'Proud' Yankees not without flaws
Heart of dangerous lineup falters, letting Tigers advance
We are reminded, once again, of that moment in Seinfeldian lore when Elaine Benes described David Putty's "move" as "a big-budget movie with a story that goes nowhere."That sums up your 2011 Yankees, folks. No, they didn't endure the type of horrific collapse that will haunt their rival Red Sox all winter, but getting bounced from the first round, at home, in a decisive American League Division Series Game 5 won't exactly sit all that well, either. This was a team equipped enough to not only make its customary postseason appearance but capture the league's best record in the process, with a $200 million receipt to store away for the records. But after exceeding the sum of its rotation's parts over the course of 162 games, the Yanks' warts were exposed when it mattered most. Questionable managerial moves, an underperforming ace and an invisible four through six portion of the lineup made for an uninspiring showing on the October stage. "A hit here, a hit there," said manager Joe Girardi, summoning his inner woulda/coulda/shoulda after Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers, "and this is a different series." True, if Derek Jeter's eighth-inning fly ball off Joaquin Benoit carries just a little bit deeper toward the short porch in right, we're talking about how a Yankees-Rangers rematch in the AL Championship Series must have been "written in the stars, a million miles away" (or maybe the catchiness of a certain incessant commercial has gotten the best of me). But the general inability to muster those series-shifting hits -- especially in Game 5 -- was glaring. Most damaging of all was the fact that Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher did nothing to improve their already questionable postseason credentials over the course of the ALDS, batting a combined .164 (9-for-55) with one homer, two doubles and five RBIs. A-Rod even fulfilled what seems to be his new role in life, striking out to make the final out of the Yankees' season for the second time in as many years. Should we next find him popcorn-fed in a Super Bowl setting, we'll know we officially have a trend on our hands. One narrative of the Yankees' season was that the emergence of Curtis Granderson as an MVP-type bat to pair with Robinson Cano was enough to overcome A-Rod's injuries and Teixeira's inconsistency. But in crunch time, Granderson's circus catches, Cano's big blasts, Brett Gardner's on-base ability and Jorge Posada's potentially career-capping heroics could only carry this club so far. This was a lineup that lacked length, because three prime spots in the order were black holes. And that's a big reason why this team stranded 40 runners and went 11-for-47 with men in scoring position in the series. Girardi, though, pointed no fingers. "I'm not disappointed in any one of our guys," Girardi said. "Not one of them. I'm proud of every one of those guys and what they bring to the table every day. Some days you just get beat." It was popular to assume the Yankees might get beat when their season hinged on A.J. Burnett in Game 4. But Burnett silenced his many critics and came through in the clutch. The same, unfortunately, can't be said of CC Sabathia, whose "ace" label had loomed particularly large in a rotation loaded with question marks beyond him. Sabathia is generally expected to opt out of his contract, and in so doing he'll be taking advantage of the Yanks' rotation desperation. He's probably not going anywhere, and he'll get another substantial raise. But even in extending him, the Yankees will undoubtedly be asking themselves if Sabathia's extensive workload has begun to get the best of him. CC was somewhat shaky down the stretch this season, posting a 4.06 ERA and .858 OPS against over his final 10 starts. And his postseason performance left quite a bit to be desired, even if his Game 3 start, which resulted in four runs on seven hits with six walks in 5 1/3 innings, came on what can only be described as odd rest and his outing on Thursday night, in which he gave up what turned out to be the go-ahead run, was the first relief performance of his professional career. Speaking of that relief performance, it came at the behest of Girardi, who, as a result of the early right forearm tightness endured by Ivan Nova, managed this meaningful Game 5 like something out of the Grapefruit League. Though the Twitter world was all over him for making the bullpen door a revolving one, Girardi's quick hooks, perhaps surprisingly, did not completely blow up in his face, but asking Sabathia to do something he had never done did not result in the shutdown inning Girardi so desperately sought. Girardi made some other disputable decisions as this series evolved, pinch-hitting Eric Chavez for Gardner in Game 2 because he was looking for a home run (all the while knowing Chavez has just five of them in 424 plate appearances over the last four years), refusing to use his best middle relievers, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, in Games 1 and 2, and then using Soriano for multiple innings (something Soriano had not done all year) in what turned out to be a Game 3 loss. We can also question what, exactly, A-Rod was doing in that cleanup spot, given his season struggles and injury concerns. The Yankees will have all winter to discuss all of the above. Because when a payroll this bloated buys nothing more than a one-and-done playoff entry, the questions inevitably come. Save for Jeter's 3,000th hit, Mariano Rivera's 602nd save and Posada's (likely) final bow, this was a story that ultimately lacked substance, and that's certainly not the way the Yanks drew it up. "It's a really empty feeling," Girardi said. "It's an empty feeling for everyone in that room. And it hurts."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.