Commentary

Jeter injury caps catastrophic night

Wondered what the post-Jeter Yanks will look like? You may not like what you see.

Updated: October 14, 2012, 5:07 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

All those Yankees fans who have wished their team could get younger and more athletic saw those wishes come true a little before 1 a.m. ET Sunday.

Because it was at that point Derek Jeter went down and didn't get up. Suddenly, it felt as if the Yankees had lost a lot more than simply the first game of a best-of-seven playoff series.

In this case, getting younger and more athletic does not in any way mean getting better. Remember that one about being careful what you wish for?

Now, Jeter's place on the roster will be taken by Eduardo Nunez and his place on the field by Jayson Nix. And a one-game deficit to the Detroit Tigers, who went on to win the first game of the American League Championship Series 6-4 in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium, feels a whole lot like the end of the season.

"I think anyone would admit that you have a better chance with Derek Jeter in the lineup," Joe Girardi said. "But sometimes one man's injury is [another] man's opportunity. I have to tell you, I don't want to be without him, but we have to move on. And I don't say that in a cold way, but we're trying to win a series here."

Even before Jeter got injured in the late stages of Game 1, that seemed like a daunting task for these Yankees. Now, it seems almost impossible.

Jeter's broken left ankle, suffered when he made a diving stop on Jhonny Peralta's grounder to the left of second base in the 12th inning, not only robbed the Yankees of one of the few members of the team who actually has been productive at the plate -- Jeter was hitting .364, highest among the Yankees' regulars, in six playoff games -- but it also ripped the heart out of a team that for much of this postseason has barely showed a pulse.

And it raised the very real possibility that for as long as this run lasts, the Yankees will not have a single member of their vaunted Core Four on the field in any more games this October.

Jorge Posada retired after last season. Mariano Rivera went down with a knee injury in May. Jeter will be on crutches Sunday and recovering for a solid three months.

And Andy Pettitte, who started Game 1, might not get a chance to pitch again in this series, because with the Yankees already down by a game, Hiroki Kuroda (who faded late in the season) being asked to go on short rest in Game 2, and Tigers ace Justin Verlander rested and ready to go in Game 3, the Yankees might very well be looking down the barrel of a sweep.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Al Bello/Getty ImagesDerek Jeter's injury will force the Yankees to get younger and more athletic, but they won't be better.

So if you've been wondering what the post-Derek Jeter Yankees will look like, the next few games will offer you a glimpse.

But I warn you, you might not like what you see.

The first game between the Yankees and Tigers looked a lot like the five games between the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles -- tight, low-scoring and marked by repeated failures to capitalize on chances to bust the game open by the Bombers, who three times in the first six innings loaded the bases and failed to score.

Once again, Alex Rodriguez failed (0-for-3, DP, K), got booed and was pinch hit for. Once again, Curtis Granderson had a miserable night (0-for-4, two K's, BB) and got booed. Robinson Cano was futile in six trips to the plate. Nick Swisher's eight-year October nightmare continued with two bad plays in the outfield and four bad at-bats, enlivened only by an eighth-inning double that probably should have been caught in the right-field corner by Avisail Garcia.

He, too, was the target of vicious booing.

For eight innings, only Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Ichiro Suzuki showed any life at the plate, and Jeter also made several excellent plays at shortstop.

And then, suddenly, the game began to resemble another memorable game from this grueling, bizarre postseason. With the Yankees trailing 4-0 and two outs from a loss, Ichiro lined a two-run homer to cut the lead in half, and three batters later, Deja Raul set in when Raul Ibanez, the hero of Game 3 of the AL Division Series, crushed a two-run shot to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

It turned out, however, that Ibanez was only forestalling the inevitable and sealing Jeter's fate.

The game ground on, into the 12th inning and from late Saturday night into early Sunday morning. Seven pitchers had already been used when Girardi turned to David Phelps, who had been a candidate to start Game 2 before the manager opted for Kuroda's experience in Sunday afternoon's game.

And three batters into Phelps' inning, the Yankees had fallen behind 5-4, after a walk, a groundout, and an RBI double that Swisher misread in right and allowed to go past him with a tumbling attempt at a catch.

But that was hardly the worst of what was to come. The next batter, Peralta, grounded what at first looked like a tough but not impossible play for the shortstop to make moving toward second base. Jeter stretched, reached, lay full out ... and never got up, his lower left leg twisted in a way that was unnatural and sickening.

When he remained face down on the dirt, it was obvious he was seriously injured, and when he had to be supported on the shoulders of Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue to leave the field, there was little doubt about what had just happened.

As Jeter made it to the dugout, a chant of "Derek Jeter!" rang out through the stadium, as it often had after his greatest moments on the field. This, however, was one of his worst.

"The only other time I've seen him carted off the field was when he dislocated his shoulder in Toronto [on Opening Day 2003]," GM Brian Cashman said. "He is as tough as they come, so when you see that, you know it's serious."

The rest of the game was a blur, with Nix at shortstop, Phelps struggling to finish the inning -- he allowed another RBI single to complete the Tigers' scoring -- and the Yankees' last at-bat was a lifeless affair, two strikeouts and a groundout before a stunned and silent gathering.

Considering the dramatics that went to waste, it would have been a devastating loss on its own merits. The news that was to follow soon afterward elevated the night to catastrophic.

As the game was ending, Jeter was being told the bad news in the trainer's room, while receiving a procession of visitors who filed past him as if paying respects to a corpse. His former manager Joe Torre came by, as did the original "Mr. October," Reggie Jackson, and his ex-teammate Tino Martinez, who was a Yankees postseason hero when Jeter was just a rookie.

It seems silly to report this, but the team doctor, Chris Ahmad, found it necessary to emphasize to Jeter, "You cannot play through this thing."

Then again, Jeter had been playing through a painfully bone-bruised left ankle for the better part of a month.

"He's as tough a player as I've ever seen," Girardi said.

And afterward, in a clubhouse shorn of its captain, Jeter's teammates were making an effort to say all the right things.

"We have to have guys step up," Teixeira said. "That's kind of been the theme all year. If one team is used to having guys step in to take someone's place, it's us."

"It was a very emotional game, but we've got another game [Sunday] at 4 o'clock," said Pettite, who went 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs. "It's terrible, but we've got a series to play and win."

"Obviously it's a very difficult moment for all of us," said Ibanez, whose dramatic home run had now become just a footnote to a bad story. "It's obvious what he means to the team. The guy's a warrior, a gamer. It's obvious why he's been such a tremendous part of so many world championships."

But Derek Jeter won't be a part of this one, no matter what happens the rest of the way.

In one split second out of a nearly five-hour baseball game, the Yankees got younger and more athletic.

They also got a whole lot worse.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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