NEW YORK — The Yankees wield the same lofty expectations for each season, which makes it easy to figure out what the objective is at the beginning. It makes closing nights like Thursday even more difficult.
The Yankees’ dreams of a 28th World Series championship were dashed and packed into winter hibernation, as the Tigers defeated New York, 3-2, in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
Alex Rodriguez struck out against closer Jose Valverde for the final out of New York’s 167th and final game of the season, marking the second time in as many years that the game’s highest-paid player has been the club’s final out of the postseason.
“It’s devastating,” Rodriguez said. “This is going to hurt for a long time. This one stings, especially at home.”
Detroit became the first visiting club to celebrate clinching a postseason series on the field at the new Yankee Stadium, moving on to face the Texas Rangers in the AL Championship Series opening on Saturday.
For the Yankees, the winter has already begun. They face an offseason headlined by the likely opt-out of ace CC Sabathia and the chance that Key Three member Jorge Posada has played his final game in pinstripes.
“It’s terrible,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s an empty feeling for everyone in that room, and it hurts. You’ve just got to remember this feeling, and we’ll be determined next year.”
New York’s only runs scored on a fifth-inning Robinson Cano home run off starter Doug Fister and a seventh-inning bases loaded walk that Mark Teixeira worked against Joaquin Benoit.
“It’s very disappointing,” Teixeira said. “Anything less than a championship is a lost year here. I’m proud of the way we fought all year long, but at the end of the day, we just didn’t get the job done.”
That it was Valverde gyrating on the field and leading the party in a wild clubhouse celebration rubbed salt in the wound for the Yankees, who heard him pronounce the series “over” loud and clear after Game 2.
“We had the guy that we wanted to beat,” Nick Swisher said. “All that talking he’s been doing, man — as much as I don’t want to say it, I do have to say, ‘Congratulations.’ Those guys pitched extremely well this series, especially against a potent lineup like ours.”
Girardi’s bullpen usage raised eyebrows after starter Ivan Nova was pulled after two innings, but it was later revealed that Nova had complained of right forearm tightness and will have an MRI exam performed on Friday in New York.
“Nobody can feel good about this,” Nova said. “You could win; you have the chance to win. It’s hard right now. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Nova surrendered two first-inning solo homers to put his club down early in a game it never led.
Don Kelly poked the first into the right-field seats and Delmon Young followed on the next pitch with a rocket to left field, marking the first back-to-back homers in Tigers postseason history.
“Some of his fastballs were cutting, and we never saw that, so I had to make a change,” Girardi said of Nova. “I had to try to get our bullpen through it. They did a tremendous job — one run through seven innings.”
Nova vanished when the third inning began, gone after 31 pitches and replaced by Phil Hughes, who pitched 1 1/3 innings around two hits before Boone Logan got the last two outs of the fourth.
That set up CC Sabathia’s first professional relief appearance, and Sabathia served up a run to put Detroit up by three, as Austin Jackson doubled and scored on a Victor Martinez single.
“The level of disappointment is through the roof,” Sabathia said. “We come into Spring Training with a goal to win the World Series every year. That’s not a goal for every team, but it is a goal of ours. And we didn’t get it done.”
Sabathia struck out four in 1 1/3 innings before giving way to Rafael Soriano, who induced a big double play in the sixth. David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth ahead of Mariano Rivera, who was used for just four outs in the entire ALDS.
“Our pitchers threw as well as they could this year,” Girardi said. “I really believe that. They pitched their hearts out. Those guys have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Yankees closed the deficit to one run in the seventh inning, as Derek Jeter legged out a one-out infield single that chased Max Scherzer in favor of Benoit.
Curtis Granderson lined a 3-2 pitch to right field for a single and Benoit couldn’t field a Cano dribbler back to the mound, loading the bases. A-Rod struck out, but Teixeira forced in a run with a walk before Swisher fanned to leave three men on.
“When you have opportunities like that, we talk about keeping momentum going, even if it’s a sac fly to at least get one run in there,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t get the job done.”
The Yankees also left the bases loaded in the fourth inning, with Russell Martin and Brett Gardner popping out in succession to end the frame.
“I look at this game, and it was one hit, maybe one sac fly,” Girardi said. “That was the difference.”
The elimination game marked the third consecutive loss in such a contest for the Yankees, who also fell in the fifth game of the 2005 ALDS to the Angels and the seventh game of the ’04 ALCS to the Red Sox.
New York’s last victory in an elimination game was Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which Aaron Boone won with a walk-off homer in the 11th inning.
There was one last gasp from a sellout crowd that seemed convinced — maybe by the simple fact that it has happened so many times before — that the chilly Bronx air had a little more magic in it.
With two outs in the eighth against Benoit, Jeter lifted a deep fly to right field that momentarily raised hopes of a go-ahead shot.
In the Yankees’ dugout, Girardi’s heart jumped and so did he, knowing how generous the short porch has been in the three years since it replicated the old one across the street.
But the Yankees’ fortunes seemed to have run out for 2011, as the ball landed harmlessly in Kelly’s glove just shy of the padded wall.
“I thought maybe it had a chance,” Jeter said. “I guess I hit it a little too high. I guess maybe it wasn’t meant to be.”