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The calendar might say otherwise for a couple of months yet, but winter officially started for Yankee fans on Friday night.
There will be a lot of long, cold and baseball-less nights after the Rangers ended the Yankees title defense with a 6-1 win in Arlington in Game Six of the American League Championship Series. The game was a frustrating and familiar way to end a series that didn't go at all like the Yankees planned.
It was frustrating because the Yankees hit balls well off of Rangers starter Colby Lewis all night, but they always seemed to find homes in the gloves of Rangers fielders. Lewis held them hitless for the first four innings of the game and seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. He wound up allowing only three hits, two walks and a run while striking out seven over eight innings for his second victory of the series. That futility at the plate was nothing new for a Yankee team that didn't bring their bats with them to the ALCS and Friday night's only run came on a wild pitch that actually hit Nick Swisher.
The familiarity came with Phil Hughes who turned in a start that looked a lot like the one that sank the Yankees in Game Two. He consistently got ahead of Rangers hitters, but couldn't finish them off with two strikes because he lacks a reliable out pitch. That meant innings got extended, Hughes got fatigued and Rangers hitters kept getting chances with runners on base. He wasn't any sharper in other phases of the game, including a fateful lack of hustle on a fifth inning grounder by Mitch Moreland.
Robinson Cano fielded the ball on the outfield grass but had no one to throw it to because Hughes was slow getting off the mound. Perhaps he was used to having Mark Teixeira playing first or perhaps he was surprised Cano got there, but neither is an excuse for the lack of hustle that set up the game-changing rally. Hughes got two outs after that, but Moreland moved to second so he intentionally walked Josh Hamilton for the second time on the night. Hughes got Vladimir Guerrero the first time, but the veteran slugger slammed a double deep into center this time for a 3-1 lead.
Hughes exited at that point, David Robertson entered and Nelson Cruz struck the death blow moments later. Cruz got around on a 1-2 fastball and drove it deep into the Texas night for a commanding lead. Two big hits in two big spots which were two more than the Yankees got all series. That's about as easy a way to sum up this series as you'll find.
The poor work by a reliever is also familiar to those who have followed the Yankees in this series and it's tempting to say that Joe Girardi made a mistake by going to Robertson instead of Kerry Wood or even CC Sabathia, available in this game. Given the way the offense wound up performing, it is hard to pin too much of the blame on Girardi but it's worth noting that just about every move he made during the ALCS wound up coming back to bite the team on the rear end. It went the other way in 2009 and we can spend all offseason discussing which year was a fluke.
The Rangers going to the World Series isn't a fluke, however. It won't make the Yankees or their fans any happier, but the better team -- maybe not over the first 162 games, but certainly over the final six -- is advancing to the next round. They outpitched the Yankees, got more hits with runners in scoring position and played with an extra spring to their step through every minute of the series. The Yankees looked old and worn down in this series, while the Rangers always seemed to find the play they needed to push them over the top.
And so begins an offseason that will be full of intrigue and innuendo as the Yankees mount their second attempt at a 28th championship. Your first hot storyline is going to be Derek Jeter's contract. He's lucky that it will have very little to do with what he's done lately as his Game Six performance was even worse than what we've seen all year. That will dominate Yankee news until its settled but it will hardly be the only headline producer of the next few months.
There's plenty of time for all that, though. For now, we'll just tip our caps to the Rangers, lick our wounds and move on down the road to a better tomorrow.