NEW YORK (AP / WCBS 880) — Detroit closer Jose Valverde held off a furious New York ninth-inning rally and the Tigers avoided a major slip-up, beating the Yankees 5-3 on a rainy Sunday and evening their best-of-five AL playoff series at one game apiece.
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Down 5-1, the Yankees scored twice in the ninth. Helped when Detroit catcher Alex Avila lost his footing on the slick on-deck circle while chasing a foul pop that would’ve been the final out, New York got a chance to win it.
“It’s a little hard. That’s what happens sometimes,” Valverde said.
After his popup landed untouched, Curtis Granderson drew a walk. With two outs and two on, Robinson Cano came to the plate.
Cano, who hit a grand slam and had six RBIs as the Yankees won the opener, wiped away raindrops from his helmet and then hit a routine groundball to end it.
“All of a sudden, against anybody — but particularly against a team like them with the short porch in right field — it was not a good feeling,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But it worked out OK.”
Tigers starter Max Scherzer pitched no-hit ball into the sixth before Cano blooped an opposite-field single to left.
Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer in the first off Freddy Garcia gave Scherzer an early edge, and the Tigers took a 4-0 lead into the eighth.
Granderson hit a solo homer off Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit in the eighth. Pretty soon, the rain — and all the drama — filled Yankee Stadium.
Game 3 is Monday at Detroit. In an ace rematch, of sorts, CC Sabathia is scheduled to start for the Yankees against Justin Verlander. The two All-Stars faced each other in the series opener Friday night, but the game was suspended after only 1½ innings because of rain.
The Yankees lost three of four this year at Detroit and are 22-25 at Comerica Park since it opened in 2000. It’s one of only two AL stadiums where New York has a losing record.
Playing on the scheduled travel day, the Tigers now fly home with a chance to take command of the series, just as they did in 2006, when they lost the opener in New York before sweeping three straight.
Perhaps planning to play two more days in a row in Detroit, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not use his top late-game relievers, Rafael Soriano and Dave Robertson, and Detroit added a run in the ninth on Don Kelly’s RBI single for a 5-1 lead.
So Valverde entered in the ninth with a four-run lead. He led the majors in going 49 of 49 in save chances this year, and the Tigers were a perfect 83-0 this season when taking an edge into the ninth.
But this was not a save situation for Valverde, and he was far from perfect.
Nick Swisher sent Valverde’s first pitch over the right-field wall for a home run. Jorge Posada followed with his first triple of the year and Russell Martin walked. With crowd rooting for a rally, Andruw Jones hit a sacrifice fly that made it 5-2.
Derek Jeter struck out, and the rain that has hounded this playoff series from the start returned in buckets. Granderson then lifted his foul pop near the Detroit dugout and Avila tracked it.
But the All-Star catcher slipped on the mat in the on-deck circle, lost his balance and had no play. Given another chance, Granderson drew a walk that sent him to first base as the tying run.
Cano and Valverde both did their best to stay dry — the Yankees’ star asked for a towel to wipe off his helmet, the Tigers’ excitable reliever tried to tuck away the ball in his glove to keep his grip.
With the crowd roaring, the game ended with a simple grounder to second base.
Cabrera took advantage of the short right field porch in the Bronx to give Detroit a 2-0 lead. The AL’s top hitter this year added an RBI single in a two-run second that began with a throwing error by Jeter.
Making his postseason debut, the 27-year-old Scherzer excelled. He gave up two hits, struck out five and walked four. He was lifted for Benoit with a 4-0 lead after allowing a walk and a single to Jorge Posada to open the seventh as ominous clouds settled over the ballpark.
Benoit had not given up a run in his last 22 outings and he retired Martin, then struck out pinch-hitter Eric Chavez as it began to pour, sending fans running for cover.
Jeter came up with runners on first and second for the second time in the game and struck out looking with rain drops dotting his batting helmet.
Umpires never called for the tarp and blue skies returned about 10 minutes later in the top of the eighth in a game that began with players wearing sunglasses after two days of wet weather.
Benoit gave up Granderson’s to start the eighth but got Alex Rodriguez, 0 for 8 in the series, and Mark Teixeira to pop out, eliciting boos from many of the 50,596 in attendance.
NOTES: Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ stalwart Game 2 starter for five World Series championship teams, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His wife, Laura, sang the national anthem. … The Yankees had won seven straight division series games. They swept Minnesota in 2009 and ’10 and won Game 1 Saturday. … Benoit struck out the final seven batters he faced in the regular season. … Cabrera stole second in the eighth. He had two steals in the regular season. … Ramon Santiago had two sacrifice bunts. … The Tigers handed the Yankees a rare day-game defeat. New York was a major league best 44-12 (.786) during the afternoon in the regular season, the best winning percentage in the modern era.