Written in the Stars–Clutch Tigers Top Yankees
By Garret Craig
Last Wednesday was billed as one of the best days for baseball fans in recent history. For fans of the Detroit Tigers, however, Monday night blew that away. It came three days late, but we finally got our battle of aces, and, unless you’re a New York Yankees fan, the highly anticipated clash between Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia didn’t disappoint. The back and forth roller-coaster affair was TV gold, despite highly criticized broadcasting by the TBS crew.
Let’s talk about Verlander. Can anyone remember a better inning for a pitcher than his fifth, when he struck out the side on just ten pitches with an absolutely filthy arsenal? The third strike to Jorge Posada, an 82 mph curveball with a 13-inch break, was chill-inducing. After the second strike out of Russell Martin, MVP chants rained down from the 43,581 in the Comerica Park stands. The third strikeout, which came on another knee-buckling curveball to Brett Gardner, was an incredible moment. And that was in the fifth inning.
Could the boos get any louder than they were when the Yankees smartly elected to walk Miguel Cabrera with two outs and a base open? That was also in the fifth.
When a middle inning produces moments like the ones I just mentioned (and I didn’t even acknowledge the huge hit in that inning that gave Detroit their first lead), you know you’re witnessing something special. Comerica Park was electric, and, though I am biased and running on adrenaline as I write this, I thought it was louder Monday night in Detroit than it was during either of the first two games at Yankee Stadium. The expansive, open stadium that the Tigers call home has truly become a fortress.
The first half-inning of the ball game, as the last, was somewhat unnerving–no, extremely unnerving–but the Tigers worked Sabathia in the bottom half and continued to battle hard, working counts deep all night. You had a feeling, even when they squandered multiple opportunities early, that the Tigers’ hitters would eventually come through. They did. Sabathia, the Yankees’ workhorse, never really settled in, and he was able to record just one out in the sixth before being yanked after throwing 106 pitches and yielding four runs.
Verlander, meanwhile, despite allowing four runs himself, pitched one of the best, and certainly the grittiest game of his young career. None of his previous 24 victories this year were nearly as important as this. Jim Leyland called on his workhorse to pitch three days after his game one start was washed away, and our unlikely MVP candidate, despite some rough patches, proved up to the challenge under enormous pressure. He struck out 11 Yankees and was able to recover after two-run frames in the first and the seventh. His performance was inspiring.
Some predicted this would be a battle of the bullpens. Not so much. Though David Robertson and Rafael Soriano were finally forced to put some work in, Verlander saved the strained arm of Joaquin Benoit and got the Tigers all the way to the ninth inning before handing the ball off to the Tigers’ perfect closer, Jose Valverde. Getting eight innings from Verlander was especially crucial considering the fact that the hugely inconsistent Rick Porcello is on tap to start a potential series-clinching game four.
Though Verlander and Valverde played their parts as well as you could expect, the Tigers still needed someone on offense to step up. Some unlikely heroes answered the call. Ramon Santiago and Brandon Inge combined for four of the Tigers’ eight hits, and all of them were enormous. Both times Inge reached base, Santiago knocked him in two batters later. Delmon Young put the Tigers back on top and Verlander in line for his 25th victory of the year with a solo home run just moments separated from a deflating rally by the Yankees. That was the definition of clutch; it probably earned Young quite a few new fans in Detroit and did nothing to hurt his chances of a return to the 2012 Tigers.
Overall, save a few failed bunt attempts early and the fact that a runner was stranded on third with one out, the Tigers played fantastic baseball in game three, and now have a stranglehold on the division series against the American League regular season champions.
Valverde’s ninth inning took some work, but when he finally recorded his 50th save of 2011, we were all dancing and screaming with him. It was a fitting way to cap off an enthralling night of Tiger baseball in the club’s first postseason home game since 2006. There’s more baseball to look forward to Tuesday night, and the best part of all this is that Detroit now has a fantastic chance to clinch a return to the ALCS at home. This is going to be fun.