Living in Chicago for the last 14 years has definitely rubbed off on me. As Detroit’s Alex Avila slipped on the Yankees’s on-deck mat and missed an easy foul pop-up off the bat of former Tigers standout Curtis Granderson with two outs in the 9th, I felt the familiar sense of dread I’ve felt watching so many Cubs games where a freak “Cubbie occurrence” at the worst possible moment would inevitably lead to disaster (eg. 2003 NLCS Game 6, 8th inning).
But it was with a greater sense of relief that I immediately realized these were the Tigers, not the hapless Cubs, and cosmic forces were not conspiring against them to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Even when Granderson eventually walked to bring up the potential winning run in the form of RBI-machine Robinson Cano, I knew it was just a minor play and not the beginning of the end. Unblemished closer Jose Valverde could get the job done and did, inducing a Cano groundout to first, tying the series at one game apiece, and wresting home field advantage and momentum away from the Yankees.
Now the Tigers send soon-to-be MVP Justin Verlander to the mound to face off against Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia in a rematch of Friday’s rain-shortened Game 1. It appeared the rainout would work to the advantage of New York as they pummeled the Tigers in Saturday’s resumption, 9-3. But, as I asserted in my ALDS preview, Detroit’s superior pitching depth would prove to be too much for the Yankees to handle, and now that advantage is even greater.
Not only do the Tigers get to send Verlander to his comfortable home mound instead of a hostile Yankee Stadium against Sabathia, but the rainout also ensured that neither would be available to pitch twice in the series, kicking the legs out from under New York manager Joe Girardi’s plan to hide his thin pitching staff. Now Girardi is forced to expose the chronically mediocre A.J. Burnett (only two quality starts since the All-Star break) in Game 4 against Rick Porcello whose last five outings have all been QSs.
But when it really come down to it, it’s like the old baseball axiom goes: Momentum begins with the next day’s starting pitcher. The Tigers just so happen to have the best in the world going in about two hours. I like our chances.