Justin Verlander and Detroit’s stellar starters are on quite a roll — no matter who is in the opposing lineup.
Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning and the Tigers held on to beat New York 2-1 Tuesday night for a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series. Yankees manager Joe Girardi changed his batting order again, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in an effort to snap his team out of an untimely hitting funk.
No such luck.
“I have seen a lot of teams shuffle around a lot of lineups when I am out there, so it doesn’t really faze me one way or the other if those guys are in there or not,” Verlander said. “I just need to come up with the game plan to face the certain guys that I am going to face. I can’t say I was surprised, but that’s Girardi’s decision, not mine.”
Phil Coke gave up consecutive singles with two outs in the ninth before striking out post-season star Raul Ibanez for his second save in two games. Detroit can complete a sweep and earn its second pennant in seven years Wednesday night when Max Scherzer pitches against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
“We put ourselves in a decent position, but that’s all we have done,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Verlander allowed only a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki and a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez in the ninth. Delmon Young hit a solo home run for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double.
Yankees starter Phil Hughes was lifted in the fourth because of a stiff back, but right now it’s the Yankees’ hitting that has them on the brink of elimination. New York is batting .182 for the series and .200 during the post-season.
“There were some good at-bats tonight. The ball was not carrying tremendously well tonight, we know that,” Girardi said. “But I think he ended up with three strikeouts. So our guys put the ball in play and tried to get on base, but, you know, when you face Verlander, you know what you’re up against.”
Seeking their first World Series title since 1984, the Tigers were on a historic pitching run even before their ace took the mound Tuesday. With the exception of a four-run ninth inning against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1, New York had been shut out for the entire series.
Nunez’s homer snapped a scoreless streak by Detroit starters of 30 1-3 innings. That’s a record for a single post-season, according to STATS LLC. The previous mark of 29 innings was set by Oakland in 1974.
Verlander fell just short of a second straight shutout after stopping the Athletics in the decisive fifth game of the division series. He struck out only three but kept New York off the scoreboard until the homer to left field by Nunez, the first run allowed by the powerful right-hander since he gave up a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Nunez was at shortstop because Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1 and will miss the rest of the season.
Verlander got Brett Gardner on a tapper before he was lifted after 132 pitches, one shy of his career high set in Game 5 of last year’s ALCS against Texas.
“Normally I guess you don’t take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him,” Leyland said.
Coke came in and allowed two-out hits to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, with the latter snapping a drought of 29 at-bats without a hit.
An anxious Verlander paced in the dugout and rubbed the bald head of a teammate before Ibanez, who hit tying and winning homers in the same game in the ALDS against Baltimore and tied Game 1 of this series with a homer in the ninth, struck out swinging at a breaking ball to end it.
“I’ve got faith in our bullpen. Coke did a great job in New York. He’s done a great job for us all year, so I was OK with it,” Verlander said. “And I was up around 130 pitches or so, so I don’t think they’re just going to leave me out there and sacrifice the rest of the post-season just for this game, especially when Coke’s been throwing the ball extremely well.”
The game ended with Nick Swisher on deck to pinch-hit, not Rodriguez. Girardi said he let Ibanez bat because he has been coming through with big hits and he figured the Tigers could replace Coke with right-hander Joaquin Benoit if a pinch-hitter came up.
Rodriguez also was benched for Game 5 against Baltimore after he was pulled for pinch-hitters in the previous two games. A-Rod is 3 for 23 (.130) without an RBI or extra-base hit this post-season, his latest October flop. The numbers are especially ugly against right-handers: 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts.
The three-time AL MVP was not available to reporters before or after the game.
Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, nearly became the first pitcher in 24 years to throw consecutive shutouts in the post-season, according to STATS LLC. Orel Hershiser did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, blanking the New York Mets in Game 7 of the NL championship series and the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the World Series.
Valverde’s meltdown nearly cost Detroit the first game of this series, but the Tigers were able to win 6-4 in 12 innings. Coke closed out a 3-0 victory in Game 2 and was able to hold on Tuesday in a tense final inning.
Hughes matched Verlander in a scoreless duel until Young led off the Detroit fourth with a line drive over the wall in left field. It was his seventh homer in the last two postseasons — he’s already the Tigers’ career leader in that department.
“I knew I hit it hard enough, but we weren’t in Yankee Stadium, so I had to wait an extra 30 feet for it to land,” Young said.
Andy Dirks followed with a walk, and Hughes was pulled with an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. David Phelps came on and got out of the inning, but the Yankees now have a pitching injury to go along with all their hitting problems.
“We will see how he is tomorrow and we’ll see what we have tomorrow, which will determine what we do,” Girardi said.
Hughes allowed a run and three hits in three-plus innings. He walked three and struck out one.
“It started to tighten up on me in the third. It wasn’t too bad and I was trying to stay in the game but they decided with the way things were going to go to the bullpen,” Hughes said. “I wanted to stay in. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t pitch. Joe didn’t want to take any chances.”
The Yankees kept it close, dodging several Detroit rallies. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth when Eric Chavez — Rodriguez’s replacement at third — misplayed a grounder. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, followed with an RBI double.
Cabrera has a 16-game hitting streak in LCS play, breaking a tie for that record with Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose, according to STATS.
Cabrera hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth, preventing the Tigers from adding more runs.