Justin Verlander perseveres as Tigers send Yankees to the brink of elimination

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When Justin Verlander gave up two runs and threw 21 pitches in the first inning tonight, it didn’t look like he would be long for this ballgame. Fortunately for the Tigers, he was just getting warmed up.

While CC Sabathia walked a season-high six batters and failed to make it out of the sixth inning, Verlander ended up striking out 11 over eight innings as the Tigers beat the Yankees 5-4 to grab a 2-1 series lead in the ALDS.

Delmon Young played the role of unlikely hero, slugging a go-ahead solo home run off Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Tigers ahead for good. Jose Valverde, who labored Sunday’s win by throwing 34 pitches, survived another shaky ninth inning to lock down the save. He struck out Derek Jeter with runners on first and second to end it.

With their season on the line, the Yankees will now send A.J. Burnett to the hill Tuesday night against Rick Porcello. In other words, God help us all.

Notes

– Verlander really found a groove in the middle part of the ballgame, retiring 13 out of 15 batters from the third inning into the seventh, including seven strikeouts. The Yankees tied the game in the seventh on a two-run double by Brett Gardner, but the Tigers took the lead back in the next half inning on the home run by Young.

– Verlander cracked 100 mph on five straight pitches in the eighth inning, topping out at 101 mph. That’s right. In the eighth inning. Incredible.

– Remember when Buster Olney tweeted before the ballgame that CC Sabathia was 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA with Jerry Davis behind the plate? Well, that little factoid was rendered meaningless tonight. While some claimed that the big southpaw was getting squeezed, it was pretty obvious that he just didn’t have it. He was charged with four runs over 5 1/3 innings, but it could have been much worse. I was honestly surprised to see him back out there for the sixth inning.

– What’s with all the bunting, Jim Leyland? Ramon Santiago failed in his initial attempt to get a sacrifice down in the second inning, but that was actually a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as he followed it with an RBI single. Then, with Sabathia on the ropes in the sixth, we saw a sacrifice bunt from Alex Avila of all people. Really? They were fortunate that didn’t come back to bite them.

– You want to nitpick that Rafael Soriano shouldn’t have come back out for the seventh after getting the final two outs in the sixth? Fine. But I have a bigger problem throwing a first-pitch fastball to Delmon Young.

– Russell Martin was hit in the ribs by a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander in the top of the seventh inning. No big deal. Shook it off and walked down to first base. Respect.

– Jorge Posada drew two huge walks late in the ballgame, including one with two outs in the two-run seventh and another with one out in the ninth.

– Actual quote from TBS broadcaster John Smoltz, presently completely out of context for maximum enjoyment: “That is a shagging dream.”

– Alex Rodriguez drew two walks and had an RBI groundout in the first inning, but is now 0-for-10 in the series. Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is batting .091 (1-for-11) during the series.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.