Verlander dominates, Tigers now just a win away from AL pennant

Leon Halip - Getty Images

The Tigers took Game 3 behind characteristically strong pitching from Justin Verlander, taking a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.

At least the path is clear for the Yankees. They just have to win their next four games. They had a winning streak of four games or longer seven times during the regular season. So it's still possible for them to claw and scratch and fight their way back against the Tigers.

All they need to do is score runs over the next three games, and they'll need to do it against a starting rotation that has allowed just one in three American League Championship Series games. And if the Yankees can just manage that, Justin Verlander will be waiting for them in a Game 7.

It's a real clear path, alright. Not a lot of ambiguity in that one.

The Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees in Game 3, 2-1, with Verlander dominating the Yankees until the ninth inning, and the bullpen enabling/quashing a late rally. The win gives the Tigers a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, needing just one more win for the American League pennant.

Justin Verlander threw 133 pitches on the night, going 8⅓ innings and allowing just a lone run, a ninth-inning homer to Eduardo Nunez. It seems a little odd to suggest the Tigers' ace didn't have his best game, but it's not a completely outlandish suggestion. The Yankees did have some hard-hit balls and line drives, but they found mitts. Verlander struck out three on the night, well below his total in his last two playoff outings.

But Verlander was still dominant, continuing his impressive run through the playoffs. Before the home run to Nunez, the last run Verlander allowed was the leadoff home run to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS. Between Crisp and Nunez, he threw 22 consecutive shutout innings, allowing just nine hits. With the home run, the Yankees avoided being the first team to get shutout in consecutive game since the 1991 Pirates in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS.

Really, you can go on all night with factoids. But the main point works just as well: The Yankees haven't been hitting against anyone -- Joe Saunders, Doug Fister, Jason Hammel -- and then they got to face Justin Verlander.

Verlander has an 0.74 ERA in the 2012 postseason after getting blasted for the earned run on Tuesday night.

The Tigers scored their first run on a Delmon Young solo shot in the fourth inning. Young adde to his Tigers postseason record, hitting his seventh home run in the playoffs over his Detroit career. The homer came off Phil Hughes, who would stay in for just one more batter. Hughes walked Andy Dirks on five pitches. Then, after throwing two pitches to Jhonny Peralta, Hughes exited the game with back stiffness.

In the fifth, Miguel Cabrera doubled home Quintin Berry for the Tigers' second and final run, and that was all the scoring in the game until the ninth inning.

In the ninth, though, things started to get a little furry. Nunez drove a hanging curve on a full count over the left-field fence, ending the shutout streak and giving the Yankees a modicum of hope. After Brett Gardner grounded out, Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled Verlander in favor of left-hander Phil Coke. After Ichiro grounded out, Mark Teixeira hit a 43-hopper up the middle for a single. Robinson Canó -- who had earlier extended his postseason hitless streak to a record 0 for 29 -- singled to left field in the ninth, extending the game and putting the tying and lead runners on for …

Raul Ibañez.

Against a left-hander.

With Alex Rodriguez on the bench.

Here's what Ibañez did against lefties in the regular season:

Split AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG
vs LHP as LHB 61 12 1 1 0 2 13 .197 .246 .246


But the postseason is when managers get caught up in the storyline. In a way, it was the easier decision to leave Ibañez in -- he's been the story of the Yankees' postseason, surely. And if A-Rod made the final out, oh, man, would there have been a firestorm.

Coke struck out Ibañez on a 3-2 slider that dove out of the zone, preserving the win for Verlander and the Tigers.

The Tigers will go for the sweep and the pennant Wednesday night, with CC Sabathia facing Max Scherzer in Game 4.

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