NEW YORK — There was Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit and Mariano Rivera’s record-setting save. Another division title and the best record in the American League. A stirring regular season marked by milestones and celebrations.
In the end, however, the New York Yankees went down with a whimper.
Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and almost all the big-money boppers had their chance to come through in the clutch Thursday night. They never delivered. Suddenly, it’s over.
“Anything less than a championship is a lost year,” Mark Teixeira said. “None of us were ready to go home.”
No parade up Broadway, no sparkling World Series ring to go with the 27 others. No fairy-tale ending for Jorge Posada.
Just a long, cold winter to look back and wonder why one of baseball’s best lineups whiffed when it mattered most.
Doug Fister and three relievers stopped the Yankees in their tracks, pitching their way out of several pressure-packed jams and sending the Detroit Tigers into the AL championship series with a 3-2 victory in Game 5.
“I thought we had it, man,” Cano said.
New York manager Joe Girardi tried just about everything. He went to the bullpen early, pulling his ailing rookie starter, Ivan Nova, after two shaky innings. CC Sabathia came in for the first relief appearance of his professional career.
None of it was enough. The big bats let the Yankees down.
“Obviously this is a terrible day for us,” 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.”
Jeter made a bid for a go-ahead homer in the eighth, but his drive to right was caught in front of the fence.
Quite literally, the Yankees came up just short.
They went 0 for 4 with the bases loaded and stranded 11. They finished 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and neither hit delivered a run. Cano cracked a solo homer that gave him nine RBIs in the series and Teixeira drew a bases-loaded walk.
That was it.
And when Rodriguez, in a most fitting finish, went down swinging against Jose Valverde, the Tigers rushed out of the dugout to rejoice on New York’s home field. Rodriguez also whiffed to end last season, in the ALCS against Texas.
“This one especially stings. Obviously, Game 5 at home,” Rodriguez said. “This is a game that we felt really good about. We should have won, and we had opportunities there late.”
Batting cleanup and nagged by injuries in the second half, the three-time MVP struck out three times Thursday and went 2 for 18 (.111) in the series. Right behind him, Teixeira was 3 for 18 (.167) as New York was knocked out of the playoffs by Detroit in the first round for the second time in six seasons.
“It’s not one guy,” Teixeira said. “It’s on the entire lineup.”
In a quiet clubhouse, the 40-year-old Posada got choked up and cut off questions about his future.
“I gave it all on the field,” said the longtime Yankees catcher, in the final year of his contract.
Twice, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. They managed only one run. Russell Martin and Brett Gardner popped out to end the fourth. Nick Swisher went down swinging on a high pitch to end the seventh.
“The feeling I have in my stomach now, it’s just a nasty feeling,” he said.
Earlier in that inning, A-Rod was booed after fanning with the sacks full for the second out.
“That’s a dream at-bat. Those are at-bats I relish, and I had a lot of confidence I would get something done there in a positive way,” Rodriguez said. “He gave me one splitter that I laid off of, and I couldn’t lay off the other.”
Cano flied out with two on to finish the third.
Facing elimination in Detroit, the Yankees earned a reprieve Tuesday. Two spectacular catches by center fielder Curtis Granderson helped shaky starter A.J. Burnett save the season with a 10-1 victory in Game 4.
Back home in the Bronx, 50,960 fans turned out to see New York advance to its third straight AL championship series. Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Valverde spoiled the party.
“The level of disappointment is through the roof,” Sabathia said.
Nova had 16 wins to lead major league rookies and never looked nervous in this one. He threw 14 of his first 15 pitches for strikes, but the Tigers came out swinging and took advantage.
Surprise playoff star Don Kelly, the second batter of the game, homered to right. Delmon Young hit the next pitch out to left, setting a Detroit record with three homers in a postseason series.
After a leadoff double by Magglio Ordonez in the second, Phil Hughes began warming up in the bullpen. Nova worked his way out of a jam, but Girardi went to Hughes to start the third.
Two innings later, the Yankees announced that Nova was removed with tightness in his right forearm. He was scheduled for an MRI on Friday.
Hughes and Boone Logan kept the score 2-0 until Sabathia entered in the fifth.
Working on two days’ rest, he gave up a busted-bat double to speedy Austin Jackson. After two strikeouts and an intentional walk to AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez hit an RBI single to make it 3-0.
“It was weird,” Sabathia said about pitching in relief. “Everything went really fast, from me warming up to getting in the game. I felt like I was ready.
“Just didn’t make pitches, and that’s pretty much my whole postseason this year.”
Martinez had been 6 for 29 (.207) against Sabathia — the two were teammates for years in Cleveland.
“I didn’t necessarily think it was a hard game to manage,” Girardi said. “It’s a hard game to swallow.”
NOTES: Sabathia can opt out of the $161 million, seven-year contract he signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season. … General manager Brian Cashman’s deal is up and he reiterated that he wants to stay on. “I have a contract that runs to the end of the month. It’s going to be a long month,” he said. … Moments after the final out, an image of head athletic trainer Gene Monahan wa s displayed on the giant scoreboard in center field with the message, “Thank You Geno!” Monahan is retiring after 49 seasons with the club.