DETROIT — It was a different kind of dominance for Justin Verlander in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series Tuesday night.
Instead of piling up strikeouts and overwhelming the Yankees with his fastball, the Detroit Tigers ace jabbed them into submission with a series of groundballs and popups, getting one batter after another to swing at the pitches he wanted them to.
Verlander couldn’t finish off a shutout, but he pitched the Tigers to the doorstep of the World Series as they beat the Yankees, 2-1.
Detroit leads the series three games to none. The Yankees have CC Sabathia on the mound Wednesday, but given how poorly New York is swinging the bat, that may not be enough.
They have scored only 21 runs in eight postseason games, five in three games against the Tigers.
“You have to put it all behind you,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You have to find a way to score runs.”
Verlander had not allowed a run in 23 consecutive innings this postseason when he took the mound in the ninth. But leadoff hitter Eduardo Nunez homered to left field on the ninth pitch of a terrific at-bat, lining a curveball over the fence.
“Nunez put up one of the best at-bats, given the situation, I have ever seen. Especially with me on the mound,” Verlander said.
Verlander, who was hitting 99 m.p.h. in the ninth, stayed in to get one more out before manager Jim Leyland took him out of the game.
The sellout crowd of 42,970 at Comerica Park gave Verlander a standing ovation as he left the field after 132 pitches, one short of his career high.
“Normally, I guess, you don’t take Secretariat out in the final furlong,” Leyland said. “But that was pretty much it for him.”
Verlander allowed one run on three hits. He struck out three without a walk. He is 3-0 with an 0.74 earned run average in three postseason starts this season.
Phil Coke picked up his second save of the series despite allowing two-out singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. For Cano, his single to left field snapped an MLB record 0-for-29 streak in the postseason.
Raul Ibanez, a hero all postseason for the Yankees, had a chance to do it again but struck out swinging at a 3-and-2 curveball. Coke threw six straight fastballs to Ibanez before going to the breaking pitch.
“It may have been the best curveball he’s thrown all year,” Leyland said.
The Yankees radically changed their lineup for the game, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. Rodriguez was 3 for 23 in the postseason, 0 for 18 against righthanders. Swisher was 4 for 26 in the postseason.
Eric Chavez started at third base and Brett Gardner was in left field. They were 0 for 7.
Girardi also used Nunez at shortstop, correctly guessing he would give them more offense against Verlander than Jayson Nix. Nunez was added to the roster after Derek Jeter broke his left ankle in Game 1.
For Rodriguez, who is making $29 million this season, it was the latest in a series of embarrassments since the postseason started. He has been dropped in the lineup, pinch hit for three times, and benched twice.
The changes didn’t help as Verlander allowed only two base runners over the first eight innings. Ichiro Suzuki had a single in the fourth inning and another in the seventh. Beyond that, only a few balls were hit with any authority.
Yankees starter Phil Hughes left the game in the fourth with what was described as a stiff back. He allowed only one run while he was on the mound, when Delmon Young homered to left field to lead off the fourth.
“I knew I hit it hard,” said Young, who has five RBIs in the series. “But we weren’t at Yankee Stadium so I had to wait an extra 30 feet for it to land.”
After walking Andy Dirks, Hughes got ahead of Jhonny Peralta 0 and 2 before Girardi came to the mound accompanied by a trainer. After a brief conversation, Hughes was done after 61 pitches.
Rookie David Phelps finished off the fourth. But the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
Quintin Berry reached on an error by Chavez at third base and stole second. Miguel Cabrera followed with a fly ball to center field. The ball, while deep, was playable. But Curtis Granderson, a former Tiger, got a late jump and the ball fell in for an RBI double.
It was the second RBI in eight playoff games for Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown this season.
The Tigers are one win away from their first World Series since 2006, Leyland’s first season managing the team.
“We put ourselves in a decent position,” he said, “but that’s all we’ve done.”