Yankees win, A-Rod disappoints in home debut

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Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-4 in his season debut at Yankee Stadium and closer Mariano Rivera blew his second save in a row, but the Yankees won anyway thanks to a Brett Gardner walk-off single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th.

In the bottom of the first, Rodriguez strode to the plate for his first at-bat of the season at Yankee Stadium. The crowd of more than 46,000 greeted him with a mixture of cheers and boos. Rodriguez quickly struck out swinging against Tigers starter Rick Porcello, which resulted in a cascade of boos.

Yankees starter Ivan Nova was solid over seven frames, allowing one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out seven. David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth for the hold. Rivera could not work around a one-out Austin Jackson double, surrending a game-tying two-run, two-strike, two-out home run to defending AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, knotting the game at three apiece.

The Yankees went down quietly in the bottom of the ninth. The combination of Boone Logan and Shawn Kelley danced out of trouble in the top of the tenth, giving the offense another opportunity to set things right. Against Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, the Yankees quickly put two runners on thanks to a Jayson Nix walk and Curtis Granderson single. They would advance to second and third on a wild pitch. With one out, Eduardo Nunez drew an intentional walk, setting up a plethora of RBI opportunities for Chris Stewart. Stewart struck out swinging, a gut-wrenching way to go down in that spot. Brett Gardner picked his teammate up, though, singling up the middle on the second pitch he saw from Alburquerque to help the Yankees walk off winners.

A lot of notable things both did and didn’t happen tonight. The Tigers had their 12-game winning streak snapped, and the Yankees broke their four-game losing streak. Rodriguez missed out on his 1,951st career RBI, which would have tied him with Stan Musial for sixth all-time. Alfonso Soriano entered the night with 1,999 career hits, but went 0-for-5. Rivera failed to convert save #644 of his career, and blew his second consecutive save for the first time since April 5-6, 2005 against the Red Sox (via ESPN Stats & Info).

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.