DETROIT — Dominant starting pitching has become the theme of the postseason for the Detroit Tigers.
Justin Verlander’s third sensational outing of the playoffs Tuesday night led the Tigers to a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees, giving Detroit a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
Verlander’s bid for a second straight shutout ended when his hanging curve was lined over the left field wall by Eduardo Nunez to lead off the ninth inning. That ended Verlander’s scoreless-innings streak at 23.
Lefty Phil Coke relieved Verlander after the starter got the first out in the ninth and had thrown 132 pitches to equal his season high.
Coke gave up a two-out, 3-2 single to Mark Teixeira, then Robinson Cano broke an 0-for-29 postseason hitless streak with a line single to left. Coke fed Raul Ibanez a steady stream of 94-95 mph fastballs, then struck him out with a slurve to end the game.
Since Jose Valverde was pulled from the Tigers’ closer role, Coke has saved each of the past two games.
From when the Oakland A’s scored off Anibal Sanchez in the fifth inning of the third game of the AL Division Series through Nunez’s solo home run late Tuesday, Detroit starters put up 37 straight innings without giving up an earned run (and only one unearned run).
Verlander retired the first 10 batters he faced, but after Ichiro Suzuki’s single on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth, he struggled with his fastball command. He didn’t get another strikeout until fanning Cano in the seventh inning, one out after Suzuki singled for the second New York hit. He had only three strikeouts but didn’t walk a batter and allowed three hits.
If Verlander’s fastball command wasn’t precise, the movement on the pitch was good enough that he could throw it near the center of the strike zone and still get outs.
Verlander’s eight scoreless innings in Game 3 extended the Yankees’ string of scoreless innings to 20 in this series. New York has scored in just two innings in the three games: the pair of two-run home runs it got off Valverde in the ninth inning of Game 1 and the Nunez homer in Game 3.
The Tigers built their lead in part due to a questionable decision by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who elected to have his team pitch to Miguel Cabrera with a man on second and first base open.
The first Triple Crown winner in 45 years rifled a fifth-inning double to right-center that scored Quintin Berry, who had reached on an error leading off and stolen his 22nd second base in 22 tries this season. That gave Detroit a 2-0 lead.
Yankees starter Phil Hughes had to come out with a stiff back three batters into the fourth inning, after he’d given up a leadoff home run.
The home run was by Delmon Young, his second of the series, and it broke a scoreless tie. Young has hit a Tigers-record seven career homers in the postseason.
Hughes walked Andy Dirks and got ahead of Jhonny Peralta 0-2 before he was forced from the game.
Cody Eppley had begun warming up, but Girardi chose to bring in David Phelps. The right-handed reliever gave up a one-out single to Alex Avila but closed out the inning run-free.
Phelps gave up the Tigers’ unearned run in the fifth.
The game’s first scoring chance — unsuccessful — belonged to Detroit and came in the third inning.
Austin Jackson grounded a single to right with one out and was advanced to second on a bunt by Berry. Cabrera coaxed a walk despite falling in an 0-2 hole, and Jackson took third on a passed ball during the at-bat. Prince Fielder lined a 3-0 pitch to center for the third out.
NOTES: Former Tigers ace Jack Morris threw out the ceremonial first pitch and took note of Verlander’s complete-game win in Game 5 of the divisional round. “I think everybody in the Washington Nationals’ front office should pay attention that guys can go deep into games,” Morris said. “I shouldn’t say that, should I?” … Girardi didn’t want to wait until it was too late to make changes in the New York Yankees’ lineup. “It’s always a difficult decision when you have to do that,” he said of the decision to replace Alex Rodriquez with Chavez at third base and Nick Swisher with Brett Gardner in the outfield. “We talked about the dimensions here, and we talked about a fly ball pitcher, and we had some guys struggling, so we decided to make some changes. It’s never easy. You would think that, with the resumes these guys have and the type of play they put up during the course of seasons, that you would have a pretty set lineup.” Rodriguez mouthed a “Hi, Mom” when the camera flashed to him sitting in the dugout before the game. … Tigers manager Jim Leyland hinted his closer, Jose Valverde, might be close to being reinstalled to his spot at the end of games. Leyland said he had “two or three plans” for protecting late leads, and one included Valverde. “The reason I love a definite closer and good one, like Valverde and Mariano Rivera have been, is that it takes a lot of stress off a manager. My mom never even used to second-guess me when I brought in a top-notch closer,” Leyland said.