Hughes, bullpen can't stave off elimination
Texas' four-run fifth inning leads to end of New York's season
ARLINGTON -- With disappointment as large as the state of Texas, the Yankees trudged off the field at Rangers Ballpark toward a bitter winter, acknowledging that the Rangers outplayed them in every facet of the American League Championship Series.
The Rangers punched their ticket to the first World Series in franchise history by toppling the defending champion Yankees, sending the Bombers back to the Bronx empty-handed, their season completed by a 6-1 defeat in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night.
The three hits recorded by the Yankees were the fewest in franchise history for an elimination game, and in pondering how Texas had derailed their chase of a 28th championship title, there were no shortage of correct reasons to point to.
"They overall played better," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "They pitched better, they hit better, they just outplayed us. That's just the bottom line. They were a lot better than us these six games."
Sighing from a folding chair in front of his locker, his undershirt still damp with sweat and his cap slightly askew, Jeter continued, "They deserve to be moving on. They were a better team than us."
From the Yankees' command center in Tampa, Fla., Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued the following statement:
"On behalf of the New York Yankees, I want to congratulate the Texas Rangers, Chuck Greenberg, Nolan Ryan and their entire ownership, staff and organization on winning their first American League pennant. They played liked champions, and we wish them the best of luck representing the American League in the World Series."
Needing two wins in Arlington against long odds to secure a second straight pennant, New York was crushed by a four-run Texas fifth inning.
Phil Hughes ran out of gas and Nelson Cruz blasted a back-breaking two-run homer off Dave Robertson, blowing the game open in front of a frenzied crowd of 51,404 waving red giveaway pom-poms.
"We didn't accomplish what we set out to," manager Joe Girardi said. "And as I told my guys, this hurts. I've been through it as a player, I've been through it as a coach and now I've been through it as a manager. It's not a lot of fun watching other teams celebrate."
The Yankees' season officially ended when Alex Rodriguez was frozen by a Neftali Feliz curveball for the final out. Rodriguez was once issued a $252 million contract with instructions to get the Rangers to the World Series, and in a perverse way, he finally has.
"It's unbelievable that it would come around, and of all people I'm the last guy up there," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure it made it a little bit sweeter for them."
The outcome didn't seem to be in doubt at that point, as Rangers starter Colby Lewis pitched the storybook game of his life.
The right-hander limited the Yankees to one run and three hits in eight innings, now owning claim to both postseason victories in history recorded by a Texas pitcher in Arlington.
"It wasn't like he was walking anybody," Jeter said. "He was throwing strikes -- he pitched a good game. We had an approach. The approach didn't work. He really didn't get in trouble the entire game."
New York's only run scored in the fifth inning, when A-Rod doubled to break up Lewis' no-hit bid and scored on a wild pitch that replays showed actually clipped Nick Swisher, which should have made it a dead ball and a hit by pitch.
It mattered little in the end, as Hughes could not recapture the form that earned him his first All-Star selection this year, allowing four runs to the Rangers' persistent offense before being knocked out in the decisive fifth inning.
"It's very frustrating," said Hughes, his arms crossed in front of his empty locker. "I had one job to do tonight, and that was to pitch well. I couldn't do the job. It's very frustrating -- a very empty feeling to have your season end this way."
As they did in his first ALCS start, the Rangers jumped on the 24-year-old Hughes for a first-inning lead. Elvis Andrus stroked a two-strike double to center field and moved to third on a Josh Hamilton single before scoring on Vladimir Guerrero's groundout.
Hughes battled through the next three innings -- including a sequence that saw him throw a wild pitch on an intentional walk to Hamilton, but ultimately caused no harm -- before he could not record the final out of the fifth, screaming in the dugout upon charging down the runway.
Mitch Moreland started the fifth with a grounder to second base that was ruled a hit, as Robinson Cano fielded and threw past the first-base bag, where Hughes was late covering.
Hughes induced a pair of groundouts, but the Yankees picked their poison and decided not to allow Hamilton -- the ALCS Most Valuable Player -- to beat them, issuing a second intentional walk. Guerrero made New York pay, belting a hanging curveball to deep center for a two-run double.
"It's the smart play," Hughes said. "[Hamilton is] arguably the MVP of this league, and you can't let a guy like that beat you. We put him on and my job isn't to speculate about moves. That's Joe's decision. My job is to get [Guerrero] out, and I didn't do it."
That ended Hughes' evening, as Girardi retrieved the ball and entrusted it to Robertson, fighting through a luckless postseason. Cruz dealt the crushing blow on the sixth pitch of his at-bat, delivering a two-run homer into the seats in left-center to open up a 5-1 Texas lead.
"We struggled in this series -- we did," Girardi said. "They have a lot of good hitters, and if you make mistakes, there are usually crooked numbers on the board. That's what happened tonight. ... You take away one inning and one game, and it was very one-sided. We just didn't get it done."
Ian Kinsler extended the Rangers' lead with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly off Kerry Wood, as much of the sellout crowd -- many of them sporting "Claw" and "Antler" T-shirts -- declined to use their seats in anticipation of the final innings, upsetting a Yankees team that believed they would come back.
"It's pointless to think about," Jeter said. "They're moving on, so it's a better team. You can sit here and you hear teams that lose, and they always say, 'I felt as though we had a better team.' We didn't have a better team. They beat us. There are no excuses. They played better."
The defeat confirms that, as has been the case since 2001, there will be a new World Series champion crowned at the conclusion of this season. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he could not have foreseen the ALCS being so one-sided.
"That they whacked us like that? It's surprising," Cashman said. "We have some thump, too, and it never really materialized, outside of some of the guys. We couldn't really get anything going."
Ultimately, after 95 regular-season wins to earn an AL Wild Card berth and a commanding sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series, the Bombers fell short in their bid to repeat after having christened the new Yankee Stadium with a crown in its maiden season.
"This is going to hurt," Rodriguez said. "It's going to hurt for a while, and it should. We expect to win every year, and our front office puts a team on the field that is expected to win. We came up short."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.