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Andrew Stoeten

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Justin Verlander wasn’t at his best on Tuesday night, but he sailed through eight innings of two-hit shutout ball before giving up a home run to Eduardo Nunez to lead off the ninth inning and pull the Yankees within a run.

Jim Leyland went out to the mound after Nunez crossed the plate, testing the home crowd with thoughts that the club’s shaky bullpen might be forced into action, but returned to the dugout without taking the ball from his starter, much to the delight of the 42,970 on hand.

Unfortunately for the heart health of those in the metro Detroit area, Verlander lasted only eight more pitches, battling with Brett Gardner for the first out of the ninth, taking his pitch count up to 131 on the evening, and giving way to Phil Coke. The lefty– not usual closer Jose Valverde, who has been awful of late– came in to try and seal the deal for the Tigers, eventually getting there despite giving up back-to-back two-out singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, striking out Raul Ibanez swinging to end the game.

It was an uneasy end to a game that, for a long time, seemed to be on cruise control for Detroit– especially after New York starter Phil Hughes exited the game with back trouble, one out after giving up a Delmon Young home run to lead-off the fourth. Even though the Yankees received strong relief pitching from David Phelps, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain– who combined to give up just one run on four hits over five innings– and even though Verlander wasn’t quite his sharpest, striking out only three, things felt pretty good for Detroit most of the way.

And… y’know… entirely sharp or not, he was still Verlander.

Via Brooks Baseball.

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Pick any cliché you like to describe the dire circumstances facing the New York Yankees as they head into this one, it’s pretty certain to apply. Down two game to none, on the road, and facing the best pitcher in baseball, the team from the Bronx sure does have its clichés firmly up against the wall.

Oh, and Phil Hughes on the mound, Cano and Granderson struggling mightily, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher benched, and, again, Verlander.

Funnily, though, Jim Luttrell of the New York Times points out that back “on June 3, Hughes pitched a four-hit complete game, and Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hit home runs against Verlander in a 5-1 Yankees victory. Go figure.”

A-Rod’s dinger in that game was one of three total, among eight hits, that Rodriguez has hit off Verlander in his career.

The flip side of that issue is, of course, as Luttrell explains, that “he is also 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handed pitching this postseason.” And, as you may have heard, Raul Ibanez has been rather fantastic so far, almost exclusively against right-handers. Hence A-Rod’s place on the pine– not whatever funny business he was up to last night.

Swisher– a switch hitter– gets a spot on the bench in place of Brett Gardner, who will be much better suited to patrolling Comerica’s spacious environs. What he’s going to be capable of producing with the bat is a giant question mark, considering he’s had so few at-bats this season, but it’s not like replacing Swisher and the four hits he’s managed through 30 playoff plate appearances is some kind of monumental rolling of the dice.

Still, though, you’ve got to hand it to Girardi and his two giant, brass binders.

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Um… safe?

A fantastic pitchers’ duel between Hiroki Kuroda and Anibal Sanchez was broken open as much as such a game possibly could be in a controversial eighth inning, when a blown call at second base on an Austin Jackson single allowed Omar Infante to remain in scoring position. In place of Quentin Berry, the Tigers called up pinch-hitter, and Miguel Cabrera doppelganger, Avisail Garcia, who doubled Infante home and Jackson to third, giving Detroit a crucial insurance run.

Cabrera followed by singling home Jackson, but not before Yankee manager Joe Girardi came out of the dugout to replace the excellent Kuroda with Joba Chamberlain, going a little too ape goof for second base umpire Jeff Nelson’s liking, and getting himself ejected in the process.

From the replay, you can kinda see why he was upset, I guess…

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No Jeter. No Rivera. A-Rod getting benched. Granderson looking lost. Sabathia unavailable. And an improbable, Delmon Young-powered victory on the road in Game One?

Indeed, things sure are looking pretty good at the moment for the team that finished with the seventh best record in the American League, who scraped into the playoffs by virtue of winning the only division in baseball with three 90-loss teams. *COUGH*

But it’s HirOktober, which means anything can still happen, and you can’t feel too bad about your situation if you’re the Yankees, looking at Kuroda on the mound facing Anibal Sanchez, or some of those extremely noticeable holes in Detroit’s lineup.

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It was a tremendous, fun, occasionally infuriating, thrilling season for the Baltimore Orioles and their long-suffering fan base, but unfortunately it had to come to an end tonight, as they ran into the New York Yankees and CC Sabathia, who, not to be outdone by Justin Verlander last night, went the distance, despite a shaky eighth inning, to close out a series that could equally be described by all the adjectives above with a 3-1 win.

True to the established form of the series, we had a tight pitching battle early on in this decisive Game Five, but the series turned on its ear in the bottom of the fifth, when Mark Teixeira (of all people) singled, then stole second (!!!?!??!), scoring the game’s first run when Raul Ibanez– playing this game only because Alex Rodriguez, DNP -Coach’s Decision, has looked so awful of late– singled to centre.

No, really. Teixeira (of all people) stole an absolutely key base– something he did only twice this season, and has done only 21 times in his 1497 career games.

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Is today finally the day where the last crumb of pixie dust surrounding the magical 2012 Baltimore Orioles gets swatted into CC Sabathia’s gaping maw like some unfortunate, clumsy salmon? Or will they wriggle beyond the Yankee claws and strain against the current, slipping through watery crags to continue their sojourn upstream for another few sun-kissed days?

Um…frankly, as long as it doesn’t take them 13 innings to do so, I’m pretty much good either way. Especially because this game hasn’t even started yet, but is already filling up with what the kids call “the drama” [note: may not actually what the kids call it], as the player inhabiting the body that once was generational talent Alex Rodriguez will start the game on the bench. As Parkes explained earlier, it seems that Joe Girardi– or at the very least his binder– has deemed Eric Chavez a better option at third base for his club in tonight’s clincher, and Raul Ibanez a better DH option against the right-handed Jason Hammel.

It’s hard to argue with Girardi’s logic, and Parkes is probably right when he suggests that “at some point this evening, Rodriguez is going to positively abuse Brian Matusz as a pinch-hitter,” but still… it’s the kind of inevitability that makes us feel every bit our age, I think.

Now, if only the Yanks could figure out a way to do something similar with Curtis Granderson.

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Finally!

Extra innings again! And yet, somehow, in spite of the Yankees being involved, the game only barely made it past the four-and-a-half hour mark. I’d suggest that perhaps they only played seven– don’t the Yanks average about two innings per hour?– but then I harken back to a long ago era when this game was somehow about Nate McLouth, which I suppose means this damn thing has gone on long enough.

But we can’t say that of those insufferably magical Baltimore Orioles, who stave off elimination to force a Game Five tomorrow at 5:00 PM ET!

A-Rod’s career as a mid-order threat, on the other hand? I’m not so sure of that, as he was pinch hit for once again in extra innings, as Jim Johnson retired Eric Chavez– who hit a rocket to Manny Machado at third– to end the game, preserving the lead Baltimore finally clawed out to after JJ Hardy doubled in Machado, who himself had launched a double to right field to lead-off the thirteen.

The win probability graph below kinda says it all…

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