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Published: Thursday, 10/5/2006

Tigers beat Yanks 4-3 to even series

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK Justin Verlander and Detroit s bullpen held down the New York Yankees mighty offense, bringing just enough 100 mph heat to send the Tigers home with a split.

Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead triple off Mike Mussina in the seventh inning to cap a comeback from a two-run deficit, and the Tigers beat the Yankees 4-3 today to even their best-of-five AL playoff series at one game apiece.

I hope in my heart everybody realizes we are a playoff team, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. I m not sure everybody believed that.

After the threat of rain caused a postponement Wednesday night, the skies were sunny for the rare postseason day game at Yankee Stadium. But before a somewhat stunned crowd of 56,252, the wild-card Tigers ended a six-game losing streak that stretched to the final week of the regular season.

Verlander, his pitches reaching triple-digits on the radar gun, allowed his only runs on Johnny Damon s fourth-inning homer, which put New York ahead 3-1.

Verlander did one whale of a job, Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones finished with one-hit relief.

Zumaya topped out at 102 mph, according to the center-field scoreboard. Walker got the win, relieving Verlander in the sixth with a man on and a 1-1 count on Robinson Cano and inducing an inning-ending double play.

Leyland didn t hesitate to take out Verlander in the middle of an at-bat.

I just didn t like the fastball before that. It was 92, Leyland said. I said, That s it. I m going to make my move now.

Said Verlander: He s a great skip. When he comes out to take me out of a ballgame, I never second-guess him.

Jones pitched the ninth for the save, giving up a leadoff single to Hideki Matsui. But Jones, a soft tosser when compared to the Tigers other hard throwers, struck out Jorge Posada, retired Cano on a soft fly and got Damon to fly out.

New York, an overwhelming favorite with All-Stars at every position, won Tuesday s opener 8-4 and had plenty of chances early in this one. But the Yankees struck out nine times and went 1-for-8 with men in scoring position.

Alex Rodriguez had another tough day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including one that ended the first with the bases loaded.

A-Rod, booed loudly after his final two at-bats, hasn t driven in a run in his last 10 postseason games and is 5-for-40 (.125) in his last 11. He s 1-for-8 with four strikeouts in this series.

When the series resumes in Detroit on Friday night, Randy Johnson (17-11) will test his balky back for New York, opposed by former-Yankee Kenny Rogers (17-8). Because of the rainout, the teams lost their travel day.

Damon s three-run homer into the right-field upper deck erased an early Detroit lead created by Marcus Thames second-inning RBI single. But the Tigers tied it at 3 on Granderson s fifth-inning sacrifice fly and Carlos Guillen s sixth-inning homer into the right-field lower deck.

Thames singled leading off the seventh for his third hit of the game, took second on Posada s passed ball and went to third when No. 9 hitter Brandon Inge sacrificed.

New York moved the infield in and Granderson fell behind 0-2 and fouled off two more pitches before lining the ball to the wall in left-center. With the infield still in, Placido Polanco lined to Rodriguez, who made a dive to the third-base bag and nearly doubled up Polanco. Sean Casey then flied out.

We never give up. That s the main thing, said Thames, a former Yankees draft pick.

Verlander, a 23-year-old rookie who went 17-9 during the regular season, kept getting in and out of trouble early. New York loaded the bases in the first on Damon s single and a pair of walks. But, after a mound visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Verlander got Rodriguez to miss a 99 mph fastball and foul off a 100 mph fastball before freezing him with an offspeed pitch for a third strike.

New York got its first two runners on in the second but failed to score, and Gary Sheffield followed Bobby Abreu s leadoff walk in the third by grounding into a double play.

Then in the fourth, Matsui singled and Posada walked after falling behind 0-2. One out later, Damon turned on a fastball and sent it into the second row of the upper deck. After circling the bases and going to the dugout, he emerged for a curtain call, waving his helmet to the crowd.

Derek Jeter followed with a double, but Verlander rebounded to retire his next five batters before Posada s one-out single in the sixth brought up Cano.

Verlander allowed seven hits and four walks in 5 1-3 innings with five strikeouts. While he was making his first postseason start, Mussina made his 21st and dropped to 7-8.

Mussina s big curveball was sharp, but he made just enough mistakes to lose.

Craig Monroe doubled just fair down the left-field line in the second and Thames singled to center on the next pitch. Thames doubled to left leading off the fifth, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Granderson s fly to short center, easily beating Damon s weak throw. Guillen s homer was his second in postseason play.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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