Detroit, MI – Phil Coke finished off Justin Verlander's masterpiece in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, and the Detroit Tigers put themselves on the verge of a World Series berth with another close win, 2-1, over the New York Yankees.
A solo homer by Delmon Young and an RBI double by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera was all the offense the Tigers needed with their ace on the hill.
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.
Coke put the go-ahead run on base before fanning the red-hot Raul Ibanez to earn his second straight save, moving the Tigers, who took a 3-0 series lead, 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.
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.
Hughes stranded four runners over the first three frames to match Verlander's sterling start, but he hung a 1-2 curveball to Young leading off the fourth. Young, Detroit's hero in Game 1 with a home run and a go-ahead RBI double in the 12th inning, lined the mistake just over the wall in left field to break the scoreless tie.
"I knew I hit it hard enough, but we weren't at Yankee Stadium, so I had to wait an extra 30 feet for it to land," joked Young, tongue-in-cheek.
Hughes followed the home-run ball with a walk to Andy Dirks and was ahead 0-2 on Jhonny Peralta when he motioned to the dugout. Girardi and the team trainer came out for a brief consultation, and Hughes was removed due to the injury.
David Phelps entered from the bullpen and stranded a pair -- two of 10 left on base by the AL Central champs.
Still, the Tigers were able to tack on a key insurance run with the help of a Chavez error in the fifth. Quintin Berry led off with a bouncer to third that ate up Chavez on an in-between hop. Berry promptly stole second and scored when Cabrera lined a double over Curtis Granderson's head in right-center.
Chavez earned some redemption an inning later when he made a nice backhanded stop on Cabrera to start a double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
The escape did not change the momentum in New York's favor, though the visitors did get a boost when Nunez, starting in place of the injured Derek Jeter, took Verlander deep to start the ninth.
Verlander's 132nd pitch was a weak tapper back to the mound by Gardner, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland took out his workhorse in favor of Coke rather than his regular closer, Jose Valverde.
Valverde was unable to hold a four-run lead in Game 1, while Coke threw two innings behind Anibal Sanchez to finish off Sunday's shutout in New York.
With rain falling at Comerica Park, Coke allowed a pair of two-out singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano and was down, 3-1, in the count to Ibanez, the owner of three home runs this postseason.
But after two foul balls, Ibanez swung through a curveball to end the comeback bid and put New York in a huge hole.
"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," Girardi said. "What has happened has happened, and you have to find a way to score runs (Wednesday)."
The Yankees will turn to CC Sabathia on Wednesday, while Detroit's Max Scherzer will look to finish off the sweep. Sabathia has won seven of his eight postseason decisions with New York, but Scherzer is 3-1 in four career starts against the Bronx Bombers.
Verlander did not issue a walk and struck out three. He threw 86 of his 132 pitches for strikes ... Coming into the postseason, Verlander was 3-3 with a 5.57 ERA over eight career playoff starts ... Cabrera has reached base safely in all 19 of his postseason games with the Tigers, surpassing the franchise mark held by Hank Greenberg. He also has a 16-game LCS hitting streak, breaking the MLB record held by Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose ... With his single in the ninth, Cano ended his dubious streak of 29 consecutive at-bats without a hit -- an MLB record for a single postseason ... The Tigers eliminated the Yankees in last season's ALDS and also beat them in the first round in 2006 ... The only team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win the ALCS was the 2004 Red Sox, which came against the Yankees.