NEW YORK (AP) – Justin Verlander and Detroit’s bullpen held down the New York Yankees’ mighty offense, bringing just enough 100 mph heat to send the Tigers home with a split.
Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead triple off Mike Mussina in the seventh inning to cap a comeback from a two-run deficit, and the Tigers beat the Yankees 4-3 yesterday to even their best-of-five AL playoff series at one game apiece.
“I hope in my heart everybody realizes we are a playoff team,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not sure everybody believed that.”
After the threat of rain caused a postponement Wednesday night, the skies were sunny for the rare postseason day game at Yankee Stadium. But before a somewhat stunned crowd of 56,252, the wild-card Tigers ended a six-game losing streak that stretched to the final week of the regular season.
Verlander, his pitches reaching triple-digits on the radar gun, allowed his only runs on Johnny Damon’s fourth-inning homer, which put New York ahead 3-1.
“Verlander did one whale of a job,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones finished with one-hit relief.
Zumaya topped out at 102 mph, according to the center-field scoreboard. Walker got the win, relieving Verlander in the sixth with a man on and a 1-1 count on Robinson Cano and inducing an inning-ending double play.
Leyland didn’t hesitate to take out Verlander in the middle of an at-bat.
“I just didn’t like the fastball before that. It was 92,” Leyland said. “I said, ‘That’s it. I’m going to make my move now.'”
Said Verlander: “He’s a great skip. When he comes out to take me out of a ballgame, I never second-guess him.”
Jones pitched the ninth for the save, giving up a leadoff single to Hideki Matsui. But Jones, a soft tosser when compared to the Tigers’ other hard throwers, struck out Jorge Posada, retired Cano on a soft fly and got Damon to fly out.
New York, an overwhelming favorite with All-Stars at every position, won Tuesday’s opener 8-4 and had plenty of chances early in this one. But the Yankees struck out nine times and went 1-for-8 with men in scoring position.
Alex Rodriguez had another tough day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including one that ended the first with the bases loaded.
A-Rod, booed loudly after his final two at-bats, hasn’t driven in a run in his last 10 postseason games and is 5-for-40 (.125) in his last 11. He’s 1-for-8 with four strikeouts in this series.
When the series resumes in Detroit on Friday night, Randy Johnson (17-11) will test his balky back for New York, opposed by former-Yankee Kenny Rogers (17-8). Because of the rainout, the teams lost their travel day.
Damon’s three-run homer into the right-field upper deck erased an early Detroit lead created by Marcus Thames’ second-inning RBI single. But the Tigers tied it at 3 on Granderson’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly and Carlos Guillen’s sixth-inning homer into the right-field lower deck.
Thames singled leading off the seventh for his third hit of the game, took second on Posada’s passed ball and went to third when No. 9 hitter Brandon Inge sacrificed.
New York moved the infield in and Granderson fell behind 0-2 and fouled off two more pitches before lining the ball to the wall in left-center. With the infield still in, Placido Polanco lined to Rodriguez, who made a dive to the third-base bag and nearly doubled up Polanco. Sean Casey then flied out.
“We never give up. That’s the main thing,” said Thames, a former Yankees draft pick.
Verlander, a 23-year-old rookie who went 17-9 during the regular season, kept getting in and out of trouble early. New York loaded the bases in the first on Damon’s single and a pair of walks. But, after a mound visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Verlander got Rodriguez to miss a 99 mph fastball and foul off a 100 mph fastball before freezing him with an offspeed pitch for a third strike.
New York got its first two runners on in the second but failed to score, and Gary Sheffield followed Bobby Abreu’s leadoff walk in the third by grounding into a double play.
Then in the fourth, Matsui singled and Posada walked after falling behind 0-2. One out later, Damon turned on a fastball and sent it into the second row of the upper deck. After circling the bases and going to the dugout, he emerged for a curtain call, waving his helmet to the crowd.
Derek Jeter followed with a double, but Verlander rebounded to retire his next five batters before Posada’s one-out single in the sixth brought up Cano.
Verlander allowed seven hits and four walks in 5 1-3 innings with five strikeouts. While he was making his first postseason start, Mussina made his 21st and dropped to 7-8.
Mussina’s big curveball was sharp, but he made just enough mistakes to lose.
Craig Monroe doubled just fair down the left-field line in the second and Thames singled to center on the next pitch. Thames doubled to left leading off the fifth, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Granderson’s fly to short center, easily beating Damon’s weak throw. Guillen’s homer was his second in postseason play.