Posted: Wednesday October 4, 2006 1:43AM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 10:32AM
Derek Jeter (right) fueled the Yankees' 14-hit attack in their postseason opener.
But really, Detroit put a runner on second base to start both the second and third innings and Leyland twice took the bunt play off -- when the Yankees were trying to get by with a lost soul at first base, Gary Sheffield, who never has fielded a bunt in his life at the position. Instead, Leyland once tried a hit-and-run -- it blew up, with the runner getting thrown out at third -- and then let ninth-place hitter Brandon Inge swing away. He pulled a harmless grounder to third, leaving the runner at second.
More problematic, Leyland asked Robertson to get through the Yankees' lineup a fourth time as he neared 100 pitches and two relievers were ready. Big mistake. It was a 5-3 game in the sixth at that point, but still was, to Detroit fans and the imaginative, anybody's ball game. When Johnny Damon punched a single, Leyland should have fetched Robertson. Jeter already was 3 for 3 against Robertson, 8 for 19 against him in his career and a .390 hitter this year against left-handers.
Leyland has a rested bullpen stocked with power arms, and you'd better bring premium stuff to the mound if you hope to hold down the Yankees. Robertson, while admirably aggressive, hadn't shown that kind of arsenal all night. Of the 96 pitches he threw, he managed to get the Yankees to swing and miss only three times. Jeter pulled a double down the left-field line. Leyland left Robertson in because the next batter, Bobby Abreu, was left-handed. But Abreu grounded a single through the right side, scoring two backbreaking runs. The game was gone without ever getting a fresh arm a chance. Maybe none of it mattered anyway, not the way the Yankees seemed to be controlling the script all night.
"Before the game," Yankees infielder Nick Green said after his first October night in the stadium, "it already felt like Game 5 of 2004 [when Green's Braves played Houston]. And it took us five games to build up that kind of excitement. And here it felt like that from the start. I'm talking about before a pitch was thrown. Pretty incredible."
Justin Verlander, the Tigers pitcher who will step into the vortex in Game 2, heard the sound of October and decided there was nothing else like it. Said Verlander: "The fans here are the best and the worst at the same time. It's the first time I experienced anything at that level."
Jeter already had two singles, two doubles and two runs when he stepped up in the eighth inning and showed again he is too good. He ripped his home run over the wall in center field and the place shook with noise, first long enough to coax Jeter out of the dugout for a curtain call, and because that wasn't enough, the people kept chanting, in one strong voice, "De-rek Je-ter!" It was the kind of noise that will echo long after the place is gone.