Justin Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning as the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees 2-1 to move within a win of reaching the World Series.
Verlander allowed one run over 8 1/3 innings to win his seventh straight start and Delmon Young hit a solo home run in Detroit for the Tigers, who have a three-games-to-none lead in the American League Championship Series.
The Tigers can complete a four-game sweep with a win tonight at Comerica Park. The Yankees haven’t been swept in Major League Baseball’s postseason since the 1980 ALCS, when they lost three straight games against the Kansas City Royals in a best-of-five series.
“You can’t ever feel comfortable, especially against a team like the Yankees,” Verlander said. “They’re always capable of big things. We’ve seen it in the postseason in the past. We’ll never be complacent as a team. Our guys take the mentality that every game is a must-win.”
New York has failed to score in 28 of 30 innings against Detroit in the ALCS and now has a .198 team batting average this postseason.
To maintain its chances of winning a record-extending 28th World Series title, the Yankees will have to join the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only major-league team to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series.
“We’ve gotten good pitching all throughout the playoffs and we’re going to need it again if we want to live another day,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at a news conference.
The National League Championship Series resumes today in St. Louis with the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants tied at 1-1 after splitting the first two games in San Francisco.
The Yankees sought to spark their slumping offense by benching third baseman Alex Rodriguez and outfielder Nick Swisher last night against Verlander, the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner.
Instead, New York only avoided its second straight shutout when Eduardo Nunez hit a solo homer off Verlander to lead off the ninth inning. It was the first earned run allowed by the Tigers’ starting pitchers in 37 innings.
Verlander, who allowed three hits with no walks and three strikeouts, was taken out after throwing 132 pitches. He was replaced by Phil Coke, who gave up consecutive two-out singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano before striking out Raul Ibanez to end the game. Cano’s hit snapped his 0-for-29 slump, yet Ibanez wasn’t able to deliver another clutch hit after hitting three homers from the ninth inning on this postseason.
“I had faith in our bullpen,” Verlander said. “I don’t think they’re just going to leave me out there and sacrifice the rest of the postseason just for this game, especially when Coke has been throwing the ball extremely well.”
The Yankees sat Rodriguez -- the sport’s highest-paid player with a 10-year, $275 million contract -- in favor of Eric Chavez, who last year considered retiring. Rodriguez entered the game hitting .130 with 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats and was hitless in 18 at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
Chavez went 0-for-3 against Verlander and also made an error at third base.
Girardi also opted for Brett Gardner over Swisher even though Gardner had only three at-bats since April because of an elbow injury that required surgery. Swisher was hitting .154 this postseason with eight strikeouts in 23 at-bats. Gardner hit leadoff and went 0-for-4.
Ichiro Suzuki managed the Yankees’ only other two hits off Verlander, who has a 7-0 record with a 0.68 earned run average since Sept. 14.
Verlander is 3-0 this postseason, helping put Detroit on the verge of its first World Series appearance since 2006, when it lost in five games to the Cardinals. The Tigers won the last of their four World Series titles in 1984.
“Hopefully we can take care of business here at home, where we’ve been playing great, and get ready for the next series,” Verlander said.
The Yankees’ Game 3 woes weren’t limited to hitting.
New York starting pitcher Phil Hughes left the game with a stiff back after failing to record an out in the bottom of the fourth inning. Hughes surrendered Young’s line drive home run to lead off the inning, issued a walk to Andy Dirks and then was taken out after getting an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. Hughes also missed time because of inflammation from a herniated disc at the end of the 2011 season.
The Tigers pushed their lead to 2-0 in the fifth inning when Miguel Cabrera hit a run-scoring double off David Phelps. Cabrera has had a hit in 16 straight LCS games.
The Yankees, who had baseball’s highest Opening Day team payroll at $198 million this season, will turn to CC Sabathia today to try to extend their season.
Sabathia, who hasn’t lost in eight postseason starts, will be opposed by Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer, who allowed one unearned run over 5 1/3 innings in his AL Division Series start against the Oakland Athletics. If the Tigers, who ranked fifth in the majors with a $132 million payroll this season, can’t close out the series today, Game 5 would be in Detroit tomorrow.
“All teams at this time of year are hard to beat,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said at a news conference. “We’re fortunate, certainly. We’ve put ourselves in a decent position, but that’s all we’ve done.’
With the win, the Tigers became the odds-on favorite to take the World Series at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Super Book, with a successful $130 wager returning $100. The Yankees, who entered Game 3 with a 12-1 chance of winning the championship, dropped to 30-1, meaning a $100 bet would return $3,000.
The Cardinals were listed with 14-5 odds, while the Giants were at 15-4, according to the Super Book.