Published October 17, 2012
The Detroit Tigers try to punch their ticket to the World Series and complete a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees on Wednesday when they play Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park.
New York, though, will have ace CC Sabathia on the hill trying to avoid its first postseason sweep since losing in three games to the Kansas City Royals in the 1980 ALCS. The Yankees, though, have been swept all four previous times they've trailed three games to none with it last happening in the 1976 World Series.
Also, since the advent of the best-of-seven format in 1985, three of the four teams who fell behind 3-0 in the ALCS have been swept. Of course, the only team to rally from that deficit was the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who did so against the Yankees.
"Well, we're going to fight," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Things haven't been going our way, there's no doubt about that, but everybody in here wants to win. We've worked so long; we've worked too hard for this."
But the Yankees will have Sabathia on the hill Wednesday, as he tries to follow up a brilliant effort in the decisive fifth game of the ALDS. Sabathia gave up two runs to Baltimore in 8 2/3 innings of that one, as he improved to 2-0 this postseason to go along with a 1.53 ERA.
"I am definitely looking forward to getting a chance to pitch in this series," said Sabathia, who is 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA. "You know, I felt pretty good the last two or three times out and felt good in the bullpen, so I just look to continue to build off that, make sure I have my command down -- the fastball command -- and really work off that. But I always say, whether good or bad, I always put the last one behind me. I am ready for (Wednesday)."
Sabathia has faced the Tigers 35 times in his career and is 18-12 against them with a 4.43 ERA.
New York's bats will need to be better than they have if they want to stay alive on Wednesday. The Yankees are hitting a miserable .200 this postseason, including an amazingly bad .182 clip in the ALCS. The putrid effort is on pace to eclipse the .171 average they had against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1963 World Series.
New York's offensive woes continued against Justin Verlander on Tuesday, as a solo homer by Delmon Young and an RBI double by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera was all the offense the Tigers would need in a 2-1 win.
"It's great to be up 3-0," Verlander said. "We have to win one, but against this team, you never know. Every game in the postseason is a must-win. You have to keep momentum on your side."
Over the first eight frames, Verlander (3-0) yielded just a pair of singles to Ichiro Suzuki. Eduardo Nunez ended the right-hander's string of 23 straight scoreless innings with a leadoff homer in the ninth, and Verlander was pulled after retiring Brett Gardner on a groundout.
"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. "I was not going to let him face Ichiro."
Phil Coke put the go-ahead run on base before fanning the red-hot Raul Ibanez to earn his second straight save, moving the Tigers, one win away from their first trip to the Fall Classic since 2006.
Not even a lineup change by manager Joe Girardi, who has seemingly pressed all the right buttons this postseason, could revive New York's suddenly punchless offense.
"There were some good at-bats (Tuesday). The ball was not carrying tremendously well, we know that," Girardi said. "But I think (Verlander) ended up with three strikeouts. So our guys put the ball in play and tried to get on base, but, you know, when you face Verlander, you know what you're up against.
"The thing that you do is you keep encouraging the guys and you keep telling them, 'Hey, find a way, find a way to get it done.'"
Alex Rodriguez, a three-time league MVP, was benched for the second time in four games for Eric Chavez, while the struggling Nick Swisher was replaced by Gardner. Chavez went 0-for-3 and Gardner, in his first start since Apr. 17, also went hitless out of the leadoff spot.
"(New York) is a tremendous hitting team with big-time power and it's a difficult lineup to manage against. So I thought (Verlander) was absolutely terrific," Leyland said of his starter, who has allowed just two runs over 24 1/3 innings in three postseason starts.
Girardi used five relievers after starter Phil Hughes (0-1) exited early due to back stiffness with no outs in the fourth inning.
Detroit, meanwhile, will hand the ball to righty Max Scherzer, who was 16-7 this season with a 3.74 ERA. Scherzer did not get a decision in his lone ALDS start versus Oakland, but pitched well, surrendering just an unearned run and three hits in 5 1/3 frames.
"He pitched a great game for us in Oakland and I think everybody expects kind of the same thing," catcher Alex Avila said. "He's going to go out there and give us the best he's got. And his best, more times than not, is usually good enough. It's going to be tough obviously against CC, but it's a crazy game and we might be able to scratch out a couple runs like we did (Tuesday) and pull one out."
Scherzer struggled against the Yankees in his lone start against them this season, as he allowed three runs and seven hits with seven walks in just 4 2/3 innings.
However, since that outing he's compiled a 15-4 record and 3.04 ERA.
"That is one of my worst starts of the year considering that's something I pride myself on, limiting walks," said Scherzer.
"Really from that start on, it was a little bit longer after that when everything seemed to click for me, when I started getting my fastball command back. And for me, that start doesn't really apply to how they are going to approach me this time."
In addition to last season's ALDS, the Tigers also beat the Yankees in the first round in 2006. New York, though, took six of the 10 regular season matchups this past year.