NEW YORK -- Of all the challenges that the Yankees have confronted and overcome this year, they will now be forced to face their toughest test and perhaps one of their worst nightmares: battling through a postseason without Derek Jeter on their side.
The Yankees captain suffered a fractured left ankle in the 12th inning of a 6-4 loss to the Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, adding a crushing blow on top of a deflating outcome.
"It's a very difficult moment for all of us," said Raul Ibanez, whose ninth-inning, game-tying home run had the Yankees joyously bouncing at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum just 73 minutes earlier. "It's obvious what he means to our team."
The Yankees' clubhouse seemed sullen after the defeat, with Jeter's empty locker standing as evidence of an ALCS opener gone wrong. Infield clay transported by Jeter's uniform still scuffed the armrests of his chair, likely where Jeter propped himself before being helped to an X-ray machine.
"The way to honor Derek, more than anything else, is to get the job done in his absence," general manager Brian Cashman said. "That's what everybody in here intends to do, and that's what they'll focus on -- just like when we lost everybody else."
The Yankees have handled injuries on an almost comical level; many expected their season would be derailed by losing all-time great Mariano Rivera in May. But the Yankees persevered, winning 95 games and the AL East, and now they will have to win eight more times to secure a World Series without Jeter.
"We just have to have guys step up," Mark Teixeira said. "It's been the theme all year. If one team is used to having guys step in to take someone's place, it's us. We've had to deal with it all year."
Through the first eight innings, the Yankees were drowned by Detroit pitching into a cocktail of bad luck and poor situational hitting, loading the bases three times in 6 1/3 innings against starter Doug Fister but proving unable to push a run across.
Their fortunes seemed to turn in the ninth inning as shaky closer Jose Valverde was unable to hold a four-run lead. Ichiro Suzuki lined a two-run homer and Ibanez lived up to his cult hero billing with a game-tying blast to right, repeating his feat from Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Orioles.
"The only thing that matters is that we win games," Ibanez said. "That's the only thing that matters. It doesn't matter how we win them."
But Detroit reclaimed the lead in the 12th against David Phelps, as Delmon Young laced a liner past a tumbling stab by right fielder Nick Swisher, scoring Miguel Cabrera with the go-ahead run.
"I just got caught right up in the lights, man," Swisher said, "and I just went completely blind."
One batter later, Jeter hit the dirt lunging for a Jhonny Peralta infield hit and was unable to get up, flipping the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano as he screamed, writhing in agony.
Though Jeter told manager Joe Girardi, "No, do not carry me," Jeter was unable to put pressure on his left leg. He draped his arms over Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue, who slowly escorted Jeter to the dugout and to the offseason.
"When Derek Jeter needs help to get off the field," Cashman said, "you know it's bad."
Detroit added an insurance run on Andy Dirks' infield single. The Yankees would certainly have preferred if the only hard luck they were talking about belonged to Andy Pettitte, Jeter's fellow "Core Four" member.
OCTOBER: ANDY'S TIME
Pettitte turned in yet another vintage postseason starting performance, but with no run support behind his 6 2/3-innings outing, he departed in line for the loss before Ibanez's homer saved that scoring decision.
"I felt a little bit stronger tonight, I felt like my command was a little bit better," said Pettitte, who walked three (one intentionally) and struck out five. "I felt good out there. I just wish I could've kept zeros on the board."
With Jeter now unavailable, the Yankees will look to Jayson Nix to fill the shortstop void, while adding Eduardo Nunez as an injury replacement. Nix and Nunez, however, are hardly the only players the Yankees need if they are to secure their 41st AL pennant.
That much was clear through eight innings, and the crowd again jeered Alex Rodriguez, one day after he was benched for the ALDS clincher over the Orioles. Yet Rodriguez isn't alone among the list of Yankees who have had difficulty getting their bats in gear.
Peralta's diving stab robbed Rodriguez of a run-scoring hit in the first inning and a questionable call by first-base umpire Rob Drake cost the Yankees a run in the second inning, as Cano bashed a ball off Fister's right wrist -- only to see it ricochet to Peralta, who threw to first base.
"Give Jhonny Peralta credit, he made two incredible plays," Teixeira said.
There were no credits to issue for three strikeouts against Fister in the sixth, leaving the bases loaded.
In so many ways, it just wasn't the Yankees' night.
You could see that in the way Austin Jackson's fluky sixth-inning triple used incredible top-spin to steer into the ball-boy's chair down the right-field line, setting up RBI singles for Prince Fielder and Young off Pettitte.
But there was nothing iffy about Young's eighth-inning homer off Derek Lowe, or Avisail Garcia's RBI single off Boone Logan, offering what seemed like it would be a cushy lead for Valverde before Ibanez delivered what seemed like it'd be a historic moonshot.
"We'll bounce back," Teixeira said. "We have a chance to win a game tomorrow and then go to Detroit. It's a seven-game series, there's a long way to go."
And perhaps that's the only stance that they could take. It didn't appear that Teixeira, or anyone, paused to mournfully examine the dirt-stained carpet surrounding Jeter's locker on their way out the door.
So often, Jeter has stood in that very spot and said that you can't sit around and think about guys who aren't here, that people are going to have to step up, that no one is going to feel sorry for them. Now it's the Yankees' turn to prove that they've been listening.