Money won’t win a championship for the New York Yankees this season.
The Yankees’ $115 million starting lineup was held to two runs with the season on the line, losing 3-2 to the Detroit Tigers last night at Yankee Stadium in the decisive fifth game of their Major League Baseball first-round playoff series.
The Yankees entered the 2011 season with baseball’s biggest payroll at $202.7 million and their 25-man postseason roster had about $192 million in combined salary, twice that of the Tigers.
When Alex Rodriguez -- the sport’s highest-paid player with a 10-year, $275 million contract -- struck out for the third time, it ended both the game and the Yankees’ season while sending Detroit into the American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.
“Maybe in years past I felt like I put too much pressure on myself, but I have no regrets,” Rodriguez, who went 2-for-18 in the series, said in the Yankees’ locker room. “It’s hard to tip your hat, but you’ve got to do it.”
The Yankees’ nine-man starting lineup, which features seven players making more than $8 million this year, was held to two hits in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position by Detroit pitchers Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Fister and Scherzer, who together pitched 6 1/3 innings, have a combined salary of about $1 million this season.
“Right now it’s tough to handle,” said Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, who went 4-for-19 in the series, including a bases-loaded strikeout to end the seventh inning last night. “Collectively, as a team, we couldn’t get it done and now we have to take that into the offseason.”
Back-to-Back Home Runs
The 27-time World Series-champion Yankees turned to Ivan Nova, the second-lowest paid player on their postseason roster, to keep their season alive and the rookie allowed home runs to two of the first three batters he faced last night. Detroit’s Don Kelly, who has a $423,000 salary, hit a solo homer into the right-field seats and Delmon Young followed with a shot over the left-field wall on the next pitch to give Detroit a quick 2-0 lead and quiet the crowd of 50,960, the biggest in the history of the current Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.
Nova was replaced by Phil Hughes in the third inning after experiencing what the Yankees said was a tight right forearm. Hughes and Boone Logan pitched two scoreless innings of relief before New York brought in CC Sabathia, whose $24.3 million salary is the second highest on the team.
In his first relief appearance after 370 career starts in the regular season and postseason, Sabathia gave up another run when former Yankee Austin Jackson led off the fifth inning with a double and scored the Tigers’ third run on a two-out single by Victor Martinez.
It proved to be the deciding run, with the Yankees getting a solo home run from Robinson Cano in the bottom of the fifth inning and a bases-loaded walk in the seventh.
They also had a series of missed opportunities.
New York loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning before Russell Martin and Brett Gardner hit pop-ups to end the threat.
Rodriguez and Swisher both had strikeouts around Mark Teixeira’s bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning. In the eighth, the Yankees put the tying run on base before Derek Jeter flew out to the warning track in right field to end the inning, coming up just short of a go-ahead home run.
“I thought it might have a chance,” said Jeter, the Yankees’ captain, who is making $14.7 million this season. “They’re better than us, that’s the bottom line. They’re moving on.”
In the ninth, Valverde retired Curtis Granderson, Cano and Rodriguez -- the Yankees’ 2-3-4 hitters -- to record his 51st save in as many opportunities this season. The Tigers raced onto the field to celebrate as Rodriguez, who’s making $32 million this season, swung through a fastball to end the game.
“In a short series, sometimes the difference is one at-bat, one swing, one play,” said Teixeira, who finished 3-for-18 in the series and is batting .170 in the postseason since signing an eight-year, $180 million contract with the Yankees before the 2009 season. “You try to put together good at-bats. If you don’t get the results, it’s tough.”
While the Tigers move on, the Yankees, who led the AL with 97 wins to earn home-field advantage, now look to next season.
“Whether we underachieved, I couldn’t say that,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “They were better than us, it’s as simple as that. They were able to find a way to get three wins to our two. There’s nothing more I can do about it and it’s our time to look at 2012, unfortunately.”