NEW YORK — The Detroit Tigers survived a tense trip back to Bronx, with Jose Valverde and the bullpen holding on time and time again to beat the New York Yankees 3-2 Thursday night to win the deciding Game 5 of their AL playoff series.
Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit consecutive home runs in the first inning, then Doug Fister and the Tigers spent the rest of a thrilling game trying to preserve their lead.
They did — barely — and advanced to the AL championship series against Texas.
Joaquin Benoit followed Max Scherzer in the seventh and walked Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded, pulling the Yankees within a run. Benoit struck out Nick Swisher with a 95 mph fastball to keep the lead.
After Brett Gardner singled with two outs in the eighth, Derek Jeter flied out to Kelly just in front of the right-field wall.
Valverde pitched the ninth for his second save of the series, remaining perfect in 51 chances this year. After Valverde struck out Alex Rodriguez to end it, the Tigers’ closer crouched and pumped both arms as his teammates ran out to celebrate.
Detroit won its first all-or-nothing postseason game since beating St. Louis in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.
With the Tigers vying for their first World Series title since 1984, ace Justin Verlander will start the ALCS opener at Texas on Saturday night against the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson.
Before a new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,960, New York had its chances, but the Yankees went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 4 with the bases loaded, and they stranded 10 runners.
While the Yankees led the AL with 97 wins during the regular season, the early exit in the first round and second straight season without a World Series title will set off a restless offseason search for more starting pitching and offense.
Rodriguez was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit .118 in the series (2 for 18) and Teixeira batted .167 (3 for 18). Robinson Cano, whose fifth-inning solo homer started the comeback attempt, was the Yankees’ primary offense with nine RBIs.
Kelly and Young homered on the sixth and seventh pitches from Ivan Nova, the Game 1 winner who led rookies with 16 wins during the regular season. They were the first back-to-back postseason homers in Tigers’ history, and it was the third homer of the series for Young, who was acquired from Minnesota on Aug. 15. Kelly was a surprise starter at third to some.
Young, the first Tigers player with three homers in a single postseason series, left in the seventh because of a mild left oblique strain and will be re-evaluated Friday.
After pitching scoreless ball into the ninth inning in winning the resumption of the opener, Nova (1-1) lasted just 31 pitches and six outs, with the Yankees saying he came out due to tightness in his right forearm.
Hughes started warming up after Nova’s sixth batter, Magglio Ordonez, doubled leading off the second. Ordonez advanced on Alex Avila’s groundout, but Nova worked out of trouble when Jhonny Peralta hit a one-hopper to third baseman Alex Rodriguez with the infield in and Ramon Santiago struck out.
When Hughes replaced Nova to start the third, Miguel Cabrera held up his hands, as if he were saying, “What’s this?”
It was just the start of the procession from the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center to the mound.
Hughes was pulled after his 21st pitch, a one-out single by Ordonez in the fourth. Avila, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, singled on left-hander Boone Logan’s first pitch. Logan lasted just seven pitches and two outs.
That was followed by the odd sight of the 290-pound CC Sabathia jogging in from the Yankees’ bullpen in midgame with his size 15 spikes and size 42 baseball pants. All 421 of his previous professional appearances had been starts, and he threw 106 pitches Monday night without a decision in Game 3.
Detroit immediately tacked on a run for a 3-0 lead. Former Yankee Austin Jackson led off the fifth with a broken-bat double to left. After a pair of strikeouts, Cabrera was intentionally walked and Martinez, Sabathia’s former Cleveland teammate, hit an RBI single to center. Former Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson bobbled the ball as he tried to make a quick pickup.
New York had put increasing pressure on Fister, who kept escaping trouble as his pitch count ran up. He stranded a runner on second in the second inning when Swisher grounded out and Jorge Posada struck out, then got Cano to pop out with two on in the third. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the fourth on a walk and two singles, but Fister retired Russell Martin and Gardner on infield popups.
After Cano’s ninth RBI of the series, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out for the second time. Jeter beat a one-out single to shortstop in the seventh, bringing on Benoit. After umpires made the reliever remove a bandage from the left side of his face, Granderson lined a single to right and Cano hit a two-hopper off the end of his bat to the third-base side of the mound that got by Benoit.
Rodriguez swung through a pitch that appeared to have been inside, which would have run the count full, and Teixeira walked on a 3-1 count before Benoit fanned Swisher.
NOTES: The Yankees used seven pitchers, one short of the record for a nine-inning postseason game. … The Tigers have not lost consecutive games since Aug. 28-29. … New York has not won the final game of a series pushed to the maximum since rallying past the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.