The Detroit Tigers didn’t win the American League pennant Wednesday night. But strategically speaking, they won the rainout.
When Major League Baseball postponed Game 4 until Thursday, the Tigers benefited in two ways: CC Sabathia will no longer be available to pitch a potential Game 7 for the New York Yankees, and Detroit reliever Phil Coke — who temporarily ascended to the closer’s role amid Jose Valverde’s struggles — should be available to pitch in Game 4. (Tigers manager Jim Leyland had said Coke would be off Wednesday, after closing back-to-back games.)
MLB postponed Game 4 because the forecast left doubt concerning the potential to play nine innings, under the rule that postseason games must be played to completion; heavy rain hit downtown Detroit in what would have been the middle innings.
The Tigers’ potential windfall stood in sharp contrast to last postseason, when two Justin Verlander starts turned into Detroit losses after being interrupted by rain.
Apart from speculation about the weather, conversation at Comerica Park was dominated by the Yankees’ evolving lineup saga. With his team down 3-0 in the series and facing elimination, New York manager Joe Girardi wrote out a batting order he’d never used all season.
Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson were the slumping regulars left out, as Girardi went with an outfield of Ichiro Suzuki in left, Brett Garner in center and Nick Swisher in right. Eric Chavez replaced Rodriguez at third base for the second straight game.
Since the Game 4 starting pitchers will remain the same — Sabathia for New York, Max Scherzer for Detroit — there isn’t much of a chance Girardi will change his lineup before the revised first pitch time of 4:07 p.m. ET Thursday.
So, the Yankees were left to hope that Girardi had finally made the right roulette pull, in his desperate effort to rouse a lineup that has batted just .182 in this series.
“You’ve got to go with any and everything you can,” said Granderson, who batted just .103 in his first eight games this postseason. “You mix things up. You move guys up and down. Guys in, guys out — whatever you happen to do. That’s just part of it. This isn’t the first time this lineup has been changed. I’m an example of it. I’ve batted pretty much in every spot of the lineup all season. This is definitely not the first time.”
Granderson said he wasn’t surprised by the change. When Girardi told him, Granderson said he responded, “I’ll be ready whenever you need me.”
Apart from any tinkering, the Yankees’ hopes probably rest with one hitter who’s been in the lineup for every postseason game. Robinson Cano, the team’s best all-around player, finally ended his 0-for-29 slump (the record for a single postseason) in the ninth inning of Game 3.
“I’m going to be honest: I’ve been feeling good the whole series,” Cano said. “The only thing (I’ve had) is bad luck, a lot of hits right at people. But it’s good to at least get the first one.”
Assuming Girardi doesn’t change his lineup, Rodriguez will be benched for a third time in the Yankees’ past five postseason games. Based on that, one could interpret A-Rod’s absence from the lineup as stale news. But with him, there is no such thing.
Rodriguez’s image has been pulverized in recent days, for reasons ranging from a .130 postseason batting average to a New York Post report that said he flirted with two female fans from the dugout during the Yankees’ Game 1 loss to Detroit.
“Some of the criticism out there is very fair — I can live with that,” Rodriguez said. “But some of the other stuff is not fair. You just move on. You don’t worry about it. I’ve been in New York a long time.”
It’s not clear when — or if — Rodriguez will get the opportunity to redeem himself this postseason. Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have pointed to Rodriguez’s season-long struggles against right-handed pitching as the cause of his benching. Given Detroit’s all-righty rotation, the possibility exists that Rodriguez has taken his last at-bat of the season.
Already, the questions are turning to A-Rod’s future with the Yankees. He has five years and $118 million left on his contract after this year, making him virtually unmovable unless the Yankees eat the vast majority of the money or take on multiple bad contracts from another team. The Miami Marlins — in Rodriguez’s hometown — are the only plausible destination, but Cashman denied a report that he’s had trade talks with the Marlins about A-Rod.
The more pressing issue might be whether the relationship between A-Rod and Girardi has been negatively affected to the point that they can’t coexist in 2013. When Girardi first pinch-hit for Rodriguez in the AL Division Series — a successful move that led to Raul Ibañez’s tying and game-winning home runs — A-Rod insisted that he loved his manager.
When asked a similar question Wednesday, Rodriguez paused several seconds before answering.
“Um … I think Joe and I … The one thing I will give Joe a lot of credit, he’s been very good to me over the years,” Rodriguez told reporters. “So, he has a lot of equity with me. For me, it’s tough. I’m a competitor. That’s all I’ve known since I was 5 years old. My dad played baseball as well. I love to compete. I really feel, in my heart, anytime I’m in the lineup the team is a better team.
“We’ll disagree there today. But I like Joe. I support Joe.”
When asked if he wants to stay with the Yankees, A-Rod didn’t answer directly. “I love the Yankees,” he said. “I love this organization.” And even though he has a full no-trade clause, he passed up an opportunity to rule out a move to Miami.
So, stay tuned.
As for the ALCS itself, the most optimistic Tigers fans could have looked upon the rainout as good news. They didn’t want their team to clinch too quickly and have a long layoff before Game 1 of the World Series — which many believe helped doom their championship hopes in 2006.
The Yankees remain hopeful that there will be a quick turnaround between the ALCS and World Series — from Game 7 Sunday in the Bronx to Game 1 next Wednesday in St. Louis or San Francisco. To get that far, the Yankees will need to win behind Sabathia in Game 4 and then find a way to reel off three more victories without their ace — except perhaps in a relief cameo.
“Why are you going to think about Game 7 when you need to win three in a row?” Cano asked, in response to a question about Sabathia’s apparent unavailability for the winner-take-all game. “You have to go game by game, then figure out what you can do in Game 7.”