Teams don't get too many opportunities to meet the Yankees in a sudden death playoff game at Yankee Stadium, the most well known and feared sports stadium in the world. When a team does get that chance, it's never an easy win and it's usually a loss. The Tigers found themselves in that situation for the first time in franchise history tonight. It was a tough tough contest as expected, but the Tigers hung on to win 3-2 in a classic playoff duel.
The Tigers jumped to an early lead in the first inning versus Yankee starter Ivan Nova thanks to solo homers by Don Kelly and Delmon Young on two consecutive pitches. It looked like the Tigers would be doing some slugging tonight. The only question was whether their pitching staff could hold the Yankees, a team that refuses to swing at anything out of the zone and rarely allows an easy out.
As it turned out the Tigers would score only one more run. Designated hitter Victor Martinez singled home Austin Jackson to give them a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth. Now, I've been pretty optimistic about the Tigers as of late, but I spent the rest of the game fearing that three runs would not be enough against the Yankees line-up.
In the end, three runs would be enough (just barely) thanks to some great clutch pitching. Starter Doug Fister, pitching on three days rest (Edit: it was actually the usual four days rest), worked his way out of jams in the second, third and fourth. He struckout Posada with a man on second to end the second. He tied up Robinson Cano just enough to get him to fly to center with two on and two out in the third. He then survived a bases loaded mess in the fourth, getting the final two outs on easy infield pop ups. The only run against Fister was a solo homer by Cano in the fifth.
Game-two winner Max Scherzer, came in to start the sixth and got four outs. He left after an infield hit by shortstop Derek Jeter with one down in the seventh. Then it got really scary. Reliever Joaquin Benoit allowed two hits, including a single under his glove that should have been an easy out. He then walked slugger Mark Teixeira to make it a one-run ball game. Sandwiched around the walk, however, were punch outs of Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher.
They now had a one run lead with two innings to go, a situation where they had gone 79-0 this year. It never felt safe though. The final out of the eighth was a blast to deep right by Jeter which looked like it might clear the wall for A Yankees lead. Instead Kelly caught it right at the fence.
The ninth inning belonged to closer Jose Valverde as always. He retired Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano on fly balls. Then he struckout ARod for the final out. Papa Grande did his save dance for the 51st time this year and was mobbed by teammates.
Tonight, the Tigers did what every team dreams about. They eliminated the the Yankees in a deciding game on the hallowed turf of Yankee Stadium. It was one of the Tigers biggest victories ever and one that their fans will remember for ages.