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YORK -- This was going to stand as a most preposterous baseball evening. Yes, another one. More than grand, extraordinary or unfathomable, what the Yankees had done in nine innings Saturday night, and 43 innings this week, was contrary to nature and utterly absurd. It defied what we know about baseball. The generic game doesn't allow for such heroism in a month's time, much less in a span of four nights.
Raul Ibanez had struck again, and again at the 11th hour. And it made us wonder whether the Commissioner's office needed to investigate, to determine who put the postseason in the hands of Steven Spielberg, Rod Serling and the folks at Disney.
This was Jerry West's 70-footer at the Garden, Bill Buckner's misplay at Shea, David Tyree's catch in the Super Bowl and Reggie Jackson's hat trick of 35 years ago, with a dash of Bobby Thomson, a sprinkle of Kirk Gibson and a spoonful of the Yankees' 2001 World Series. Two successive opponents turned into Byung-Hyun Kim.
And now, it's about mettle and survival and all that sort of up-against-it stuff that teams involved in baseball's postseason routinely claim they have in abundance. The sight of Derek Jeter prone on the infield cutout, a few feet from his position and few months from walking without assistance or a limp -- an image that hushed more than 47,000 eye witnesses and concerned millions more -- changed that. It changed only everything.
As Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in the aftermath of Tigers 6, Yankees 4, "When you think of the postseason, you think of Derek Jeter."
But now what do the Yankees think? What do they do? They used to call Mickey Mantle the indispensable Yankee. No one, not even Donnie Baseball, has assumed that identification since Mantle's final game. They call Jeter the leadoff man, the shortstop, the Captain, the spiritual leader and the soul of the Yankees. Indispensable might not cover it all he is to his franchise.
And now his left ankle is fractured. This one sits him down. He can't dismiss this one as he does all others. "I'm great. Let's go" is how he responds whenever his manager inquires about his health. Now, neither he nor his team is fine.
Until Jeter's ankle betrayed him in the 12th inning, Ibanez and the ghosts Jeter often references had put the Yankees in position to win Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Not even Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mick operated as Ibanez has of late. Their successes didn't challenge the imagination; their successes were accepted. The two-run home run Ibanez hit against Tigers closer Jose Valverde was difficult to fathom, coming, as it did, three days after his ninth and 12th-inning home runs against the Orioles in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
That it followed a two-run home run by Ichiro Suzuki and tied the score was only part of it. That Ibanez had struck again -- this time with two outs -- and spared his team a defeat was nothing short of outrageous.
The Yankees' batting order had been inept for eight innings, doing nothing with three bases-loaded opportunities against starter Doug Fister. Then, with no reason to anticipate anything but three more outs, the team produced four runs in a six-batter sequence against the Tigers' closer.
Now the Yankees need more from outside the box, more than Eduardo Nunez will provide when he replaces Jeter on the roster Saturday, more than what probably is available to them. And Alex Rodriguez is still swinging like a pitcher, and Nick Swisher remains unplugged. It's preposterous to think the Yankees can compete with the Tigers while Jeter has his foot in a cast and so few parts of the batting order are even borderline functional.
"I think anyone would admit that you have a better chance with Derek Jeter in the lineup," Girardi said. "But sometimes, one man's injury is some man's opportunity. And someone has to take a step and do well with this opportunity. A lot of players get their chances because of an injury.
"I have to tell you, I don't want to be without him. Nobody in that room wants 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."