10/07/06 10:31 PM ET
Yanks left wondering what went wrong
After strong ALDS start, things quickly go south for Bombers
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
There were so many contributing factors to the demise of the Yankees, who were ousted by the Tigers in four games in this Division Series.
"It wasn't just the offense," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "It all happened so fast. I don't know what happened. It wasn't pretty. They played great baseball and we didn't. They earned it and we certainly deserved what we got by the way we played, too. You've got to play your best baseball in October. You cannot make any mistakes and expect to go forward."
The beginning of the end had to be the late innings of Game 2. It can't be forgotten that the Bronx Bombers charged out to a 3-1 lead after four innings of that game. They had the dependable Mike Mussina on the mound. And the Tigers were in a serious slump, having lost their last five games in the regular season, not to mention the opener of the postseason.
Mussina and his teammates let their guard down and the Yankees never recovered. Then the entire series was turned upside down.
"That was a very important game," said Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon. "In the playoffs, you expect that to be enough runs, especially with Moose on the mound. We had a chance to go up 2-0. We lost that chance. Who knows where we lost it at. But we lost."
The last two losses were somewhat of a blur for the Yankees, as Kenny Rogers fired a gem in Game 3 and Jeremy Bonderman did the same in the clincher.
The Tigers did all those little things that it takes to win in October. They moved runners, they pitched, they played terrific defense. The Yankees didn't do any of those things. And their hitting, dubbed by Tigers manager Jim Leyland just a few days ago as "Murderer's Row and Robinson Cano", did next to nothing.
The Yankees hit .246 in the series, and that number is misleading because of the eight runs they scored in Game 1. Meanwhile, the Tigers hit .309.
"They pretty much kicked our [butts]," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who had just one hit in 14 at-bats. "They pretty much dominated us in every facet of the game. That's the most frustrating part of this whole thing. It seemed like we didn't have a shot from the get-go."
For all the talk about the hitting -- and the Yankees did go an unfathomable 20 innings at one point without a run -- the pitching was also not up to par.
The Tigers had an ERA (3.60) nearly two runs lower than the Yankees (5.56).
Chien-Ming Wang was strong in Game 1. Mussina was OK in Game 2. Randy Johnson did his best to pitch through pain in Game 3, but gave up five runs over 5 2/3 innings. And Jaret Wright got shelled in Game 4.
That wasn't nearly enough to match the dazzling performances by Justin Verlander, Rogers and Bonderman.
All the pressure shifted to the Yankees' offense, which picked a bad time to go into a horrific slump.
Teams with best record in Majors (or share of) losing in Division Series since 2000
|2006 Yankees||97||Lost to Tigers in 4|
|2003 Braves||101||Lost to Cubs in 5|
|2002 A's||103||Lost to Twins in 5|
|2000 Giants||97||Lost to Mets in 4|
Damon, who prides himself on setting the tone, hit .235. Jason Giambi, who was benched for Game 4, was 1-for-8. Gary Sheffield, who rode the pine in Game 3, produced just one hit in 12 at-bats. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, both of whom hit .500, couldn't do it alone. Cano went 2-for-15.
"We didn't swing the bats well," said Jeter. "They pitched well. Verlander started it, and it seemed like everyone followed him."
Every year, it seems, the lesson is re-emphasized that postseason baseball is entirely unpredictable. Otherwise, a lot more people would have had the Tigers beating the Yankees.
"When you get there and everybody starts fresh, it's a new season for those eight teams," said Mussina. "When that new season starts, you have to be playing good baseball because everybody is good. That's why they're still playing."
And for a variety of reasons, some of them a lot more obvious than others, the Yankees are not.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.