rotation spread over three tense days, which sandwiched a mediocre performance by ace CC Sabathia(notes). From that, however, they emerged with a chance to finish the Tigers with Nova, whose 16 wins led all rookies, and whose near-nine runs of support per game was second in all of baseball.
This isn't to say the Tigers would be satisfied with a division title and a bucket of Yankee sweat.
They wouldn't be.
The fact is, however, the Tigers have been a little tougher to keep track of lately. After the 2006 World Series team, they skipped the postseason for four years, during which they scuttled from second place to fifth and back, endured a Red Sox-ian collapse of their own, then got it together for 95 wins this season. Of the two critical pickups by general manager Dave Dombrowski, one – Delmon Young(notes) – bats third and the other – Fister – will get his second start of the series.
And it was a grand couple days in Detroit, given the rebirth of the Lions and the big crowds for the Tigers. One old guy hanging around the ballpark Tuesday night, a man in a freshly pressed, 20-year-old frayed suit, smiled happily and predicted to passersby, "We'll be drinkin' Champagne tonight, yes we will."
Well, maybe he did, but the Tigers didn't.
Instead, they schlepped back to New York, hoped the Yankees would have to start pitching to Cabrera again, and tried not to regret the game in which they wobbled but could not knock out Burnett.
So they're going to play out the series, as far as it can go, beyond even Valverde's wildest speculation.
Jim Leyland on Wednesday afternoon raised his eyebrows, along with his bony shoulders.
"I wish I could tell you what's going to happen," he said, "but I don't know."
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