Verlander shuts down Yanks to give Tigers 3-0 series lead

Posted Oct. 17, 2012, at 11:24 a.m.

DETROIT — Justin Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning and the Detroit Tigers held on to beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Tuesday night for a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series.

Phil Coke gave up consecutive singles with two outs in the ninth before striking out postseason star Raul Ibanez for his second save in two games.

Verlander allowed only a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki and a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez in the ninth. Delmon Young hit a solo home run for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double.

Yankees starter Phil Hughes was lifted in the fourth because of a stiff back, and manager Joe Girardi’s lineup shuffle — Alex Rodriguez was benched again — failed to snap New York out of its untimely hitting funk.

Detroit can complete a sweep and earn its second pennant in seven years Wednesday night when Max Scherzer pitches against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.

The Tigers were on a historic pitching run even before their ace took the mound Tuesday. With the exception of a four-run ninth inning against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1, New York had been shut out for the entire series.

Nunez’s homer snapped a streak of 37 innings by Detroit starters without allowing an earned run, the longest in a single postseason in the live-ball era.

Verlander fell just short of a second straight shutout after stopping the Oakland Athletics in the decisive fifth game of the division series. He struck out only three but kept New York off the scoreboard until the homer to left field by Nunez, the first run allowed by the powerful right-hander since he gave up a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Verlander got Brett Gardner on a tapper before he was lifted after 132 pitches, one shy of his career high set in Game 5 of last year’s ALCS against Texas. Coke came in and allowed two-out hits to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, with the latter snapping a drought of 29 at-bats without a hit.

But Ibanez, who hit tying and winning homers in the same game in the ALDS against Baltimore and tied Game 1 of this series with a homer in the ninth, struck out swinging at a breaking ball to end it.

Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, came within three outs of becoming the first pitcher in 24 years to throw consecutive shutouts in the postseason, according to STATS LLC. Orel Hershiser did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, blanking the New York Mets in Game 7 of the NL championship series and the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the World Series.

Valverde’s meltdown nearly cost Detroit the first game of this series, but the Tigers were able to win 6-4 in 12 innings. Coke closed out a 3-0 victory in Game 2 and was able to hold on Tuesday in a tense final inning.

Hughes matched Verlander in a scoreless duel until Young led off the Detroit fourth with a line drive over the wall in left field. It was his seventh homer in the last two postseasons — he’s already the Tigers’ career leader in that department.

Five of those homers — in only eight games — have come against the Yankees.

Andy Dirks followed with a walk, and Hughes was pulled with an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. David Phelps came on and got out of the inning, but the Yankees now have a pitching injury to go along with all their hitting problems.

Hughes allowed a run and three hits in three-plus innings. He walked three and struck out one.

The Yankees kept it close, dodging several Detroit rallies. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth when Eric Chavez — Rodriguez’s replacement at third — misplayed a grounder. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, followed with an RBI double.

Cabrera has a 16-game hitting streak in LCS play, breaking a tie for that record with Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose, according to STATS LLC.

But Cabrera hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth, preventing the Tigers from adding more runs.

NOTES: The Tigers sent RHP Marcelo Carreno and cash to the Cubs to complete an Aug. 5 trade in which Detroit acquired utility man Jeff Baker from Chicago. … Cabrera moved from his usual third base spot to where the shortstop would normally play as part of a defensive shift against Teixeira in the fourth — then had to run all the way back to catch a popup in foul ground. … The starters for the 1905 New York Giants threw 44 straight innings without allowing an earned run for the postseason record, according to STATS.

GO THE DISTANCE: Jack Morris knows all about heavy workloads.

The former Detroit Tigers ace threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night before Game 3 of the ALCS. Asked what he thought about Justin Verlander’s shutout in Game 5 of the division series against Oakland, Morris took an unsolicited swipe at the Washington Nationals for shutting down Stephen Strasburg in September.

“I think everybody in the Washington Nationals’ front office should pay attention that guys should go deep into games,” Morris said. “I shouldn’t say that, should I?”

