This article was written by Derek Wetmore for Keith Moyer's JOUR4990. It is a column in response to the New York Yankees 6-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, a game in which Derek Jeter broke his left ankle and was lost for the remainder of the season.
Those are the games the Yankees are supposed to win.
Now, their World Series aspirations are shaken and an era may have ended prematurely.
Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series belonged to the Yankees. Never mind that until the ninth inning, it was all Detroit before the Tigers’ closer coughed up a four-run lead, forcing extra innings.
The Bronx Bombers came storming all the way back to tie the score at 4-4 with another important, late-inning Raul Ibanez home run. With Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s shaky mental state and Ibanez’s continued brilliance, it seemed pre-ordained New York would win Saturday.
But in the 12th inning when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter broke his ankle on a ground ball up the middle of the infield, the Yankees aura dissipated. Suddenly, they didn’t seem invincible. They seemed vulnerable. The Captain, apparently, is susceptible to injury, just like other humans.
Detroit stole they game back with a 6-4 win to take a 1-0 series lead.
How the Yankees respond to losing the Captain will define this year’s playoffs. It could also define the next generation of New York’s legacy.
When the Yankees rattled off World Championship after World Championship in the 1990s and carried success through the 2000s, they did it with a core of homegrown players adorned with big free-agent signings. Derek Jeter, as much as any player in history, defined those Yankees teams. They had players like Paul O’Neil, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
The two former have long since retired. Then the Yankees lost to Posada to futility and eventually retirement. Then Rivera tore his ACL early this season, possibly jeopardizing his career. Alex Rodriguez is 37 and has been ineffective this postseason. Jeter is 38.
So the question is: can they overcome this?
Can the Yankees overcome a heart-breaking loss and the loss of their emotional leader?
New York still has elite-level talent: Mark Tiexiera, CC Sabathia, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano.
All are free-agent imports with the exception of Cano, a five-tool Yankees farm product from the Dominican with a silky smooth swing at the plate and all the range, arm and instincts required of a Gold Glove second baseman.
Even with a healthy Jeter or Rivera, Cano is the best player on the Yankees.
But now he has the added pressure of being the de facto face of the franchise for the rest of this year’s playoffs, and possibly for the rest of this decade.
As Jeter lay near second base helpless and hapless, his left ankle broken in the 12th inning, he screamed. He writhed in pain. He had fielded the ball, but he tripped, had his ankle crumble and fell to the dirt. He couldn’t get up to make the throw to first to record an out, much less cut the go-ahead run off before it crossed the plate.
But there was something poetic about what happened next, before he was carried off by team trainer Steve Donohue and manager Joe Girardi. As Jeter shouted in pain and knew he wouldn’t be able to make the play, he flipped the ball to the second baseman Cano.
Instincts? Sure. And un-planned? No doubt.
But it served as a perfect metaphor Saturday for the direction of the Yankees going forward.
Jeter’s left ankle may have unwittingly ushered in the Robinson Cano era Saturday. How he responds—and how the Yankees respond—will decide their fate this playoffs. It could also define the next generation of the Bombers.