Justin Verlander was done for the night, and for the first time all game, the New York Yankees looked threatening at the plate.
Mark Teixeira singled, then Robinson Cano followed suit for his first hit in 30 at-bats. Up stepped Raul Ibanez, who had already rescued New York a couple times this postseason with dramatic home runs in the late innings.
"Usually when I am out of the game like that, I head to the locker room and go through my normal routine, but obviously I wanted to stay for the last out there," Verlander said. "Made it a little nerve wracking, so I sprinted up to the locker room and went through my routine as fast as I possibly could. Obviously I am superstitious a little bit. So I watched the last out from up top on the TV."
Reliever Phil Coke struck out Ibanez and the Detroit Tigers held on for a tense 2-1 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday night, taking a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series. After halting New York's rally in the ninth inning, the Tigers are a win away from their second pennant in seven years.
Detroit is in this position because of a stellar starting rotation that hasn't needed much help from the bullpen or the offense.
"You see somebody go out there and have a good game, and you want to one-up that guy. He is your friend, I know, but it still gives you the urge to go out there and do better," Verlander said. "I think that's a great thing when you can get your entire rotation doing that, and I think we're starting to click at the right time."
Seeking their first World Series title since 1984, the Tigers were on a historic pitching run even before their ace took the mound Tuesday. With the exception of a four-run ninth inning against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1, New York had been shut out for the entire series.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi benched Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher for Game 3, but it was no use. Verlander allowed only a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki and a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez in the ninth. Delmon Young hit a solo home run for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double.
Nunez's homer snapped a scoreless streak by Detroit starters of 30 1-3 innings. That's a record for a single postseason, according to STATS LLC. The previous mark of 29 innings was set by Oakland in 1974.
"You don't want to be in this situation, but this is the game of baseball," Cano said. "All you can do is not put our head down and just prepare ourselves for (Wednesday). It's not over yet."
New York sends C.C. Sabathia (15-6) to the mound in Game 4 and Detroit counters with Max Scherzer (16-7).
Verlander fell just short of a second straight shutout after stopping the Athletics in the decisive fifth game of the division series. He struck out only three, but kept New York off the scoreboard until the homer to left field by Nunez, the first run allowed by the powerful right-hander since he gave up a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Nunez was at shortstop because Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1 and will miss the rest of the season.
"He put together a heck of an at-bat, was locked in," Verlander said. "Probably would have been a different result if I executed it better, but you never know with a guy up there that was battling like he was."
Verlander got Brett Gardner on a tapper before he was lifted after 132 pitches, one shy of the career high he set in Game 5 of last year's ALCS against Texas.
"Normally I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Coke came in and retired Suzuki before allowing two-out hits to Teixeira and Cano. Ibanez, who hit tying and winning homers in the same game in the ALDS against Baltimore and tied Game 1 of this series with a homer in the ninth, struck out swinging at a breaking ball to end it.
"Raul has come up in a lot of big situations," Girardi said. "You know, you go back to September 1 and he has come through for us, and I felt great about him up there."
Yankees starter Phil Hughes was lifted in the fourth because of a stiff back, but right now it's the Yankees' hitting that has them on the brink of elimination. New York is batting .182 for the series and .200 during the postseason.
Rodriguez also was benched for Game 5 against Baltimore after being pulled for pinch-hitters in the previous two games. A-Rod is 3 for 23 (.130) without an RBI or extra-base hit this postseason, his latest October flop. The numbers are especially ugly against right-handers: 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts.
The three-time AL MVP was not available to reporters before or after the game.
Hughes matched Verlander in a scoreless duel until Young led off the Detroit fourth with a line drive over the wall in left field. It was his seventh homer in the last two postseasons — he's already the Tigers' career leader in that department.
Andy Dirks followed with a walk, and Hughes was pulled with an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. David Phelps came on and got out of the inning, but the Yankees now have a pitching injury to go along with all their hitting problems.
The Yankees kept it close, dodging several Detroit rallies. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth when Eric Chavez — Rodriguez's replacement at third — misplayed a grounder for an error. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, followed with an RBI double.
Cabrera has a 16-game hitting streak in LCS play, breaking a tie for that record with Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose, according to STATS.
NOTES: Cabrera moved from his usual third base spot to where the shortstop would normally play as part of a defensive shift against Teixeira in the fourth — then had to run all the way back to catch a popup in foul ground. ... Nunez's homer snapped a streak of 37 innings by Detroit starters without allowing an earned run, the longest in a single postseason in the live-ball era. The starters for the 1905 New York Giants threw 44 straight innings without allowing an earned run for the postseason record, according to STATS.