With Justin Verlander on the mound, the Tigers always feel pretty optimistic about pulling out a win from the game. But going up against a vaunted Yankees lineup, New York's own ace in CC Sabathia, and possessing a tired closer who tossed 34 pitches the day before, nothing was going to come easy.
That was never more obvious than in the top of the first inning, when a Derek Jeter leadoff single turned into an early lead via an RBI triple from Curtis Granderson, and that lead was extended to 2-0 when Alex Rodriguez's RBI groundout brought him home.
However, Sabathia wasn't his normal self. Whether it was pitching on the rather odd rest (having thrown 27 pitches to start game one on Friday night before the game was suspended) or just an off night, Sabathia didn't have it. He was in and out of trouble all night, walking six and giving up seven hits. Truth to be told, he was lucky to have made it through five innings only yielding three runs.
But Yankees' manager Joe Girardi elected to bring him back out for the sixth and he immediately yielded a fourth all important run, giving up the Tigers a 4-2 edge.
And for a little while, that appeared to be all the Tigers would need as Verlander had found his groove. At one point, he retired ten of 11 batters as he racked up strikeouts. He struck out every Yankee in the lineup at least once on Monday night.
But just when things appeared they couldn't go wrong, they did. Verlander lost focus, and with two outs and an 0-2 count, allowed a walk to Jorge Posada, and then plunked Russell Martin with a 100-MPH fastball, putting two men for Brett Gardner. Gardner worked the count full, and Verlander wasn't about to load the bases as the lineup turned over, and so a fastball down Woodward turned into a two-out, two-run double (aided by a botched relay from Austin Jackson to Jhonny Peralta).
Like a stomach punch, the collective air from the fans left Comerica Park, as the new reality set in that it was a new game, all tied up.
Luckily, that feeling would only last a few moments as on the very first pitch to Delmon Young with one out in the bottom half of the seventh, he turned on a cutter down in the zone, and took it to the opposite field for the go-ahead solo home run.
Protecting that 5-4 lead, Verlander returned to the mound, and despite being on his 120th pitch of the night, tossed a 99-MPH fastball that induced a popout to end the inning.
At 120 though, Verlander was done, which meant it was Papa Grande time. Valverde entered the game clearly without his "A" game after Sunday's performance. He walked Posada after getting one out, and then gave up a long flyout to Russell Martin - in Yankee Stadium, it would have been a 6-5 Yankees lead, but in Comerica, just a 350+ foot out.
However, there was still one out left to get, and after a Gardner walk, up stepped Mr. Clutch himself, Derek Jeter. Jeter however continued his struggles for the series, and struck out on a 94-MPH fastball up in the zone, ending the threat, and putting the Yankees on the brink of elimination.
It might not have been how Tigers' fans would have drawn it up, but in October, all that matters are wins. And the Tigers are one win closer, and now one win away, from a trip to the ALCS.