Aníbal Sánchez proved his worth in a performance against the New York Yankees that the Detroit Tigers have come to expect from ace Justin Verlander.
On Sunday Sánchez shut down a crippled Yankees offense that played their first playoff game without shortstop Derek Jeter in 16 years.
In a game without any extra inning drama, which has become a constant component of the 2012 postseason, Detroit beat New York 3-0 and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the American League championship series.
"Sánchez showed what we know about our starters, that they're really good," Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry said.
"A lot of people outside our clubhouse stop at Verlander when they talk about our starting pitching, but we just hope they all keep doing what they're doing."
Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Detroit, with Verlander, the reigning AL MVP, starting for the Tigers against Phil Hughes. Verlander went 2-0 in the division series versus Oakland, including a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the decisive Game 5.
Hitting .192 in the ALCS after putting up a paltry .216 average against Baltimore in the division series, the Yankees have a real challenge ahead.
"Obviously, he's a great pitcher," designated hitter Raúl Ibañez said of Verlander. "We have to go out there and battle and compete and play the best that we can and do what we're capable of doing."
New York did little against the Venezuelan pitcher. He struck out seven and was never in any real trouble.
In the first inning when the Yankees put runners on first and second, he took care of it by reaching around his back to snare a grounder for the final out.
"He was terrific," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "This is a tough place to pitch with a tough lineup and a short porch. And a whole bunch of left-handed hitters, it is not easy. That was quite a feat."
New York starter Hiroki Kuroda pitched perfect ball into the sixth inning to keep pace with Sánchez . But Robinson Canó and the slumping Yankees hitters were no match for the 28-year-old right-hander a day after their captain broke his ankle in the 12th inning of a 6-4 loss.
"I try to think backwards," Sánchez said. "If the count calls for a fastball, I throw a different pitch. If the count calls for a different pitch, I throw a fastball. I try to mix my speeds."
Making his second postseason start, Sánchez threw three-hit ball deep into the game to make Leyland's job easier. Closer José Valverde gave up four runs in the ninth Saturday and, only hours later, Leyland said the righty wouldn't close Game 2.
Sánchez showed what we know about our starters, that they're really good.
- Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry
Delmon Young gave Sánchez his first run of support in the playoffs with a fielder's choice in the seventh. The Tigers then scored twice in the eighth after second base umpire Jeff Nelson missed a call on a two-out tag. Yankees manager Joe Girardi argued, and was ejected on his 48th birthday.
"The hand did not get in before the tag," Nelson said after seeing a replay. "The call was incorrect."
The Tigers led 1-0 in the eighth and had Omar Infante on first with two outs. Austin Jackson singled and when Infante took a wide turn at second, right fielder Nick Swisher threw behind him.
Canó made a swipe tag as Infante dove head-first back to second. Canó missed Infante's arm but caught his body, replays clearly showed. But Nelson called Infante safe.
"I think the umpire got confused 'cause he saw my hand, something with my hand made him think I was safe," Infante said.
Was he out?
"Of course," Infante said.
Canó and Girardi argued the call to no avail. Boone Logan replaced Kuroda and gave up an RBI single to pinch hitter Avisail Garcia to make it 2-0.
"It's frustrating. I don't have a problem with Jeff's effort, I don't, because he hustled to get to the play. But in this day and age when we have instant replay available to us, it's got to change," Girardi said.
"These guys are under tremendous amounts of pressure. It is a tough call for him because the tag is underneath and it's hard for him to see. And it takes more time to argue and get upset than you get the call right. Too much is at stake," he said.
Girardi returned to lift Logan for Joba Chamberlain, and then he remained on the field to resume the argument. Red-faced with neck muscles bulging, Girardi could be seen shouting at Nelson, "You were right there. How could you miss it?" He was tossed by Nelson for his first postseason ejection.
Miguel Cabrera added a run-scoring single after the ejection.
Canó had no luck at the plate, either. The All-Star's slump extended to a record 26 hitless at-bats in a single postseason, breaking the mark of 24 set by Baltimore's Bobby Bonilla in 1996, STATS LLC said.
"I feel good at the plate," Canó said. "So, all I can do is stay positive and play good Tuesday."
There were many empty seats near the foul poles, and a subdued crowd spent much of the day venting its frustration, booing the punchless Yankees. The 47,082 in attendance reserved its biggest cheers early for Jeter, who broke his ankle in the last inning of the Game 1 loss.
"I don't know what's going on here, it seems like something is going on here," Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel said. "I mean, I don't want to wake them, I don't want them to get loud. I don't know what's going on but I like it."
The "Bleacher Creatures" included the captain in their roll call and fans let out a modest cheer pregame when Jeter was shown in video thanking fans on the scoreboard.
While the Yankees are headed to Detroit for what they hope will be three games, their captain will fly to Charlotte, N.C., to visit a foot specialist.
Jhonny Peralta singled in the sixth for the Tigers' first baserunner against Kuroda, who was pitching on short rest for the first time in his big league career. Delmon Young then gave Detroit the lead with a forceout grounder in the seventh, a night after putting the Tigers ahead in the 12th inning with a double.
Sánchez has had quite the success in the Bronx. He made his big league debut at the old Yankee Stadium when it was across the street, and pitched 5 2-3 shutout innings for Marlins in 2006. The only player to notch two hits against him in that game was Jeter.
Pitching for the first time in this 4-year-old ballpark — and in front of his parents — Sánchez limited the Yankees to just three hits and three walks, one an intentional pass to Ibanez.
When Ichiro Suzuki reached on Sánchez's fielding error to open the sixth and advanced to third with two outs, Peralta was there to bail out his pitcher with another nifty play, bare-handing a slow grounder for the third out.
Leyland took Valverde out of consideration for the closer role on Sunday. Valverde gave up a pair of two-run homers in the ninth inning Saturday night and also blew a save in the division series.
Former Yankees reliever Phil Coke pitched two innings for the save.
"José Valverde will be an important part of this club in this playoff or we are going to have a real tough time," Leyland said. "I just hope that the people back home are, like I said, not too short-minded because this guy has been fantastic, and is an important piece in the scenario, in my opinion."
Kuroda did all he could to help keep it close for the Yankees' anemic offense.
Curtis Granderson went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk and Alex Rodriguez singled in the ninth for his third hit of the postseason and finished 1 for 4. A-Rod is 0 for 18 with 12 Ks against right-handed pitchers in these playoffs. When he lined out to left field in the seventh fans gave a mock cheer.
"We've been through stretches like this all year," Rodriguez said. "It's been a very volatile stock market for us this year."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.