Jeter, the Yankees’ captain and a certain first ballot Hall-of-Famer, has lived for these moments — playing the postseason savior and sending daggers to the hearts of opponents with clutch hits. If there’s anyone who’s inherited the “Mr. October” label from another Yankee great, Reggie Jackson, it’s Jeter.
But that plush storyline for Major League Baseball’s most famous franchise evaporated quicker than a New York minute. Jeter couldn’t catch up to the high heat delivered by “Papa Grande,” Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde, putting the home fans into a tizzy and their home team on the brink of eliminating the Yankees with a 5-4 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 tonight could cap what is turning out to be déjà vu all over again from 2006. If this isn’t a carbon copy of the movie “Groundhog’s Day,” then pinch me. In both cases, Mr. October’s team may be bested by of all things, the Men of October — the Tigers.
Thanks to Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, star power is more evident than ever in Detroit but Tuesday evening’s game resembled a majority of the Tigers victories on their path to the American League Central Division championship and — if your memory stretches that far — that miraculous run in ’06.
If one man’s down, another steps up. Your teammate by your side might be the next to contribute, if it’s not yourself.
If Cabrera is having a rare hitless night like he did Tuesday, its unheralded players like Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago and Delmon Young who step up and play heroes.
“We’ve had different guys contribute for this team all season long. Tonight it was Delmon,” said Verlander, highlighting Young’s opposite-field, game-winning home run in the seventh inning. “From top to bottom, anyone can hurt you on this team.”
“Delmon was one of the guys that was huge down the stretch for Minnesota last year,” Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland said. “We knew that. At pressure time last year he did well for the Twins. One of the big RBI guys down the stretch. We thought it would be a nice addition.”
While Delmon made his arrival in Motown in a surprising inter-division trade on Aug. 15, let’s not forget Inge, who arrived, disappeared and reappeared again this season. For a player who was cast off as stale leftovers in a demotion to Triple A Toledo before the Tigers made their furious charge down the stretch, Tuesday’s two-hit, two-run performance was prime rib.
If you want to talk about redemption in Major League Baseball, Inge is living with the word wrapped around his neck.
“It is what it is,” Inge shrugged when asked about his topsy-turvy season. “I’ve just tried to not think about all that other stuff and go out there every day and work hard.”
This might be Inge’s last shot to contribute to a winner. If that isn’t enough to spark a fire within, then fade away quietly. Obviously, he’s ready to make a little noise.
So is the soft-spoken, small-in-stature Santiago, who may get more fan’s requests for everyday playing time than any other Tiger in the past 10 years. At least in the second half of this season, he’s validated that demand, including Tuesday’s two-hit, two-RBI performance.
“Santiago had a great night, of course,” Leyland said. “We were thrilled with that. He had done decent against (Yankees starting pitcher) CC (Sabathia), hitting .294 against him. That’s why we put him in there tonight.”
The unlikely contributions sparked another sure-fire, spectacular performance by Verlander, who heard “MVP” chants from the Comerica crowd throughout. And why not? Aside from his shaky start in the first to Jeter and Curtis Granderson, and the seventh when he couldn’t get a strike call to go his way, he was his typical dominant self. The MVP voters should take notice of 11 strikeouts, and just six hits in eight solid innings in a pressure-packed situation.
One of Verlander’s three walks during the evening might have actually been his most remarkable stretch of pitches. Facing Alex Rodriguez in the eighth inning, Verlander threw five straight pitches that topped 100 miles per hour.
That display is the kind of freak-of-nature stuff that you need to see to believe.
Verlander said he couldn’t recall a game when he’s thrown harder and said he’ll probably be pretty sore today. If anything, that shows how important this victory was, and he’s likely done pitching in this series.
“I haven’t talked with Jim about that yet,” Verlander joked.
Let’s hope that a Game 5 in New York isn’t needed and if so, Verlander doesn’t have to be called on in relief. But the more this season has played out and the more Tuesday’s exciting finish unveiled, the only team bound for a plane for New York after Game 4 will be the Yankees.
Not those déjà vu Tigers, the Mighty Men of October.