Strasburg was shut down with about 3½ weeks left in his first “full” season following reconstructive elbow surgery. Wanting to protect his arm, the Nationals put an innings limit on their young ace.

Morris, who won seven postseason games for Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto, said Verlander isn’t the only active pitcher working deep in games. He noted that CC Sabathia also threw a complete game to help the Yankees get past Baltimore in their previous series.

“It reminds me that there’s still hope,” Morris said. “I believe the pitch count is overrated. I think the whole thing will come to fruition, the cycle, the experiment, and they will see that there is value in starting pitching to go deep in the games, to help save the bullpen.”

TIGERS, YANKS RECALL 2009 TRADE: When outfielder Austin Jackson tracks down a deep fly or Detroit Tigers teammate Phil Coke throws a scoreless inning of relief, New York general manager Brian Cashman doesn’t fret about the fact that both players could still be Yankees.

“I don’t block it out at all,” Cashman said Tuesday in the visitors’ dugout at Comerica Park before Game 3 of the AL championship series. “We gave up good players, but you have to do that to get good players.”

On Dec. 9, 2009, Detroit dealt center fielder Curtis Granderson to New York in a three-team deal that also included Arizona. Jackson and Coke were sent from the Yankees to the Tigers, who also got Game 4 starter Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks.

Granderson surpassed 40 homers and 100 RBIs in each of the past two seasons with the Yankees, finishing fourth in 2011 AL MVP voting. But he entered Game 3 hitless in seven at-bats with five strikeouts during this year’s ALCS.

Jackson has been a key player for the Tigers in the field and at the plate. Coke gave up only one hit in three innings of relief to help them win the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

In the first trade of the 2009 winter meetings, Arizona acquired pitcher Edwin Jackson from Detroit and right-hander Ian Kennedy from the Yankees while the Tigers also got pitcher Daniel Schlereth from Arizona.

Granderson was — and is — a popular player in Detroit, but he was moved in a trade in which money — of course — was a factor. Granderson’s salary was $10 million this year, while the Tigers received four players who cost less than $6 million combined.

“There’s a lot of people in that trade, so it’s hard to keep up with everybody,” Scherzer said. “Really, once I got traded over to Detroit, it has been a great home for me. I’m so happy to be in this city and play for this team and this organization. And to be a part of something special here is great, and hopefully we can keep going.”

Since the trade, there’s been plenty of history between the teams. Detroit eliminated the Yankees in the first round of last year’s playoffs, winning a decisive Game 5 in New York.

EXTRA ARM: Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook was pumped up after throwing 49 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, saying he’d be ready whenever the team needed him.

“Without a doubt. I feel strong in saying that, especially the way today went,” Westbrook said. “I have a lot of confidence after the way I threw today.”

The 13-game winner has been sidelined with a strained right oblique since Sept. 8. He’s thrown off the mound four times and said he was eager to contribute. Westbrook could be available in the World Series if St. Louis gets past the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

“That would be great,” Westbrook said. “That’s why I’m doing all this, to have that opportunity if need be, and just let them know I’m ready.”

The simulated game also allowed a few reserves, including Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter, Adron Chambers and injured Lance Berkman, to hone their swings.

“Jake threw very well,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It was a win all around. As we move forward, much like the Berkman question, we need to see what we have available, take a look at all the options and look at the opposition and be able to make an adjustment from there.”

Berkman, who has missed most of the season with knee problems, feels better but isn’t optimistic about playing again this season. Thus far, he hasn’t done much running.

“Miracle is probably a strong word, but it’s certainly unexpected,” Berkman said. “I’m really actually pleased with where I am physically given how I felt two or three weeks ago.”

Westbrook said his next step is uncertain. He might throw another extended bullpen session to stay sharp.

Westbrook was hurt in a loss at home to Milwaukee. The right-hander recalled getting injured on a pitch that was no different from any other delivery, and then gutting out the rest of the inning.

“I kind of knew I was done after that,” he said. “It was probably not the smartest thing to keep throwing, but I wanted to kind of fight through it. I was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed.”

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