DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers were done spitting tobacco juice all over the New York Yankees' mission statement, done reducing the world's most famous ballteam to one better suited for the tournament in Williamsport, when the Yankees were suddenly alone with their own staggering inadequacies.
They were stuffed inside a shoebox of a Comerica Park clubhouse that even Red Auerbach would've found unfit for a visiting team when Joe Girardi, the manager, asked his devastated players this question:
"How do we all get better next year so we don't have this feeling?"
Better? This Yankees team that just got swept into oblivion isn't getting any better, not before it gets worse.
Bum luck wasn't the reason the Yankees never once held a lead in this American League Championship Series, something next-to-impossible to pull off. They played 39 innings and somehow failed to score in 36 of them, and their .188 batting average was the worst ever for a postseason team that played at least seven games.
So Brian Cashman has to make dramatic changes, not the tweak-here, tweak-there approach he was selling Thursday night after Max Scherzer hit the Bronx Bombers with the kind of right hand Max Schmeling once landed on the Brown Bomber (in their first fight) and sent the Yanks down for good.
Scherzer struck out nine of the first 16 batters he faced and no-hit the American League's top seed across five innings while the Tigers teed off on CC Sabathia for six runs, two homers, 11 hits in all. Much as Cashman and Girardi swore their demise had everything to do with execution, and nothing to do with effort, they couldn't deny that the Yanks offered no resistance in their 8-1 Game 4 defeat.
"Embarrassing," Sabathia called it.
"I don't know what happened to a lot of our guys," Cashman conceded.
The Yankees only advanced out of the first playoff round because the Baltimore Orioles were even more hopeless at the plate, and because Sabathia refused to let his team lose a home Game 5. But Detroit didn't have Nate McLouth as its main offensive weapon. Detroit had a lineup stacked with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and series MVP Delmon Young, who had as many RBIs in these four games (six) as the Yankees had runs.
Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Eric Chavez -- they were non-persons for the entire postseason. "A perfect storm," Cashman called the coinciding droughts, and one that wouldn't have been navigated by the captain, Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in Game 1.
Maybe Jeter finds a way to push this series to five games, nothing more. He wasn't about to save his team from its best player, Cano, the room-temperature star who went 3-for-40 (.075) in the postseason, a stat that will stick to him in New York like John Starks' bygone 2-for-18.
Girardi called Cano's no-show October "baffling" and "pretty difficult for me to understand." The same went for Rodriguez, who was demoted, replaced, benched for good, and left to answer questions about a possible trade to his hometown Miami Marlins and a possible Game 1 date he tried to score with an Australian bikini model.
Yes, even Rex Ryan would've agreed the 2012 Yankees had become a no-ring circus.
Rodriguez was wearing dark shades in the dugout and chewing sunflower seeds at a rapid-fire pace before Girardi finally sent him into the game to face a lefty reliever, Drew Smyly, in the sixth, sent him up there to hit a soft fly to center that represented a small measure of progress: A-Rod had actually put a ball in play.
He did nothing more, and afterward Rodriguez said he wanted to remain a Yankee, wanted to force Girardi to return him to the heart of the order as an everyday slugger.
"I've never thought about going to another team," A-Rod said.
Cashman will do that thinking for him, Cashman and team president Randy Levine. The Yankees hadn't been swept in a best-of-seven series since 1976, when the Big Red Machine steamrolled them and inspired George Steinbrenner to give a free agent named Reggie Jackson whatever he wanted.
The Boss is gone, and this time around the Yanks aren't desperate to land a big-name player; they're desperate to get rid of one. If A-Rod once put a chokehold on an offseason by opting out on the Yankees, the Yankees will try to put a chokehold on this offseason by opting out on him.
In Rodriguez's place Thursday, Chavez screwed up yet another ultra-makeable play that led to yet another damaging run. This is the same Chavez who, as an Oakland Athletic, said the following in a news conference broadcast during Yankee warmups before Game 5 of the 2000 Division Series:
"They've won enough times. It's time for some other people to have some glory here."
Those Yankees said they were inspired by Chavez's words to win that series and, ultimately, to win it all. These Yankees?
Nothing could inspire them, not even the crippling injury to their captain, and not even the appearance of their ace in a win-or-else Game 4.
As it turned out, Sabathia sabotaged his own cause by throwing a glorified round of BP. But Girardi's decision to play Chavez over Rodriguez did the ace no favors, as the replacement at third failed to convert Omar Infante's routine grounder into an out in the first inning and handed the Tigers a 1-0 lead that felt like a 10-0 lead.
Chavez's 0-for-16 made him the Yankee with the most hitless at-bats ever in one postseason, further damning Girardi's decision to sit Rodriguez. But this collapse wasn't only about A-Rod, and the noise forever surrounding him.
These Yankees were bone tired in the end, a team with nothing left to give, and Cashman can't dismiss the sweep as a mere function of "a lot of guys in the lineup that got cold at a really bad time."
There's a reason the old Yanks fell apart -- they're old. Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte all suffered major leg injuries this year, and Rodriguez's personal meltdown had to be attributed in part to his advancing age and wear and tear.
"I don't care if it's old," Cashman said, citing his 40-year-old breakout star, Raul Ibanez. "I care if it's good."
He should care that it's old, too. The GM should search for young, athletic supplements to his graying core.
"We're not running out Carl Lewis," Cashman maintained, not that anybody's asking for Olympic sprinters.
But if there's any way to find another Austin Jackson, the kid dealt for Granderson, the Tiger who smacked a Game 4 homer and batted .353 for the series, yeah, that would make a lot of sense.
Phil Coke, another ex-Yank packaged in the Granderson deal, fired his glove into the mound after he finished off his former team in the ninth. Coke was carrying his baby daughter outside the visitors' clubhouse when Cashman congratulated him and gave him a hug.
"Everybody's going back to the drawing board," said Cashman, who called his team's blowout defeat "hard to stomach."
The GM said he's sticking to the Yankee program, and taking his chances with left-handed power. Cashman promised again that this team will never become "the Bronx Bunters" on his watch.
If a complete philosophical shift to small ball isn't required, the Yankees need to diversify their offense, become less reliant on the three-run homer, and offer a fortune to their former coach, Larry Bowa, and ask him to get back in Cano's face.
The Yankees can keep most of their pitchers, but they can't come back in 2013 with a surgically repaired Jeter, a surgically repaired Rivera, and a spiritually refreshed Rodriguez (he'll claim, anyway) and hope for the best.
New outfielders and a new era at third base would be a hell of a start. If the Yankees don't make the necessary changes in the winter, they might not advance far enough in the fall to suffer a second-round sweep.