Tigers win in extras, Jeter's season over

Tigers win in extras, Jeter's season over
October 14, 2012, 6:30 am
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NEW YORK -- Three innings earlier, Raul Ibanez had, incredibly, struck again, rocketing another improbable homer into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium, giving his team new life, one more time.

It was the third homer of this post-season for Ibanez. All three have come in the ninth inning or later, making Ibanez the unlikeliest of October heroes for these New York Yankees.

It seemed like this game was headed in the same direction as Game 4 of the Division Series against Baltimore, when Ibanez tied the game in the ninth with a pinch-hit homer, then won it in the 12th.

A two-run homer from Ichiro Suzuki -- the first post-season homer of his career -- and the one from Ibanez, both off embattled closer Jose Valverde, had wiped out a 4-0 Detroit Tigers lead in the span of four batters.

Surely, this night, like so many October nights in this ballpark or the one it replaced across the street, would have a happy ending for the Yankees.

Except it didn't. Not hardly.

In the 12th inning, the Tigers took the game back with two runs. Worse, for the Yankees, shortstop Derek Jeter went diving for a grounder by Jhonny Peralta and fractured his left ankle, ending his season.

And just like that, the Yankees went from nearly finishing off another late-inning comeback to losing not just the game, but their captain, too.

Sucker punch to the gut.

"It's going to test the resolve of this team,'' said Derek Lowe, in the aftermath of the Tigers' 6-4 victory. "It's probably going to take a little bit of time, to have the reality sink in. It is what it is. But within an hour or so, to go from Ibanez doing what he does to this.... this isn't an ideal situation.''

"That's kind of crushing,'' said Nick Swisher when told of the diagnosis on Jeter. "It's tough.''

Around the home clubhouse, the Yankees were all trying to say the right things: that they would miss Jeter, of course, but that they would go on, just as they had earlier in the year when their closer for the ages, Mariano Rivera, went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Jeter, of course, had been playing with a bone bruise on the same left ankle. He had come out late in Game 3 when the ankle worsened, and in Game 4, he was limited to DH duties, marking the first time in his career that Jeter had not played shortstop in a post-season game.

His teammates are accustomed to him playing through pain, shrugging off injuries. Not this time. When he went sprawling for the ball hit by Peralta, he flipped the ball toward second baseman Robinson Cano as if there had been a force play at second. There wasn't. It was Jeter just trying to get the ball to someone else.

From the dugout, Joe Girardi knew this wasn't any ordinary injury.

"Oh boy, if he's not getting up,'' said Girardi, recounting the moment, "something's wrong.''

And indeed it was. Jeter was carried off the field by the manager and the team trainer, carried right into his off-season.

Earlier, it had been Ibanez figuratively carrying the Yankees, doing what others in the New York lineup have been unable to do. Robinson Cano, arguably the team's MVP during the regular season, is hitless in his last 23 at-bats.

For the third time in the last four games, Alex Rodriguez was lifted for a pinch-hitter. And Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson looked inept at the plate, as they've been most of this month.

But it wasn't enough. The Tigers came back.

"If we're going to be good enough,'' said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, "we have to be able to take a punch and we took a big punch. We took a right cross in the ninth inning, but we survived it.''

The Tigers surely have their issues, too. Their infield defense is atrocious and their bullpen beyond suspect.

Their closer, Jose Valverde, who surrendered the Ibanez homer, has now given up seven earned runs in 2 13 innings this post-season.

Leyland strongly hinted that the Tigers will try someone else in the closer's role, unwilling to trust Valverde after two ninth-inning blown saves in the last three games.

But that seems minor by comparison to what the Yankees face.

The Tigers are otherwise healthy and they have grabbed themselves a lead in this series, and done so on the road.

It may only be one game, one loss, but the Yankees are in trouble. And this time, not even Raul Ibanez can save them.