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It wasn’t quite the pitcher’s duel many people expected, but Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers still managed to scratch out a 5-4 win to pull the Yankees within a game of elimination in the American League Divison Series.
The weather helped turn the American League Division Series around by limiting the times Detroit could play their ace to only one game. With the series tied at one game a peice, the time for that ace finally came and Verlander was sent to the mound to face CC Sabathia in the pivotal game three of a five game series. With their routines disrupted after a rainout of game one, both pitchers labored early on to find their grove. Sabathia wasn’t able to make the right adjustments and exited in the sixth inning after giving up 4 earned runs and 6 walks.
The Cy Young favorite and MVP candidate, Verlander, settled down after allowing two first inning runs and was absolutely dominant up until he let the adrenaline get the best of him in the seventh inning. Striking out every Yankee batter at least once, Verlander showed the Yankees exactly how lucky they were to see him only once this series. Whether it was his upper 90s fastball, knee jerking changeup, or power curveball; Yankee hitters were up there guessing at every at bat, and guessing wrong at that.
A two-run seventh inning comeback finally quieted a roaring Detroit crowd, but was short lived as the Tigers regained the lead with a first pitch bomb off late season acquisition, Delmon Young. Verlander, with his back nerves under control, came back out to finish the eighth inning and capitalized a 120-pitch, 8-inning, 11-strikeout effort by doing what he does best: getting outs and saving his team’s bullpen.
Papa Grande, Jose Valverde, came in for a save opportunity and made things interesting with two walks but managed to keep his perfect streak alive by striking out the Derek Jeter to close out another Verlander win. Is it just me or does luck seem to play a big part in Valverde’s tightrope performances night and night again?
Did Joe Girardi forget he had a well-rested bullpen in the sixth inning? Sabathia was clearly off his game but was still sent out to start the inning. Clearly affected by pitching only two days after starting a rained out Game 1, Sabathia battled through some long, tough at bats early in the game but was lucky enough to limit the damage done by the potent Detroit offense. The Tigers still managed to heavily tax his pitch count and wore the big left hander down to the point where Girardi should have pulled him but didn’t. The middle of the Yankee line-up combined for an unacceptable 0-10 and Jeter failed to come up big in the clutch yet again.
Now the Yankees must put their entire season into the hands of A.J Burnett, a position no Major League team would like to find themselves in. Rick Procello is very beatable, but Burnett has to keep himself from transforming into Mr. Hyde after four shutout innings or else the Yankee postseason will come to a disappointing, early end. The Robinson Cano of Game 1 needs to come back and the Yankees need production from people not named Posada or Gardner.
For the Tigers, Game 4 is just as much of a must win than it is for the Yankees. With Game 5 coming back to New York and Ivan Nova set to start, the final game of the series would greatly lean towards the Yankees’ advantage now that Verlander is limited to one appearance. Will Detroit finish things off like they did in 2006 or will rookie Ivan Nova make the biggest start of his career in Game 5?