Yesterday brought the opening game of this year’s ALCS between the Yankees and Rangers. Christopher John Wilson and Carsten Charles Sabathia faced off in a battle of lefties who like to be called by their first initials. The game started extremely strong for the Rangers, but the Yankees pounded the Rangers’ pen and pulled off an epic comeback for a 6-5 win. This is one of those games where the win probability graph really does tell the whole story.
They say you have to get to the good ones early, before they get in a groove, and the Rangers did just that with CC last night. Sabathia struggled with his control in the first inning and throughout the ballgame. He walked four, including Elvis Andrus to lead off the game. Michael Young singled and Josh Hamilton hit a ball that got into the crowd about as quick as I’ve ever seen one go. When Hamilton gets good wood on the ball, it just seems to jump off the bat. The Rangers would then load the bases on a Nelson Cruz single and walks to Ian Kinsler and Matt Treanor. Sabathia then threw his 36th pitch and 20th ball of the inning to the backstop. One fortuitous bounce later Posada flipped the ball home to Sabathia, who made a great play to tag out Nelson Cruz coming home and end the inning.
The Rangers would tack on in the fourth. Matt Treanor singled with one out. After a Cantu flyout, Elvis Andrus singled and Michael Young doubled to bring home Treanor and Andrus and put the score at an almost insurmountable 5-0.
However, with an offense like the one in pinstripes, no lead is really insurmountable. The Yankees proved this last night by bringing it back. It all started in the 7th, as CJ Wilson allowed a Cano leadoff home run to put the score at 5-1. After going quietly, the Yankees would continue their comeback the next inning, when Brett Gardner singled to lead off. Jeter followed with a double to score the Gardner and Wilson’s night was over. Darren Oliver came in and promptly walked Swisher and Teixeira to load the bases. Darren O’Day allowed an A-Rod single to make the score 5-4, and Robinson Cano followed with off Clay Rapada a single to tie it up, putting runners at first and third with no one down in the inning. Marcus Thames singled to put the Yankees ahead 6-5 after Derek Holland took the ball (if you’re keeping score at home, that’s the Rangers’ fifth pitcher of the inning and they don’t have an out yet), but Holland would retire Posada, Granderson, and Gardner in order to limit the damage to a one-run deficit.
That’s how the game would stay, with the Yankees holding on for a great win in a game they looked destined to drop. A look inside the numbers at the players and plays that made it happen:
Yankees vs. Rangers
WPA Leader: Robinson Cano (.293)
Cano came up huge for the Yankees, as he has all season. He started the comeback with his leadoff jack in the 7th. Then, he delivered the game-tying single in the Yankees 8th-inning rally, bringing home Teixeira to make this a 5-5 game. Cano and Hamilton were my picks for “should be” and “will be” AL MVP this year, and in this game both showed why.
Biggest Plays: Cano’s single was a huge swing in the Yankees’ favor, as it tied the game and put a man on third with none down. By improving the Bombers’ win expectancy from 47.5% to 74.1%, Cano was credited with .266 WPA, a huge part of his total for this game. Other big plays involved Rodriguez’s single in the at-bat before Cano’s (.166 WPA) and Josh Hamilton’s 3-run homer (.131).
I expected the winner here to be big CC, who game up 5 runs and only got through 4 innings, throwing 93 pitches (42 of them outside the strike zone). Sabathia had a total WPA of -.237, so he didn’t exactly perform like the ace the Yankees were hoping they’d get. However, Clay Rapada took him off the hook for last night’s goat award by coming in, allowing Cano’s game-tying single, and then exiting without ever recording an out. Rapada had a total WPA of -.266, and the Rangers’ pen put up a total of -.496. Wilson had a .153 after his 7 innings and 3 earned runs, and Holland was the only other Ranger pitcher to put up a positive number, at .110 with no earned runs in two innings of relief.