Oct 16, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander waves to the crowd as he is relieved in the 9th inning during game three of the 2012 ALCS against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE
Tigers 2, Yankees 1 (box score)
Justin Verlander didn’t dominate hitters the same was as he did in the Oakland series when he struck out more than a third of the batters he face, but he still found a way to deliver a brilliant outing all the same. Many Tigers fans – me included – chalk Verlander starts up as automatic wins, but he’s human and he’s capable of having sup-par outings. Fortunately for us, those don’t come around too often. The Yankees are the Yankees, and they’ll put up tough at-bats more often than not, but Verlander was able to battle into the ninth inning despite the lack of his usual strikeout stuff.
Verlander’s perfect game bid ended in the fourth inning after an Ichiro Suzuki single, but he carried a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning. His pitch count was under control at “only” 115, but Eduardo Nunez lead off the inning with a nine-pitch at-bat culminating in a solo home run. The homer by the ninth batter in the order ruined Justin’s second consecutive shutout bid, and jacked up his pitch count so that he would be unable to finish the game. Jim Leyland allowed Verlander to face one more hitter – he got Brett Gardner to ground out – but his pitch count had reached 132 pitches and Leyland went out to the mound to get him.
Phil Coke replaced Verlander for his second straight save opportunity. Coke immediately got Ichiro to bounce out, but he allowed back-to-back singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano which brought Raul Ibanez, playoff hero, to the plate with the tying run in scoring position. Coke and Ibanez battled back and forth to run the count full, but Coke – who had thrown nothing but fastballs in the at-bat – was able to fool him with a curveball down and away, and Ibanez swung right through it for the final strike of the game. There’s going to be more than a little bit of second guessing of Girardi for allowing Ibanez (who doesn’t hit lefties well) to face Coke (who does well against lefties but not righties) while Alex Rodriguez (a right handed hitter) and Nick Swisher (a switch hitter) remained on the bench. I, for one, was all for his decision to stick with Ibanez, but then again, I liked it because it greatly favored the Tigers.
During the post-game press conference, Leyland stated that Phil Coke would be unavailable to pitch on Wednesday after throwing in each of the three games in the series so far. It would appear that Coke is Leyland’s de facto closer now that Valverde has been removed from the role (in practice, if not in name), but I think it’s really just a lefty-righty thing. The Yankees have a lot of left-handed hitters, and Coke is probably the best option in the bullpen versus lefties, so it has made sense to go with him (and stick with him). Had we seen Rodriguez-Martin-Nunez (or something to that effect) come up, he likely would have run Joaquin Benoit out there (he was warming up with Coke in the ninth inning). Leyland maintains that Jose Valverde remains an option, but I still have to think it would take both a string of right handed hitters and a relatively large lead for him to go that route.
If it wasn’t for the incredible starting pitching and the incredible implosion of the regular closer, we’d probably be talking an awful lot about the lack of run scoring out of the offense. They scored just three runs in game two and two runs in game three and, in general, haven’t broken out in a big way for much of the playoffs. Their two runs in this game came courtesy of a Delmon Young solo home run and a Miguel Cabrera RBI double (scoring Quintin Berry), but they’re going to need to do a better job of consistent run-scoring to finish off the Yankees and make a serious threat in the (potential) World Series. They twelve base runners (on seven hits and five walks), which is pretty good, but they need to find a way to get the runners across.
CC Sabathia will take the mound for the Yankees in Game Four, so run scoring won’t be easy in the Tigers’ bid for a series sweep. Obviously it’s not crucial that they win this game – the lead is a commanding 3-0 – but one Yankees win could become two Yankees wins which would shift the series back to New York (and anything can happen there). It’s unlikely that New York will come back to win four straight, but I would feel a lot better if the Tigers just went ahead and took care of business right away.