DETROIT – Former manager Billy Martin famously picked the New York Yankees’ batting order out of a hat one day in 1977, leading to Reggie Jackson getting moved out of the cleanup slot to third, Thurman Munson batting second and Chris Chambliss hitting eighth. It also led to a seven-run game for his club and a win.
But that was in April, not under the spotlight of October. Current skipper Joe Girardi didn’t use any hats Tuesday but it sure seemed like he might have. Against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, however, it would have made no difference.
Even with the struggling Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher benched, the Yankees continued to look helpless at the plate. Verlander was dominant in taking a shutout into the ninth as the Yankees continued their dip to historic futility while dropping a 2-1 decision to the Tigers in Comerica Park.
A rally towel-waving crowd of 42,970 roared its approval as the Tigers took a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. They can wrap it up here tonight (8, TBS) and go to the World Series for the first time since 2006. Max Scherzer gets the call against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
“We’ve worked so long, we’ve worked too hard for this,” said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. “I don’t fault anybody’s effort or preparation or how hard we’ve worked. It just hasn’t happened for us.”
Ichiro Suzuki had singles in the fourth and seventh and those were the only two baserunners in the first eight innings for the Yankees. No. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez stunned Verlander and the crowd with a full-count home run to left leading off the ninth, stopping Verlander’s bid to become the first pitcher to toss back-to-back postseason shutouts since Orel Hershiser (1988).
It also prevented the Yankees from being shut out in consecutive postseason games for the first time ever. Verlander was removed after getting Brett Gardner on a comebacker to the mound. He thew 132 pitches over his 8∑ innings, one shy of his season high.
“Normally I guess you don’t take Secretariat out in the final furlong,” joked Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “But that was pretty much it for him. I was not going to let him face Ichiro.”
The Nunez homer snapped a streak of 37 innings by Detroit starters without allowing an earned run, the longest in a single postseason in the live-ball era.
“Pitching is contagious just like hitting,” said Verlander, who struck out only three. “We are all competitive guys. We wouldn’t be at this level if we weren’t. You see somebody go out there and have a good game and you want to one-up that guy.”
Ex-Yankee Phil Coke got a nervous save after giving up singles to Teixeira and Robinson Cano, the latter snapping his MLB record for consecutive hitless at-bats at 29. But with the tying run at second, Coke got October hero Raul Ibanez on a full-count slider for the final out.
Things haven’t been this bad for the Yankees in the postseason since they were swept in the 1963 World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers, batting just .171 and scoring only four runs. In 30 innings in this series, the Yankees have scored in just two. They have five runs and are batting just .182.
“What has happened has happened and you have to find a way to score runs [tonight],” Girardi said.
Delmon Young’s leadoff homer in the fourth off Yankees starter Phil Hughes gave the Tigers the lead for keeps. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth on Miguel Cabrera’s double to right-center and things could have been much worse as the hosts left 10 men on base.
Rodriguez was 3 for 23 in the postseason with 12 strikeouts and Swisher was 4 for 26 with eight Ks. Gardner battled leadoff – taking his first cuts at the plate since April in a season ruined by elbow trouble and Eric Chavez manned third base.
“You would think with the resumes these guys have and the type of play they’ve put up during the course of the season that you would have a pretty set lineup,” Girardi said before the game.
Rodriguez, who did not speak to reporters before or after the game, had a pair of home runs off Verlander this season and Girardi said there was some thought to keeping him in the lineup. But ultimately, his 0-for-18 showing against righties in the playoffs – with 12 strikeouts – was the determining factor.
“He’s struggled,” Girardi said. “There’s been a substantial number of strikeouts.”