It came a few days after most expected, but Monday night in Detroit, the Tigers finally got to unleash their ace on the New York Yankees, and Justin Verlander delivered.
Despite allowing four runs on six hits, the front-runner for the American League Cy Young award and MVP candidate allowed four runs on six hits but lasted eight innings and struck out 11. And it was Verlander’s ability to manage his pitch count and go deep into the ballgame that allowed him to outlast C.C. Sabathia and set up Jose Valverde to get the final three outs in a 5-4 win.
When Friday’s Game 1 was suspended by rain, Verlander was bumped to Game 3. And after throwing 120 pitches on Monday, all signs point to him being out for the rest of the best-of-five game series.
Still, Verlander is the top asset on Detroit’s pitching staff, and his effort has the Tigers one win away from clinching the series.
After Delmon Young’s home run in the bottom of the seventh gave the Tigers the lead, Verlander retired the Yankees in the top of the eighth. He was then forced to watch from the dugout as the Yankees threatened in the top of the ninth. With two on and two out, Yankees captain Derek Jeter stepped to the plate in a very Jeter-like playoff situation.
“I’m just like 45,000 other people in the stadium at that point. I’m just sitting there,” Verlander said. “Obviously, your heart is racing a bit.”
Valverde got Jeter to strike out, ending the game and giving the Tigers the series lead heading into Tuesday’s Game 4. That matchup pits the mercurial A.J. Burnett against 22-year-old Tigers righty Rick Porcello.
Two two matched up way back on May 5 with Porcello allowing only two runs in seven innings to claim a 6-3 win.
Burnett — he of the 11-11 record and 5.15 ERA this season — wasn’t even supposed to start in the series, but now New York’s survival rests on his right arm.
“People are entitled to their opinion. Obviously, I give them reasons here and there to doubt,” Burnett said before Monday’s game. “The bottom line is I have confidence in myself. My teammates have confidence in me.”
■ Box score: Tigers 5, Yankees 4
First pitch of Tuesdsay’s Game 4 is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on a full night of action. Elsewhere in the American League, rookie Jeremy Hellickson will try to help the Tampa Bay Rays stave off elimination against the Rangers. The Cardinals head home with their series knotted at 1 against Philadelphia, and in Arizona, the Brewers will be looking to finish a sweep of the Diamondbacks.