DETROIT — Jim Leyland managed a 27-out game Tuesday night and left 25 of them to Justin Verlander.
Joe Girardi had to manage an entirely different ballgame in the American League Championship Series.
After the New York Yankees’ starter, Phil Hughes, was forced to the bench with a stiff back 11 pitches into the fourth inning, Girardi pretty much managed out by out.
The end result was a 2-1 Detroit victory as the Tigers took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Things became so desperate for the Bronx Bombless that Girardi was pulling out all the stops by the bottom of the fifth.
How else to describe a frame when the Yanks pitched to Miguel Cabrera with a base open and to Prince Fielder with a base open, but not Delmon Young with a base open.
After Quintin Berry reached on an error by New York third baseman Eric Chavez and then stole second, Girardi let reliever David Phelps pitch to Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner.
Cabrera responded with a laser shot into right-center that kept rising and that Curtis Granderson could only chase. The run-scoring double made it 2-0.
Girardi summoned side-arming lefty Clay Rapada to face Fielder, who grounded out. The Yanks then walked Young.
There was method in the madness, perhaps. Young, the Tigers’ designated hitter, had lined a solo home run to left the previous inning, his seventh postseason blast in two years with Detroit.
Still, it was an interesting strategy. Cabrera produced a run but the Yankees made two pitching changes work, escaping the fifth otherwise unscathed and still in the game.
New York used two pitchers in the sixth inning and somehow got out of that mess, too.
Lefty Boone Logan came on to face Berry with two on and one out and Leyland countered with pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia, who produced a looping drive to left-center that sort of floated over the shortstop’s glove. Omar Infante, the runner on second, didn’t get a good break and got the red light immediately from third base coach Gene Lamont.
Why force the issue at the plate with Cabrera due up, a southpaw pitching, and nobody warming up?
Cabrera hit a one-hop shot that Chavez backhanded at third and turned into a nifty inning-ending double play.
All of Girardi’s machinations in relief of Hughes, while fairly successful, were wasted, thanks to Verlander.
The Tigers’ ace didn’t look to be at the very top of his game — he nibbled more than pounded at the strike zone and fanned just three in 8 1/3 innings — but he certainly limited the chances of a Yankee lineup that has been far less hit and far more miss in this postseason.
There were a lot of hittable counts for New York, but very few hits.
Through eight innings there were, in fact, two, both singles by Ichiro Suzuki. Period. The 3-4-5 hitters in the order — Mark Teixeira, Robbie Cano, and Raul Ibanez — all lefties against the right-handed Verlander were a combined 0-for-9 against Detroit’s starter.
Since Oakland’s Coco Crisp homered to open Game 1 of the ALDS at Comerica Park, Verlander put together 23 consecutive scoreless innings before Eduardo Nunez homered to lead off the top of the ninth.
To that point, the Yankees had strung together 21 straight scoreless innings.
If you sense a trend that favored the home team Tuesday night, well, yeah. That didn’t keep it from getting interesting in the ninth, however.
Give Girardi some credit for that. He benched a couple struggling starters and made some radical lineup adjustments. Nunez playing shortstop was one of them.
The Yankee manager faced the added stress of his starting pitcher, the best arm he had available to try and counter Verlander, leave early. He used about everybody in the pen and did his best to keep his team in the game.
Leyland made out his lineup card, handed the ball to his horse, watched him whip up 132 pitches (86 of them strikes) and called on lefty Phil Coke to finish it.
It was not as stress-free as it may sound. Not the way the ninth inning played out with a pair of two-out singles following Nunez’s home run. But Coke got Ibanez on a 3-2 slurve — a big breaking slider — to end it. Now, just maybe, it’s a stress-free series from here for the Tigers.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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