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October 5, 2006: ALDS Game 2


I hate it when cliches are true. The baseball cliche that applied most strongly in the Bronx this afternoon was “good pitching beats good hitting.” The Tigers’ 4-3 win over the Yankees was eked out without benefit of a single big inning. They pecked away at Mike Mussina, scoring single runs in the second, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. Moose stuck out the side in the first inning, and pitched well overall, but his few mistakes in the strike zone were hit hard. One pitch he left up and over the plate, Carlos Guillen tagged easily into the right field seats to account for one run. Marcus Thames, the former Yankee farmhand who loves hitting in Yankee Stadium (remember his debut when he hit a homer off Randy Johnson?), accounted for the remaining three. He went 3-for-4, plating a run in his first at bat, doubling and scoring in his second, and singling and eventually scoring in the seventh.

The Tigers’ pitching, which has been stellar all year and the only reason the Tigers contended, snuffed every attempt by the Yankees to get something going except for one. In the fourth, Johnny Damon got he one big two-out hit the Yankees needed, for a three run homer. But they left the bases loaded in the first, stranded two in the second despite having two on and no outs, and left pinch runner Melky Cabrera on first base in the ninth after Matsui had led off with a base hit.

Starter Justin Verlander was impressive, hitting 101 m.p.h. on the radar gun and never panicking. His wickedly-moving curve ball caught Alex Rodriguez looking twice, and flummoxed both Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi. The real eye-opener, though, was reliever Joel Zumaya, who cracked 103 against both Giambi and A-rod in the eighth inning. Both men tried to catch up to 103 m.p.h. pitches on the outside corner and neither succeeded.

Even the Captain proved he’s not perfect. He not only struck out against Zumaya, in the first inning he popped up a bunt that Pudge Rodriguez caught. Given that they left the bases loaded that inning without scoring a run, and that the margin of loss was only one run, that might have been the play of the game right there.

Tomorrow’s game pits Randy Johnson against Kenny Rogers. Both of these men have been known to pitch dominating games (each has a perfect game under his belt), but both have also been known to melt down under certain circumstances. Johnson’s mechanics are known for getting easily out of whack, and with his recent herniated disk, one must wonder whether everything will be working for him. Rogers sometimes appears to have a mental block about the Yankees in particular, perhaps a vestige of his time as a Yankee when his postseason pitching left much to be desired.

Good pitching may beat good hitting, but if it comes down to bad pitching, the question becomes which lineup can pile up the runs faster? We’ll find out in Detroit.

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