Momentum is always a fickle beast in baseball, never more so than a short series in the postseason.
As the adage goes, momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher.
For both teams in this American League Division Series, they’re taking that seriously, both looking at the prospects of — finally — having their aces on the mound in Monday’s Game 3 at Comerica.
For the Yankees, they’re hoping it’s a chance to close out the best-of-five series behind the pitching of CC Sabathia. To get there, they’ll have to get a good outing from journeyman Freddy Garcia in Sunday’s Game 2.
For the Tigers, they’re hoping that they can still steal one at Yankee Stadium behind Max Scherzer on Sunday, so they wrest home-field advantage away from the Yankees, and potentially close it out at home, starting with Justin Verlander’s start Monday.
Despite the impression that the Tigers have already lost twice in this series — thanks to the rain-delayed Game 1, which stretched over two days — they haven’t.
They’re still on pace for what every road team needs to do in the playoffs — steal one on the road, and come back home with the advantage.
It’s what the Tampa Bay Rays did to the Rangers this weekend, taking Game 1.
And it’s what the Tigers are trying to do, as well.
“I’ve been positive all year. I’m staying positive,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told Chris Iott of MLive on Sunday. “We win this game today, we go home with Justin Verlander, everybody’s talking about the Tigers have the edge all of a sudden. … But you’ve got to go out and do it.”
That’s the double-edged sword of confidence in the postseason.
You start with it, as the favorite (or host), but it can be lost in a heartbeat.
“You’re really talking to the wrong guy, because I’ve always said I’m not so sure Game 7 of a big-time playoff isn’t better off on the road. I’ve always said that. If you knew you were going to win it, then (home-field is) the best case. But when you don’t, there’s more disappointment, it seems like,” Leyland said before the playoffs started, when the Tigers were still seeking home-field advantage themselves.
“When you get in the playoffs, it’s really simple: It truly is one day at a time. Because you get beat the first game, everybody’s down, but you know what? Nine innings later, you could have the series tied. So it truly is one day at a time when you get to the postseason.”
For the Tigers, that scenario could’ve been devastating, had they been the host, and lost Game 1, like the Rangers did.
But the Rangers, the defending AL champs, merely regrouped and won Game 2, evening the series at 1-1. The Yankees have that same sort of calm that comes from playoff experience.
With so many of Detroit’s players making their postseason debuts this weekend, there were bound to be some nerves, no matter where they were playing.
“I got a feeling of what it’s like, and there was some adrenaline. Anybody who says there’s not is full of it. It’s being able to channel it and use it the right way,” said Verlander, who threw 28 pitches in his only inning of work Friday, before the rains came. “I felt pretty calm and collected early on ... but I felt like I had to go to a little bit extra there before I would have liked.”
Leyland admitted there may have been some of that in facing Ivan Nova, a pitcher they’d only seen in relief, in the resumption of Game 1 on Saturday, saying he thought his hitters were “a bit antsy.”
There’s the possibility that Scherzer could be that way, too.
“Obviously when you’re on the bench and you see that atmosphere, it’s special. I haven’t seen anything like that in my life,” he said Saturday. “But at the same time, I also picture myself being in that moment and being relaxed in that moment. That’s what you want to pitch in. You want to pitch in the biggest stage. You want to achieve and have success in that stage. For me, I think I’m going to be very calm, even though I’m going to have a ton of adrenaline, I think I’ll be calm in that situation.”
Sunday’s game isn’t a must-win, other than the fact that a loss will put the Tigers on the brink of elimination. The three wins that the Tigers needed to get through the first round will have to come consecutively, finishing with a win at Yankee Stadium in Game 5. Certainly Sunday’s game is key.
Even Verlander, who lobbied his manager some to start Sunday’s game, is anticipating the atmosphere will be just as electric.
“Well, you know, I think it’s going to be a big game no matter what, whether it’s Game 1 at Yankee Stadium or Game 3 in Detroit. Obviously there will probably be a little bit more publicity now for Game 3 because of what occurred and all the news that encompassed it with me and CC facing off again. Either way you look at it, it’s going to be a swing game. Hopefully it’s a swing game and the series is tied up at 1-1. Hopefully it doesn't have to be a must-win situation for us. Either way, it’s going to be an exciting game,” he said.
“You know it's going to be electric tomorrow. The fans in Detroit have been waiting anxiously for this day since 2006. Hopefully we don’t disappoint them and hopefully we have a lot more home games.”